“Do not store up treasure for yourself on earth .. but store up treasures for yourself in Heaven..” (Mt.6:19-20)
In the Gospels, the Lord does not always sound too enamoured with the world and the state in which He finds it. He speaks of an ‘adulterous and sinful generation’ (cf.Mk.8:38). Elsewhere, He says – “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already” (Lk.12:49). These words were recorded many centuries ago and there is little reason to believe that things are much better today than they were then.
We can take comfort, then, from the constant message of the Gospels that despite the state of the world itself and of we, the people who inhabit it, still the Lord came to call us and to save us, to extend his limitless mercy to us. And on the Cross, this is precisely what He did – that unique act of Divine Love which extends throughout all of human history and transforms it into salvation history.
So what are we to make of the Lord’s thoughts on the state of the world?
His desire in ascending Golgotha was explicitly made – “When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to Myself” (Jn.12:32). Perhaps the problem is that for us, the world gets in the way of this union taking place to the extent to which the Lord desires it.
‘The world’ can mean many things; power, prestige, reputation, riches, material goods, and even life itself. But if we are to be properly united to the Lord, then the admonition from the top of this page should be sounding in our ears; the Lord is the greatest treasure and nothing else compares to Him, nor should anything get in the way of our relationship with Him.
Throughout the history of the Church, this simple message has been lived out in the lives of the Saints. The Apostles happily gave their lives to be true to the Lord – both in the sense of travelling and proclaiming Him to all who would listen, and also in the literal sense. So it was with the Saints who came after them, right down to the present day. Saint Teresa of Calcutta, for example, had nothing in a material sense – and yet, she had everything. In her freedom from material goods, she became free to depend entirely on the Lord and His providence. That freedom also enabled her to seek and to find Christ in the faces of those who were equally poor.
Not all of us are called to such a radical poverty, certainly – but as disciples of the Lord, we are all called to heed His words on placing Him before all else. This exhortation goes back to the Ten Commandments, particularly the first – “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other Gods except Me” (Ex.20:3). It also finds an echo in the Fourth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary when, finding the young Jesus in the Temple, His Mother asks why He has caused this anxiety – He responds that “I must be busy with My Father’s affairs” (Lk.2:49).
While all of this may sound easy, our experience is often quite the opposite – it can be exceedingly difficult to always keep the Lord as our first priority in all things and at all times. Waking early on a Sunday morning, for example, we may be tempted to stay in bed an extra hour instead of going to Mass; or we might prefer to spend a little more money on some luxury item rather than giving to those in need; or when others think poorly of us for some reason, our first response might be to defend our reputation; or we may put off till later that prayer of thanks we know we should offer the Lord for some grace He has given us. There are so many ways in which ‘things’ can get in the way of our relationship with the Lord.
Our task, then, as His disciples, is to do everything in our power to keep Him always to the fore, always our first priority.
Reading the lives of any of the Saints will offer particular suggestions on specific ways of achieving this, for every one of the Saints also had to find this way through their own lives. And in being recognised as models of sanctity by the Church, it would seem they were ultimately successful in doing so, even though the path may have been arduous at times.
Perhaps the first step in this process, for all of us, is to recognise our tendency to become attached to all those things which are obstacles to our union with the Lord – each of us will have particular obstacles of one sort or another. What we can be sure of, thankfully, is that whatever obstacles are in our way, the Lord will grant us all the grace we need both to seek and to find Him.
In this lifelong journey, we have the prayerful assistance of all the Saints who have made their personal journey before us, overcoming the obstacles in their own lives. And above all, we have the intercession of the holy Mother of the Lord, our first Model in the faith, She who is the perfect road leading to Her Divine Son, and who desires that all of us reach Him.