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Jan 22, 2024 282 Deacon Jim McFadden
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You are more than what you have

Super-wealthy, know-it-all, well-respected, powerful influencer…the list is endless, but all these don’t matter when it comes to the question of who you are.

During the early ’60s, the folk-rock group The Byrds had a mega-hit called Turn! Turn! Turn! which was adapted from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. I found the song riveting. It encouraged me to read the entire Book, which I found to be very strange. It was strange because, unlike the lyrics to the song, I found the rest, especially the first chapter, to be a ‘Debbie Downer,’ an unrelenting treatment of the human condition.

The author, Qoheleth, is a self-described old man who has seen it all, done it all, and experienced it all. He has enjoyed everything life has to offer—he is super-wealthy, has accumulated knowledge, is well respected by his peers, has the power to navigate through life, and basically has enjoyed every creature comfort that can come his way. But, given all of that, he has come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter.

Why not? I think he realized deep down that who you are is far more important than what you have.The reason is relatively straightforward—the goods of the world will always pass and fade away because they are ephemeral, transitory, and finite.

Before You are Whisked Away

Who we are is a matter of our moral and spiritual character, a matter of the soul. In the opening chapters of Genesis, it is revealed to us that we are made in the image and likeness of God, which constitutes us to participate in God’s very Being and Eternal Life. Put simply, we are who we are in relationship to God, not in what we have. We are, to the very core, spiritual and religious beings.

In the Gospel parable of the rich fool, Jesus makes a similar point but goes much further. Jesus effectively mocks the man who gives his allegiance to his wealth and security, in the false assumption that they will bring him joy. The man is not only wealthy, but his wealth is going to expand dramatically because he has had a good harvest. So, what does he do? He resolves to tear down his old barns and build bigger ones to store his added riches. The man has built his life on several considerations: (1) the goods of the world are valuable; (2) the many years, a lifestyle that it takes to realize his ambitions; (3) his wealth will promote a sense of tranquillity and unrestrained enjoyment. Given all of these considerations, nothing is lacking.

Au contraire, foolish rich young man! The Word that God addresses to him nullifies his plans: “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you and the things that you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” (Luke 12:20) What Jesus is telling him is that God is not demanding his possessions, but his very life—who he is! And that demand is being made not in the distant future but right here, right now.

This night, your soul, your heart, your life will be required of you. “So,” Jesus says, “it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21) Instead of the ‘enjoyment of life,’ i.e., the accumulation of the goods of the world, Jesus presents him with surrendering his life. “Seek His Kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:31)

Ultimately Real

Dear reader, this is the linchpin—a primordial either-or choice: Is my gaze on God or is it on the goods of the world? If the former, then we will live out our true dignity of being human. We will love God with our whole heart and soul and our neighbor as ourselves because we are grounded in what is ultimately real. We will be in the right relationship with God, our neighbor, and all of creation.

Being attached to the goods of the world cannot possibly satisfy the desire of the heart because they cannot love us, which is the soul’s basic desire. Instead, this obsession and addiction causes more hunger and gives rise to a heightened sense of anxiety. Put bluntly, if we reject the sacred and transcendent in our lives, we will inevitably experience a dread of our very existence, a sense of emptiness and alienation from our fellow human beings, deep loneliness, and guilt.

It doesn’t have to end this way. Jesus invites us to take a realistic look at how wealth can enslave our hearts and distract us from where our true treasure lies, which is the Kingdom of God fulfilled in Heaven. Along this line, Saint Paul reminds us in his letter to the Colossians to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (3:1-2)

It is, therefore, important for us to examine what we really love. Love that is lived according to the Gospel is the source of true happiness, whereas the exaggerated and unrequited search for material goods and wealth is often a source of restlessness, anxiety, abuse of others, manipulation, and domination.

The readings from Ecclesiastes, Luke’s Gospel, and Paul’s letter all point to the question: ‘Who am I?’ which matters infinitely more than what you have. What matters is that you are God’s beloved child, created to rest ultimately in God’s love.

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Deacon Jim McFadden

Deacon Jim McFadden ministers at the Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Folsom, California. He serves in adult faith formation, baptismal preparation, spiritual direction, and prison ministry.

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