Sunday, 11 August 2013
Winning the Lottery
Brighton's Evening Argus ran a headline a couple of days ago concerning a one million pound lottery winner who hasn't yet been found. A lady said to me, "Whoever it is will be kicking himself later if he doesn't realise he's won," or words to that effect." I replied, "Or maybe he'll go onto be very happy without it."
Money doesn't make us happy. Even being 'comfortably off' doesn't necessarily make us happy. It can leave us discontented, or worse, self-satisfied, and the Holy Father is right to lay into the 'culture of well-being'. It makes for mediocre Christianity if Christians accept it. Unfortunately, we tend to do so and God calls forth from the Church Saints in every age who show us the way to Heaven is not the way of the World - men and women who are happy to allow God to provide and live by faith.
We look at Saints - those who we know are in Heaven and the pattern of their lives. It really doesn't look that glamourous from the outside. St Lawrence of Rome's end was about as ghastly as they get - being slowly roasted alive. Yet his blood was the seed of the Church, his glory and his crown in Heaven were won through his service of God and his martyrdom for Christ and His Church. He showed the Emperor Valerian the poor and those in the Church's care and exclaimed, 'Behold, O Emperor, the wealth of the Church of Rome!' even though the poor, the widows, the orphans, the holy virgins, the sick and lame he brought wouldn't have looked like they were 'up to much' in the Emperor's eyes.
To win the 'lottery' in the eyes of God is to be given copious amounts of Grace, rather than copious amounts of cash and worldly honours. Our Blessed Lady, no higher Saint than she, was 'full of Grace' from the moment of her conception evermore, for ever holy, sinless, pure. She was chosen to be the Mother of God and no title in Heaven, nor rank among the elect of God will match hers.
St Francis of Assisi, whose 'cause for canonization' lasted all of one year - such was the unanimity of the Church's 'Santo subito' opinion that he had gone straight into his place in Heaven upon Death - is a good example among many men and women who have 'won the lottery' by winning a veritable 'jackpot' of grace. So often, though, the response to winning the 'jackpot' in God's eyes means a total renunciation of the 'things of this world' that usually conspire to lead us away from God, rather than closer to Him. St Francis of Assisi imitated his Divine Master, Jesus, conforming his life to Him. He owned nothing but his habit, spent much of his short life begging, tended and ministered to outcasts, ate that which the Lord provided him and his brothers and during his relatively brief time as a friar suffered much physically. He was even physically beaten by demons. His response? To thank God for it!
To win the lottery in the earthly sense - to 'never fear having to go without' - to be financially secure, content, even have luxury in this life does not put an end to worry or anxiety and cannot satisfy the human heart made for God. The Holy Father is right to challenge us not to be 'comfortable Christians' thinking everything of security in this life and nothing of eternity. He obviously sees in St Francis of Assisi and the Apostles how the message of the Gospel involved a radical dependence on God, so that the 'just shall live by faith'.
His Holiness Pope Francis sees that the power of the Gospel is seen most visibly in those who have left everything for Jesus and who desire Him and Him alone, 'taking nothing for their journey'. To be one of St Francis of Assisi's brothers, one of his friars would have been incredibly exciting. 'No two days would have been the same', so to speak.
St Francis of Assisi befriended not just St Clare, his spiritual sister, not only embraced Lady Poverty, his spiritual wife but also befriended Sister Death. Having a deep sense of his own mortality while loving Christ Crucified gave him not only humility but must too have given him the impetus to 'establish his goods firmly with the Lord'. Nothing but the Lord was his reward. Being conscious of our Death, not knowing when Death will come should enable us to see the pleasures and possessions of this earthly life in a different perspective. When we are called to given an account to God, we cannot take any of them with us - if anything, our possessions and a healthy bank account may go against us at our Judgment.
If I am going to be brutally honest, I think that, perhaps unwittingly, the Holy Father, going by his homilies and his emphasis in this early period of his pontificate is asking for 'another St Francis of Assisi' to grace the 21st century Church. Being humble, His Holiness would not assume that this figure is him, much as he models his pontificate on him and, indeed, could not be him, since St Francis of Assisi was fundamentally a lay man who became a friar owning nothing - no palace or even hotel for him. Just looking over his homilies, His Holiness seems to want not just one, nor two, nor three Franciscans and Poor Clares but a veritable army of them spread across the globe.
If His Holiness wants this, he should go easy on the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate and help to sow concord and unity, heal disunity and discord in this community, because, really and truly, they are sons and daughters of St Francis who live his message from sunrise to sunset. The traditional orders such as FFI are the ones attracting new and young vocations. If he wants this, if we want more holy Franciscans, we should pray for them, for vocations to their wonderful order, for labourers in the vineyard and ask the Lord to send to His Holy Church Saints to renew the whole Church in the active and contemplative missions of the Church in this darkened century, bringing the 'light of Faith' to the nations. As St Augustine said though, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," so pray for this we all must for we all deep down want to win Heaven's lottery...but be careful...It could be you!