“There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest.
He asked himself, ‘What shall I do,
for I do not have space to store my harvest?’
And he said, ‘This is what I shall do:
I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones.
There I shall store all my grain and other goods
and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you,
you have so many good things stored up for many years,
rest, eat, drink, be merry!”’
But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.” – from Luke 12, today’s Gospel
Sometimes I worry that I am a hoarder. You’re probably thinking that there is not a lot of ambiguity in that designation, that it should be pretty easy to know whether I am or not. And anyone who has been to my itty bitty apartment, or seen me on one of my merciless clutter purges, or knows that I only spend money on books, food, and wine, knows that letting crap pile up probably isn’t among my compulsions.
I wish that made me rest easier about today’s Gospel. Even if I don’t accumulate stuff, I am often tempted to store up treasure for myself. The things I hoard are intangible: affection, esteem, opportunity. There is a fear that we all share, an uncertainty that is part of being human, and we all find ways to fight the fear off by building up reserves of what we think we need.
Yesterday was the feast of St Ignatius, whose famous Suscipe concludes “Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.” I wish I were able to mean those words. Would God’s grace been enough for me if I had to do something that caused people to not like me? Would it be enough if I abandoned my self-centered charm? Would I be satisfied by divine love if I made a choice or commitment that closed certain doors to me? Rather than putting all of my eggs in God’s basket, I have spread them out over countless baskets, just in case…
If we are going to hold the saints up as our idols, we need to be realistic enough to acknowledge the cost. One of the most treasured quotes from Pedro Arrupe reads: More than ever I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth. But now there is a difference; the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands. He offered that reflection after a stroke that rendered him unable to speak. Perhaps to truly surrender to God involves a destruction, a shattering. After all, surrender is a war metaphor.
Is that part of the beauty of prayer, that we repeat these phrases, like “that is enough for me” even when our heart isn’t in it? Lots of people call us hypocrites because we pray “Thy will be done” or “peace be with you” and then go off and behave in the silly, destructive ways we always do. I’m not sure it’s hypocrisy – I think it’s hope. We are hopeful that someday we will conquer ourselves, or be conquered, and be able to truly mean the things we pray for. All of our prayer is a plea for transformation. We want nothing more than to arrive at the day when God’s grace is enough for us, even though now we let all our little wants get in the way of that larger goal.
Augustine wrote How shall I call upon my God, my God and my Lord, when by the very act of calling upon him I would be calling him into myself? And still he prayed. Knowing how hard it is should be no excuse for stopping. It is dangerous to offer our memory, our understanding, our will, our freedom as Ignatius did, because someday God might take us up on our offer. When the things we think define us are stripped away, may we find consolation in what we think is desolation. May we understand more fully that our hearts are made for love, restless until they rest in God. May the barns and silos we can’t help but fill with ourselves not come between us and the grace for which we are destined.