Most of us want to enjoy the best of both worlds, this and the next. We want to have a comfortable, secure, trouble free life, now, and eternal happiness in the next. So we work hard to earn as much money as we can, strive for promotions that will bring us privileges and perks, look for power that will give us control of our own lives and afford us security for the future. At the same time, we take out insurance policies with God to ensure that we will also inherit Heaven. Prayer, penance and alms are recommended, to open our lives to God's grace but not to buy a share of heaven, for that is beyond our efforts.
"It is the Lord who gives life and death; he brings men to the grave and back; it is the Lord who gives poverty and riches; he brings men low and raises them on high" ( from the canticle in 1 Sam 2:1-10)
The average, middle class Catholic, whether lay, religious or priest is uncomfortable with the story of the rich young man from Lk 18:1-30. "How hard it is for rich people to enter the kingdom of God!!" Now and then we come across amazing people. I met a lady who had 17 children and after that continued to adopt many more children until she was very old. She constantly gave away, what she had, and the Lord in turn, gave her a hundred fold.
By contrast today, most couples are afraid to have more than 1 or 2 kids. They want to give them the best and in doing so fail to give them the opportunities to share and to trust in Divine providence. Many want to send their children to study in schools where they learn to be snobs or to study in prestigious colleges where they could become materialistic and pragmatic, losing their faith and values of their grand-parents. At the same time, they ensure that they control God through a variety of formulae and rituals to buy a place in Heaven.
I met two couples in New York who were different. Both had 7 children. One was a wealthy stockbroker. This couple decided to simplify their lives and teach their children to share. They gave the money they saved, to many poorer families, anonymously. The other wealthy family encouraged each of their children to earn a living in the holidays and half of this they were encouraged to share with the poor, visiting the Appalachians. Do you make friends with the poor? They have many values to teach your children. St Ambrose said that when we die, all that we can take with us, is what we have given away. What do I give away? "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me" (Mt 25)
Visiting Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is not enough. We also have to discover him in the poor and allow him to evangelise us through them. Many wealthy young professionals come every year to Calcutta, to serve humbly in the home for the destitute dying started by Mother Teresa. It is an experience that gives them a peace they cannot find elsewhere. In giving you receive. You come face to face with Jesus in the disguise of the poor and the suffering.
There are many choices we can make in life as to our life-style, the way we bring up our children, the holidays we have and the values we cherish. Are they consonant with our faith in Jesus, who freely emptied himself of his wisdom and power, to live and die the way he did? Is the Gospel a book or a way of life for us?
Our children see through our double standards. Mere insistence on an external religion without sharing Jesus' love and life with others, is shallow and meaningless to them. All of us are influenced by what we are exposed to. Do television, movies, Internet, magazines and novels, advertising in the shopping malls, a wealthy peer group give our children materialistic, hedonistic and anti-gospel values ?
Our example and the exposure we give our children to those who live as disciples of Jesus will help them to experience Jesus in a more vibrant and attractive way. Our friends also have, an important influence on our children. Let us not be surprised when our children want to marry people with anti-gospel values, if that is the way we brought them up, while paying lip service to a set of rules and regulations in an external religion.
Parenting is not at all easy. Today, because we have more needs, we have more expenses. So both parents are forced to earn. We want our children to excel in their studies and extra curricular activities. As a result, we cannot find the time for prayer, sharing and togetherness. Our children may be successful by worldly standards but have we handed down to them what others handed over to us, generation after generation, by way of Gospel values?
Do we really believe the beatitudes in Lk 6:20-26 and Mt 5:3-12?
Mahatma Gandhi the father of the Indian nation and Mother Teresa who is perhaps the greatest person who lived in India were both so strongly influenced by the beatitudes, that they won the love and admiration of the whole world.
All of us are only pilgrims passing through this world. We have many opportunities to use our gifts of mind and heart to bring about God's kingdom into our broken and fragmented world. The values of the Gospel, are first of all transmitted by parents to their children in their own homes, by their example and by the way they bring up their children. We do not have to ape others but should set the standards ourselves.
How we celebrate a baptism, first communion or marriage should be consonant with the sacrament we receive rather than a reception in a hotel to impress others. Ask the Spirit of God to enlighten us, daily, and he surely will lead us as disciples to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.