Many of us find life rather tiring because of constant feuds, quarrels and division in our family, office and in our community. Happiness seems to be out of our reach, even for those of us who are actively involved in Church and in ministry. If we who are supposed to be godly people cannot find happiness and peace, what more can we say for those in the world. So what is the cause of much of our unhappiness if not for the fact that we lack the spirit of contentment? The answer to happiness is not to fulfil man’s ambition for power, fame, wealth and luxury, but to take away his desires. St James warns us, “For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” (Jms 3:16)
The truth is that the craving to have more of everything does not belong to just those who are worldly but even those who are in religion. Pope Emeritus Benedict and Pope Francis have always reminded us of spiritual worldliness. This is what St Paul warned the young Bishop Timothy as well. There were divisions in the Christian community because some teachers were spewing novelties in their teaching and misleading others in their faith. St Paul wrote, all these come from those who are “full of self-conceit – with a craze for questioning everything and arguing about words. All that can come of this is jealousy, contention, abuse and wicked mistrust of one another; and unending disputes by people who are neither rational nor informed and imagine that religion is a way of making a profit.”
Some ministers and ministry members are more concerned about fame, popularity, numbers and the money they bring into the organization or themselves than about changing lives and uplifting the misery of people. It is not about the conversion of lives but making use of people’s vulnerability to enrich themselves. Indeed, we must be wary of those preachers that make use of religion to boost their self-image or to give false hope to those who are desperate by cheating them of their money, promising them prosperity if they give some “seed-money” to God. Ministers of religion, clergy and lay, must be mindful that what they do must benefit the community rather than themselves.
This is why the Church has the evangelical counsel of poverty. This does not mean that the Church is preaching poverty as a virtue. The Church is not asking us to live like beggars. Being poor is not what the evangelical spirit of poverty is all about. It is to live a life of simplicity. It is a life of contentment, being satisfied with what we have, especially material things. It is to live a life of detachment, learning to enjoy the blessings of God that are given to us in many ways. The best gift of life is nature itself, which does not cost us money to enjoy. Contentment does not mean complacency either. It does not mean that we do not seek to excel in what we do in life, to do better in our studies, projects or mission work. No, it means we are called to do our best and be contented with our best. In other words, we do what we do with a sense of mission, responsibility and zeal, not because of a personal ambition to prove oneself.
St Paul made it clear, “religion, of course, does bring large profits, but only those who are content with what they have. We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it; but as long as we have food and clothing, let us be content with that.” Contentment is true riches. A person who is contented is always full. The difference between a rich and a poor man is not how much he possesses but how much he needs to be happy. If a man needs $5 million to be happy and another only $5,000, the man who needs less is much richer than the one who needs more. St Paul exhorts us that if we have the basic needs, food and clothing, and I add accommodation, we have already the basic ingredients for happiness. But to be truly happy, we need more than physical and material fulfilment; we need to build lasting relationships with God and with our fellowmen.
In the final analysis, we must be honest and ask ourselves, who are the happiest people in this world? Surely not the rich, the famous, or the powerful! Otherwise, those who have reached the top of the world’s ladder of success, would have been the happiest and most secure people in the world. But they are not! The most affluent nations in the world do not have the happiest people on earth. This is why riches, wealth, fame and power are illusions. Many of us think money and power can bring us security, peace and happiness. This is an illusion.
They cannot bring us happiness or give us real security. The more wealth and power we have, the more anxious we become. The greater is our wealth, power and fame, the greater is the fear of losing what we have. That is why, the more we have, the more insecure we are, and the more problems we have, as people are always after our wealth and property. There will be division, quarrels and jealousy among our loved ones, friends and colleagues. Money and power cannot secure our health; in fact, often it is because of money, living a luxurious life and the desire to be at the top that invites competition and enemies. Our health will be destroyed. At any rate, money cannot buy health. Least of all, money and power and fame cannot buy true love.
Hence, St Paul warns us not just of the illusions of wealth and power but also of temptations. “People who long to be rich are a prey to temptation; they get trapped into all sorts of foolish and dangerous ambitions which eventually plunge them into ruin and destruction. ‘The love of money is the root of all evils’ and there are some who, pursuing it, have wandered away from the faith, and so given their souls any number of fatal wounds.” The desire for money and power is insatiable. It is like drinking sea-water. The more we drink the thirstier we become. Those who love money, power and fame, will never know the word “enough”. They will not know how to stop pursuing such things for the sake of them.
How sad that there are some who spend their entire life chasing after money and fame but forget how to live. They have no time for God and for their loved ones and friends. They have no time to enjoy the gifts of God’s creation and the blessings He has bestowed on them. Their whole life is spent on procuring more and more wealth, fighting with people over positions and power, manipulating one another, feeling envious and insecure. They forget that the happiest moments in a person’s life is the friendships we have established and the time we spent with each other, and the fun we had together. True friends cannot be bought at any price. Meaningful relationships are what matters at the end of the day.
Such relationships must extend beyond our friends and loved ones. It must be extended to those in need, those who are suffering and those who are hungry. Often, rich people find out too late, that reaching out to those who are poor and in need, making a difference in their life, lighting up their faces, giving them hope and meaning, bring us greater joy and happiness than all the money we can make. Truly, only the fruits of our work, namely, love, peace, joy can be brought over into the next life.
Most of all, what truly matters is our relationship with God. If God is a stranger to us on earth, we will feel so fearful at our deathbed because we do not know where we are going and who will be with us. But if God is our friend on this earth, we will rest secure in the knowledge that we are in safe hands and in great company. Jesus will accompany us to our heavenly Father where we will enjoy eternal love, peace and joy. This is the secret of the holy women who accompanied Jesus and the apostles in today’s gospel. They did not seek the limelight, to be in the forefront. They were happy to be able to assist Jesus in His mission in the background without having to compete with anyone. Each in their own ways was quietly helping Jesus according to whatever resources they had. They must have been the happiest people in the gospel because they were the richest, in love, in service, in humility and most of all, knowing that they too were serving God by serving the Lord.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved. The contents of this page may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission from the Archbishop’s Office. This includes extracts, quotations, and summaries.
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online nor will they be available via email request.