Fr. Glenn: The Best Presents

By Fr. Glenn Jones

Hmmm … in the news this weekend is that Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos’ divorce is finalized. Since MacKenzie will no doubt get a large chunk of the Bezos fortune, that’ll likely drop ol’ Jeff down the “richest men” category a few notches. But … I doubt that he’ll have trouble finding a date nonetheless. MacKenzie, either. Too bad, though; it’s always a sadness to see a couple lose the love with which they began. 

Such news highlights the truth of the old adage: “The best things in life are free.” Jeff and MacKenzie’s earlier mutual love cost nothing, and yet one might speculate that their tremendous accumulated wealth and its accompanying complications may well have contributed to their marital downfall. Similarly, we priests and ministers much too often witness the shattering of families fighting over even comparative scraps left by deceased relatives—sacrificing lifelong familial love for the coldness of coin.

For many as we get older, the glitter of material things begins to wane … all of it recognized as just more “stuff” that we tend to accumulate and stick into closets, garages and (pricey) storage. So much of what we acquire is for show, anyway—the fancy car, the fancy house, the fashionable clothes, jewelry, etc.—much labor invested in the quest to draw attention and admiration. As we get older, the wise worry less about such things. One might hearken to Ecclesiastes: “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money; nor he who loves wealth, with gain…When goods increase…what gain has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much; but the surfeit of the rich will not let him sleep.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10-12) And the wisdom of the prayer of Proverbs: “…give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:8-9)

“Well, destitution ain’t so great, either, Padre!” Perhaps not … but material things in themselves cannot bring true joy. Material wealth is not what we really seek, anyway, though we often believe that it will somehow lead to that which we really desire: the happiness that only love brings. 

We remember Jesus’ Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)—it’s being the first of the Beatitudes indicating its import. At least one of its multiple meanings is to cultivate a realization of the poverty of material riches—that without love, riches are intrinsically valueless. After all, one does not desire stacks of money or gold bars on his deathbed; he desires the presence of the love of family and friends.

Our Archbishop had a good line in a meeting the other day that struck true: “Show me your calendar, and I’ll show you what you love.” In other words, that with which you spend the most time is what you tend to love the most. Certainly we have to spend time in work, but how do we spend our free time? Is it with the family, or is it doing other things without the family? For we Christians, do we say that we love God and yet rarely spend time with Him in prayer or reading His Word? Again a common deathbed example: Nobody ever said at the point of dying: “I wish I would have worked more”, or “I wish I would have played more golf.” But many, many have said: “I wish I would have spent more time with my family.”

An example we can readily see is: Why do so many Muslims seem so much more ardent about their religion than we Catholics/Christians do? Well, perhaps much is in their constant focus on God. Simply that irreplaceable offering of … time.

Muslims actually have a lot in common with Christians—a centrality on Abraham as the father of their respective faiths, a belief in one God (but definitely NOT in the Christian Trinitarian concept), a belief in Jesus (but only as a great teacher/prophet), a belief in Mary’s virginal conception of Jesus, as well as many aspects of morality. Obviously we differ much … but one thing they have retained which Christians have much lost is constant prayer—even communal prayer—several times daily.

As Muslim prayers are held at least five times daily, they keep their mind continually focused upon their concept of the divine. In the past, there were also several prayer times daily for Christians, many of which are still kept in monasteries and by clergy. Older Catholics might remember church bells ringing for the Angelus at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m., as well as daily Mass, rosaries, benedictions, and myriad other public prayers and processions … not even to mention private prayer. But now … “We’re too busy!”… succumbing to that which does not satisfy. We’re busy with sports, TV, videos, games, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, endless websites, etc. 

Imagine the strength our faith and our families should we water them with that most precious of gifts:  time.  So … what are the best presents? Why, “presence”, of course—the presents of presence … time and willingness to give of oneself to—and for—one another. In this, as in all things, Jesus serves as our guide and model, for “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

Stretch forth your hand to the poor, so that your blessing may be complete.
Give graciously to all the living, and withhold not kindness from the dead.
Do not fail those who weep, but mourn with those who mourn.
Do not shrink from visiting a sick man, because for such deeds you will be loved.
(Sirach 7:32-35) 

Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.