Have you forgotten about your New Year’s resolution yet? Many have. Keeping our attention on set goals can be very difficult in a world where we are distracted with instant gratification at every turn. The message of the world is that you can have it all today by postponing your payment till tomorrow. The problem is that tomorrow will soon be today and we will be focusing on how we can be free tomorrow.
In Luke 6:17, 20-26 Jesus reminds us that there are two places that we can claim our reward, two places we can place our hope: here on earth or after the resurrection in heaven. According to G.K. Chesterton, those who follow Christ can expect three things: that they would be absolutely fearless, very happy and always in trouble. To choose Christ is to adopt a lifestyle and attitude contrary to the world, which sometimes means persecution. As Christians our message and way of life cuts across the societal norms, not only in the way we conduct ourselves but also in where we place our hope.
Our goal in life is not merely to have the finest foods, the nicest cars and have everyone speak well of us, but our goal is to get to heaven and experience the beatific vision (to see God face to face). If we are going to attain our goal, we must be prudent. Saint Thomas speaks of prudence as fixing your life on your goal, and then backing up to the present day and making decisions that will help you attain your goal. Each and every day we live our lives making decisions and doing things that seem silly to the world. What we need to communicate to the world is that we have a prize in mind that the world simply cannot give us.
To follow Christ often means living in such a way or expressing an opinion that might fly in the face of a society that is bent on being happy now. There is a way to be happy now, but the way to that happiness is quite different than the world’s approach.
From the dawn of time man has been obsessed with the question, what is the end of life? Aristotle’s answer is happiness. The word “blessed” in this week’s gospel reading on the beatitudes is translated “happy.” Happiness is what we seek. The meaning of the word happiness has changed since Aristotle’s time. Today we define it as something wholly subjective, a feeling we get when everything is going our way. The pre-modern writers defined happiness as an objective state, not merely a subjective feeling. The Greek word for happiness, eudaimonia, literally means “a good spirit” or “a good soul.” To be happy is to be good. For modern man, what gives his life meaning? Feeling good. The ancient answer to this question is, being good.
The way of Christ poses a problem for modern man. If modern man is going to be happy he will have to focus his attention on doing things that will make him feel good. Jesus presents us with a way of life that is contrary to this, but results in true happiness. The difference between our worldview as Christians and the worldview of those who are focused on their own happiness, is that our attitude takes into consideration the fact that God has the greater end in mind when he says to walk in his word. The greater end we strive for is perfection of life, character and soul.
As Christians we are called to live a life of sacrifice, preferring others to ourselves, and taking stands on social issues such as abortion, the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman and what is permissible to view on television. How many Catholic families have chosen to forgo the pleasure of a brand new car in order to send their children to a good school where they can be formed in Christ, a treasure that will last for eternity?
Society has caught on to an aspect of Jesus’ teaching, that we forgo the pleasures of today for a greater reward tomorrow, in retirement plans. We invest a few dollars today in a 401K plan so that we will have a nest egg when we retire. In the kingdom of God we make for ourselves “money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys” (Luke 12:33).
Keep following Christ even when it seems there is no instant reward or recognition from others; your reward is great in heaven. While your full reward will come, you can be truly happy now knowing that you are walking in hope of the resurrection. Keep running the race and don’t be distracted by the billboards along the way. St. Paul understood this way of life that often confuses the world. He said, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12-13).
A Couple of Things to Do:
1. Make a list of the five priorities in your life and take note of whether they are of eternal value. If not, ask yourself what you might replace those priorities with.
2. Ask yourself what you have to do to see those eternal priorities come to pass. Think of the practical, day-to-day “to-do’s” needed if you are going to attain your eternal goals.