Seek What Is Above... Not What Is On Earth... Detachment Reveals God to Us
All three readings address our attachment to the world and the need for what the catechism and doctors of the Church call detachment or renunciation. Jesus says: “one’s life does not consist of possessions… Paul says “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. [and to] Think of what is above, not of what is on earth…”
The “toil and anxiety of heart” our first reading calls “vanity”- the Hebrew word, hebel (“vanity”), has the sense of “emptiness, futility, absurdity” … we too often experience, is almost always caused by attachment to things, which are often possessions but also our own wills and how we want things to be rather than what reality God offers to us in the present moment. The author asks us “what profit comes to a man” for all of these toils and anxieties of heart fixed on the passing world? We must believe Our Lord when he says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all of these things will be given to you.” We experience anxieties and fears about what we are attached to and this distracts us from “what matters to God”, which is the salvation of our souls - eternal life. Today, Jesus calls us to detachment and renunciation of the temporary and fleeting for what is eternal. Our detachment, our renunciation brings peace and joy to our souls.
It is important that Paul says, “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above” - because we are raised with Christ in baptism, which Paul alludes to when he says, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” In baptism we receive the supernatural life of God in our souls, grace, friendship with God, and the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. We can only “seek what is above and think of what is above,” if we have preserved and nurtured that grace and friendship with God in our souls through sacramental life and prayer.
In our readings, Jesus and St. Paul and the Book of Ecclesiastes identify an indispensable means to “seek what is above” (but what does this mean?). To seek what is above really means our spiritual lives and growth - prayer, an active sacramental life and service in love of neighbor and to not be distracted from the things that Jesus teaches us are what really “matters to God.” That indispensable means is what the Church fathers, saints and catechism call detachment or renunciation of attachments.
Paul teaches us that things we give our wills to and indulge in for our own sake [and not God’s glory] are idols. Greed, which is not only love of money, but stems from pride, which is to live and use things and others for our own desires… is idolatry for Paul because our desire and intentions and goals must be for God alone. CCC affirms that loving anything created more than God is to worship an idol. So, we must commit to renouncing our idols, our attachments.
One may struggle with greed or be attached to possessions even if he doesn’t have much or be considered wealthy. For example, our culture is consumed by media and enticement of common, material things. Most everyone, especially middle aged and younger adults and youth are in a sense, “buried alive” … as slaves to their smartphones and computers. The average person spends 8 hours and 41 mins interacting with electronic devices. (4.7 hours on smartphones). What if we gave just 15-30 minutes of silent prayer to God daily - it will change your life.
Being attached to stimulation and possessions is a grave obstacle to spiritual growth and thus, happiness and peace. Jesus said it easier for camel to pass through the needle’s eye than for one attached to possessions to enter the kingdom of God. Perhaps today’s idol is not only wealth but the crowding out of God, silence and building relationships. This occurs with technology readily available to everyone.
Thomas Merton wrote that, In our age, the intellectual and moral flabbiness of materialistic culture has robbed human nature of its spiritual energy and tone.
We are choosing media so much that it extinguishes the desire to pray or spend some time with those around us or serving those in need. (If not media, insert your own time sink/attachment). Are we neglecting God and family with our attachments? Are we occupied with escapes into virtual reality in such a way that it prevents our fulfillment of obligations, which includes daily prayer, silence and communion with God and others? We should ask whether our time and attention … gives glory to God and if it leads you toward love of God and neighbors. What is all of this talk about renunciation about? Union with God and happiness.
*A life of Recollection and Prayer is the means to renunciation- prayer is what allows us to “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. [and to] Think of what is above, not of what is on earth…” as Paul says … to withdraw our minds from all that prevents us from attending to God present within our souls (this is detachment). This is impossible unless I “recollect” (viz. rein in, collect) my senses - this is why almost no one has a deep prayer life. It is almost useless to try to recollect ourselves at the moment of prayer if we have allowed our senses and imagination to run wild all the rest of the day. We must preserve moderate recollection throughout the day if we are to maintain a life of prayer and disposition to be moved by the Holy Spirit. It means living in an atmosphere of faith and with occasional moments of prayer and attention to God. The culture of our country poses immense and immediate barriers to anyone wishing to develop a mature spiritual life (of even 15-20 minutes of prayer daily). Even amidst this technology and media, let us resolve to carve out a time for deep prayer and cultivate a love for silence and meditation. This will lead us to a new peace and awareness of the spiritual that is so absent from our culture of materialism and hedonism.
Much of what we inundate our senses with, causes dissipation of spirit - it saps us of spiritual energy. Immersion for hours of our senses every day in stimulation from media, computers, where we are passively inundated develops a sweet tooth for the senses and dulls the taste of the spirit. We become lazy, which St. Thomas says is a “weariness of and distatste for what is good.” So, in order to practice prayer, we must develop a strong resistance to the futile appeals which modern society makes to our five senses. Hence the need for renunciation, mortification of desires. The soul that allows itself to be only dimly enlightened by God because of attachments has very little awareness of its own indigence - viz. need for God. Hence, most people are not even interested in spiritual growth.
Inordinate preoccupation with perishing things and constant inclination to self-gratification and sin… makes us like the Prodigal Son in the foreign land. We cannot give ourselves to what is above - spiritual things, if we are always swept off our feet by a multitude of external activities and desires.
From this reflection, we see the reason we don’t pray and progress deeper in spiritual life is because we are unwilling to as St. Paul says, “put to death the parts of you that are earthly…” Paul mentions immorality with greed, because an earthly focus is to have disordered priority and will. We commit the sins of greed, impurity, pride and untruth because we are attached, loving earthly things and experiences more than God. Jesus never says things or possessions are themselves evil. It is our wills that are evil when we love the created more than the creator! When we allow media and other sinful attachments to extinguish our desire to pray and serve others, we can be sure we are worshiping false idols and risk slipping further away from God.
The rich man in our Gospel immersed himself in his possessions and wanted to focus his life on entertainment and comfort but did not “think of what is above” - viz. make God and the salvation of his soul and others the focus of his life. Thus, he died and was judged according to his love, viz. possessions, not God - so he received himself for eternity, not God, which is hell. As Jesus says, “thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”
Recognizing our attachments and examining how we spend our time and the quality of that time … goes a long way in solving the question of why we don’t make progress overcoming sinful habits and advance spiritually, not to mention why we are not happy and how we become happy. We need to wake up and look at what is going on around us and recognize why we exist. We are made for God, not for losing our souls in passing stimulations. God desires so much more for us, but renunciation and detaching ourselves from our possessions is the necessary means to rekindling a spirit of prayer and opening our hearts to God and others. This is the way of the cross that leads to life and peace and a joy the world cannot give. Peace+ DDG