All of us have parents, grandparents or great grandparents who lived, got married, and raised families during the great depression and World War II. This influenced them deeply in how they lived their lives, what they believed and what they passed on to the next generation. Living at that time was a trial and it taught people of that generation to make do and be happy with what they had.
When clothes started to wear out, they were patched and mended. When they grew out of those clothes, they were passed down or passed on to family or friends who could use them. Cars, more often than not, meant one per family, were nursed along for years before ever being replaced. Food was often grown in family gardens and shared around the neighborhood. And entertainment on a Saturday night was getting together with friends on the front porch and maybe listening to the radio.
A different time and a very different mentality, and people were happy and more content! They had what they needed and shared. Now I am sure that my grandparents who lived through that time still wanted stuff, but they found happiness in ways that today we may have forgotten.
Today, we accumulate… so much so that we sometimes need to rent out storage space over by Walmart for our overflow. We may not pass on what we maybe should, and we keep adding to our pile. There is much that we seem to want. Why is that? What is it about us humans that makes us crave what we don’t have? Do we (gulp) sometimes want this stuff because we think it may gain the admiration of others? Or maybe people are just trying to fill that yearning inside that we can’t seem to fill to our satisfaction any other way.
And let’s face it, society is also pretty good at telling us what we need and must have. TV is filled with advertisements that feed this. Our friends and neighbors showing off their latest purchase feeds it. Images served up by the Google or Amazon algorithms tell us “You may also like this.” Lots of worldly influences on us that help get our priorities off kilter.
And in the first reading today, we hear that people of biblical times also struggled with a lack of balance. Qoheleth laments about the person who labors so hard all the time that, “All his days sorrow and grief are his occupation; even at night his mind is not at rest” attesting to this same pre-occupation with pursuit of what the world says in important.
So, who seems to get it right, who achieves that right balance that seems to resist all this focus on and pursuit of stuff for happiness?
In the other readings this morning we begin to hear that there is another way, a more proven path. From the Psalmist we heard an appeal to God to teach us, “How to number our days aright that we may gain wisdom of the heart” so that we have soft, and not hardened hearts. The Psalmist clearly gets it right.
Saint Paul tells us in the second reading to seek what is above and to, “Put on a new self… in the image of the creator.” And in the Gospel, Jesus tells us that, “One’s life does not consist of possessions” and to strive to be rich in what matters to God. I know, radical thoughts in today’s world of more for me means well more for me.
So, is saving for our future wrong? Of course not. Is having possessions wrong? Nope. What I think the readings are telling us today is that when we crave possessions too much, when they get in the way of what really matters, when we seek them because that is where we think happiness lies, then it is wrong.
But when we are in right relationship with God, we fill our lives as they are intended to be filled – with Him and we are satisfied. However, when we get out of whack in our relationship with God, we try to fill our lives with everything else looking for that satisfaction that only He can provide.
So, if we think back to the stories of living through the great depression and WWII, maybe that is the life model we should be striving for. They lived their lives in a better balance, they knew the difference between what is enough and what is too much. They had a mentality of us and not me. They were generous without being aware they were being generous – they just did it because that is how people got through some very tough times… together. They realized that all they had was a gift from God and they filled that desire inside of them as was intended because they were, as it says in the Gospel, rich in what matters to God.
Maybe that is the lesson, the model of a life well-ordered and well lived that we have forgotten.