Are You Possessed by Your Own Possessions?
The Grinch: That's what it's all about, isn't it? That's what it's always been *about*. Gifts, gifts... gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts! You wanna know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me. In your garbage. You see what I'm saying? In your *garbage*. I could hang myself with all the bad Christmas neckties I found at the dump. And the avarice...
The Grinch: The avarice never ends! "I want golf clubs. I want diamonds. I want a pony so I can ride it twice, get bored and sell it to make glue." Look, I don't wanna make waves, but this *whole* Christmas season is...
The Grinch: ...stupid, stupid, stupid!
This is the scene that readily comes to my mind as I listen to today’s mass reading on Acts 4:32-37. The iconic, green bodied, hairy and monstrous “Grinch” is appropriately named for his sour, mean-spirited and volatile demeanor. In the film adaptation of the famous Dr. Seuss book, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!,” the Grinch unabashedly shares his hatred for Christmas to all the Whos of Who-ville. He sees them hurried about, shuffling from one store to the next to buy gifts, lights, wrapping paper and the like for Christmas, and it disgusts him. Is this really what Christmas is all about?, Cindy Lou Who, questions throughout the movie. With neighbors one upping each other to have the most decked out home filled with glitzy lights, parents who look frazzled trying to get presents, and kids running around screaming for toys that they must have, both the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who cannot help but think that Christmas is nothing more than a race for things. Although the Grinch is portrayed as an insane and angry outsider of the town of Whoville, his critiques on what happens during the Christmas season is quite apt and sad to say, does not end on Christmas day.
This desire for more, more, more and still more goes contrary to the the life lived by the first Christian community. It is written,
“The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need. Thus Joseph, also named by the apostles Barnabas (which is translated “son of encouragement”), a Levite, a Cypriot by birth, sold a piece of property that he owned, then brought the money and put it at the feet of the apostles” (Acts 4:32-37).
The early Christian community was not consumed by materialism. They did not hoard their belongings nor did they seek riches for themselves. Instead, they willingly gave up their possessions for the benefit of the community at large, and they trusted that their contributions would be fairly distributed to those who were in most need of them. This is quite something, is it not? While such a community may be hard for us to imagine especially in this day in age when status and honor is often depended on how much you have, this is the type of life that many of our religious communities live, in keeping with their vow of poverty.
This vow of poverty allows the religious to detach themselves from the things of this world and focus on the One who is the source of all good things here below and up above. The vow instills discipline, moderation and unity. The vow of poverty encourages them to live in union with both their religious community and Christ, and this affords them the blessing of becoming “of one heart and mind” like the first Christian community.
We can learn from their dedication to be detached from the things of this world, because they are the ones who are truly free. Notice that taking the vow of poverty is not the same as being poor, a life threatening situation. The early Christian community still had possessions, but they were simply not possessed by them. No one owned anything. Instead, all of the contributions were shared within the community, and this is how the vow of poverty is lived within religious orders.
Detachment. This is such an important spiritual practice, because it allows us to free ourselves to do the will of God. Like the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who, the early Christian community saw the negative impact of those who focus on acquiring wealth and honor and sought to detach themselves from it. Through spiritual detachment, these communities were able to see that buyers were being possessed by their own possessions! The desire for the latest iPhone, Mac computer, BMW and wide screen TV compels buyers to use credit, take out a loan, or even attain a second job to purchase it. Conversations are placed on hold while text messages are being exchanged. Schedules are rearranged to ensure that favorite TV shows are not missed. Jealousy peers its ugly head when it sees that someone has something they do not have. Division is created between the haves and the have nots. A sense of superiority is created among the haves, and their fear of besmirching their social status through losing their possessions and wealth keep them up at night.
This materialistic life, though, is the opposite of the true freedom that comes from following Christ. God does not want to give us momentary happiness through an accumulation of things. He wants to give us the lasting joy that comes from remaining in His love, and the practice of spiritual detachment allows us to do just that. St. Ignatius writes, “Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed by free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short. The same holds for all other things” (Spiritual Exercises #23).
The words of St. Ignatius may seem rather harsh, but when we take time to reflect on them, we begin to understand how our attachments to health, riches, honor and long life, for instance, often blind us from making sound decisions and living righteously. God, however, wants to free us from all that binds us which includes our possessions. He wants to show us what we miss when we focus on materialism instead of Him, and when we put our possessions aside, we set the stage for a deeper intimacy with Him.
How has your desire for health, riches, honor or long life affected some of the decisions you have made? When have you been tempted to place the things of this world above God? What is God calling you to detach from? Is it an unhealthy relationship? Your desire for fame? Your phone?
May God take the reigning place in your heart and help you detach from all things that keep you from Him!
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