That headline got your attention didn’t it?
They say the three topics you should avoid in polite conversation are sex, politics and money, but those are the only interesting things to talk about!
In fact it’s difficult to have much of a conversation without talking about sex, politics and money, and it’s pretty hard to preach a sermon worth anything at all without talking about sex, politics and money.
Because sex, politics and money are code for three topics that are actually vitally important and therefore vitally interesting: love, power and wealth. Everybody wants to be loved. Everybody wants to be in control. Everybody wants the security and pleasure money can buy. This is the way the world turns — everybody obsessed with the “P” words: pleasure, power, prosperity.
The intriguing thing is that this is the way the world turns — everybody running after the power, the pleasure and the loot, and yet they know that these things don’t last and even if you have them they do not satisfy. There’s a deeper need, and people know there’s a deeper need, but they cannot give up their lust for the power, the pleasure and the loot.
Furthermore, the love of these three — sex, money and politics — engender most of the conflicts, most of the arguments, most of the heart-breaking, marriage-wrecking, family-smashing, life-destroying things in life. In parish life, as in family life, the ultimate conflicts are over money, sex and power.
Chastity, poverty and obedience.
The three Franciscan vows bash the love of sex, money and power on their head. Celibacy turns away from sex. Poverty turns away from wealth. Obedience turns away from power. NOT because sex, money and power are in themselves evil, but because the love of them is the root of all evil. So in a radical act St. Francis and his followers teach us that all of us can put sex, money and power in their place and say, “I’m in charge here. Sex, money and power?” That’s the way of the world and I don’t walk that way.
So who am I to say this? I am not a Franciscan friar. I’m a married priest. I have a wife and four kids. I have a decent house in the suburbs and as many cars as any other suburban family man. That’s why we don’t judge by appearances. The real, underlying question is not whether one has these things, but whether we’re attached to them.
One of the sweetest conversations I ever had was with one of my sons driving along in our nice car.
Me: “You know all this stuff we have? The car, the house, the motorcycle, the computers?”
Me: I don’t care about any of it. Honest to God. I really think I could walk away from it all tomorrow and be a missionary and live in some jungle hut.”
Him: (after a silence) “I’m like that too.”
Benedictine monks and nuns take three vows too: the vows of stability, obedience and conversion of life. However, within Benedict’s rule he stipulates that the monk should own no personal possessions. In other words, although poverty is not a formal Benedictine vow it too, is woven into their rule of life.
The vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience are not ends in themselves. They are means to an end. They are in place to nurture the greater grace of detachment.
Detachment in Eastern religions is a form of Gnosticism in which physical things of the material world are considered inferior to spiritual things. This is not the Christian view. Instead “detachment” for Christians is the ability to love all things according to their worth. We thank God for all the created order and for all the good things man, in his ingenuity has made, but we love them for their true worth — never being attached to them or treating them as the fulfillment of our desire.
If we love all things and all people according to their worth then we will love Jesus Christ the Lord above all created things, and his Blessed Mother above all other created beings. That is their true worth, and when we get that priority in place everything else falls into line.
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“Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata,” attr. to Jan van Eyck, c. 1430
If we love all things and all people according to their worth, we will love Jesus Christ the Lord above all created things