Eighteen years ago today, I became a deacon. There are many things I remember about that day: the emotions, feeling overwhelmed walking into a packed Cathedral to the sound of booming trumpets, my dear family members who are no longer here. I have many memories of that day. But I also have many memories of the following day when I stood in this church and served as a deacon for the very first time. And preached for the very first time. The Gospel at that Mass was the same as today’s and Jesus’ line: “you cannot serve both God and mammon” is imprinted upon me like a brand, a mark I can never forget.
If you google the word mammon, you’ll see a lot of interpretations of what Jesus was talking about. Many of them are about wealth and so 18 years ago, that’s pretty much what I talked about. You can’t wholeheartedly pursue God and wholeheartedly pursue wealth and material possessions at the same time. Something’s got to give. You need to pick one or the other. That’s your fork in the road right there. The version of me from 18 years ago would certainly think that.
But much has changed over the past 18 years.
I recently listened to an interview with actor, Shia LaBeouf. He has been giving a lot of interviews lately, partly because he is playing Padre Pio in an upcoming movie, but mostly because he is turning his life around. In the process, he discovered God and became Catholic.
In an interview with fellow actor, Jon Bernthal, he talked about his troubles… and he has had lots of them. He said the root cause for all of them was excess. That he could fill every void, satisfy every desire, and that he never wanted for anything. He said he suffered from a lack of absence. When he went into a treatment center in Utah for an extended period of time, he was told that he had to leave his cellphone and all other devices behind. This, for him, was the toughest part. He described his addiction to being connected at all times.
Eighteen years ago, I had a cellphone but it was a chunky brick of plastic that basically only did one thing: make and receive calls. The iPhone hadn’t been invented yet. We had no social media, Youtube, constant notifications buzzing at us, and texting was so basic and so annoying that we didn’t do much of it. Truth be told, all of these things have added up to a lack of absence for me personally… and that’s a problem. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my iPhone and would have a hard time living without it, but I am always connected, always on, and so now, I would describe this a my mammon.
What’s your mammon?
In the psalms, we hear: “Be still and know that I am God.” In other words, it is in the stillness where we can find God.
In today’s second reading, we hear:
I ask that…
… we may lead a quiet and tranquil life…
This is good and pleasing to God our savior,
who wills everyone to be saved
and to come to knowledge of the truth.
The author is saying that from a quiet and tranquil life, we will please God our savior, come to know the truth, and be saved. The key is: a quiet and tranquil life.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
How much quiet do you have in your life? Do you prioritize stillness? Do you experience the gift of absence?
18 years later, I believe that the always on, always connected, always noise-filled life is a pretty solid form of mammon for many of us because when there is so much chattering and racket banging at us – and within us – at all times, how can we possibly pursue God? There’s no space for him. We can’t hear him. We can’t feel his presence.
That’s because he often speaks to us in whispers and comes to us only in the heart of silence.
We must be still…
… to know he is our God.