Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
April 17, 2000
Wealth and God's kingdom
Alas, the great wealth of our age is likely the strongest factor militating against a major religious renewal of our nation. It would be great to have all the comforts of our middle and upper class lifestyles and heaven too. It was not for nothing that Jesus said, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" (Mark 10:23). The two seem to be mutually exclusive.
After the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, St. Maximilian Kolbe noted the same phenomena - only in reverse. "Many, who once swam in abundance and hardly thought of eternity, are more concerned about their souls now that they have become poor," he wrote. Hardship weakened the economy, but it strengthened the spirit.
Kolbe, one of the great saints of the 20th century, was born in poverty and, at an early age, embraced a life of even greater poverty by becoming a Franciscan. He suffered from tuberculosis much of his adult life and was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz where he died a most cruel death by starvation.
Yet, all his life - even at Auschwitz - Kolbe wore a broad smile and devoted much more attention to relieving the pain of others than to his own suffering. Kolbe knew the pleasures of this life are illusory. "Life in this world is not long," he said. "The most important thing is to prepare well for eternity."
Kolbe sought only one thing - the love of God through devotion to Mary, the Immaculata as he called her. He also believed - and experienced - that the more valiantly one is devoted to Mary and her Church, the more suffering he endures.
Kolbe was a 20th century sign of the power of Christ's cross. In him, Baptism bore its fruit.
Today we sometimes refer to Pentecost as the birthday of the Church. Pentecost was certainly a joy-filled day as the disciples received the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit. But the early Fathers of the Church were clear in referring to the Church as born on Calvary.
As Christ's dead body hung on the cross, a soldier pierced his side with a lance, sending water and blood gushing forth. The Fathers saw in this water and blood symbols of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.
St. John Chrysostom, the patriarch of Constantinople, wrote, "Since the symbols of Baptism and the Eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam."
From a secular standpoint, Christ's death appears useless. A promising young leader was struck down just as he was reaching his prime. But from the standpoint of eternity, Christ's death is our salvation. The power of the blood is the power that transforms history. It relativizes all our achievements, our fame, our pleasure and our wealth. All the things that seem so good, so crucial, if life is but a 70-year party become insignificant in the context of eternity.
Christ died but once. But he has died many, many times through those such as St. Maximilian. He dies also through us if we are but open to the power of Christ's blood. Another Father of the Church, St. Leo the Great, said, "It is not only the courageous, glorious martyrs who share in his suffering; all the faithful who are reborn (through Baptism) also share it, and do so in the very act of their rebirth."
At Easter, we renew our Baptism. And here is its meaning - the ongoing conversion of each of us through suffering love.
Suffering, of course, is not the final word. The final word is resurrection to a glorious and everlasting life. Through his suffering, death and resurrection, Christ opened the gates for us to this eternal life. And next to eternal life, all the wealth and pomp of this world stand as the merest trifles.
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