February 16, 2016
Jair and Erin have offered two heart-felt reflections on poverty and almsgiving over the past few days, and I feel I have little to add to what they've said about helping our brothers and sisters in need. Both of their reflections were spiritual and practical in what we can and should do, so today I'll offer a thought that came to me yesterday regarding material possessions.
As some of you know my fiance has recently moved up to the "suburbs" of Westchester. After nine years living in New York City, I'm no longer used to the supermarket-sized stores that have everything in one place; I've become accustomed to having to search out specialty items, or making do with what's in the neighborhood and going without. One thing that New York apartments help you do is downsize! But yesterday I was back in the land of enormous stores, suburbia, helping him shop with the added luxury of having a car to carry everything home. How quickly I slipped back into the mindset of making unnecessary purchases--the temptation to linger in a particular store, when we really only needed one thing, was strong. I noticed it, and I stopped myself, but a little voice in my head said, "Isn't this the kind of lifestyle you deserve?"
Another thing about my fiance--he has a book on one of his bookshelves called God Owes Us Nothing. I have no idea what it's about and if it's any good, but whenever I visit him I notice it, and its title haunts me a little. We can get pretty caught up in what we feel we deserve, and while it is normal to feel frustrated at times and even to express that frustration to God, if we aren't looking at our lives and everything in them as gifts from Him, that frustration can grow and grow until it becomes bitterness. The Lenten trifecta of almsgiving, fasting, and prayer reflects this--we give to others out of the gifts we've been given, we offer up to God the food He gives us to nourish our bodies, and we come to realize that even our prayers come from God (quite literally in today's Gospel, in which Jesus teaches His disciples the Our Father).
My trip to the suburbs made me realize the dangers of getting too comfortable with the idea of deserving, especially when it comes to excess goods. But we feel we deserve lots of other things too, and when God does not meet our expectations for the "perfect life" we become hostile. But there is no perfection except through the Cross. That's it. End of story. Our goal is not Stepford Wife tranquility but sanctity--which often means suffering. But it also means that the gifts themselves become so much more beautiful, significant, and real to us when we see them for what they really are.
So perhaps one way to add to Jair and Erin's reflections about the poor is to take inventory of our own goods, and find ways this Lent to cut down on excess and detach ourselves from our possessions so that we may make room for the gifts Christ wishes to give us in this holy season.
Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us!