[Scripture readings: Sir. 5/1-8, Gospel Mark 9/41-50.]
Dear family members, collaborators, alumni, benefactors, well-wishers, and my brother Jesuits,
The first reading of today from the book of Ecclesiasticus, in a very emphatic way, reinforces the Principle and Foundation that St. Ignatius, our Founder, places at the very start of the Spiritual Exercises. We are created to praise, reverence and serve God… and all the other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings, to help them in the pursuit of the end for which they are created. From this, it follows that we ought to use these created things in so far as and in as much as they help us towards this end and free ourselves from them to the extent that they hinder us from it.
It is amazing how the book of Ecclesiasticus formulates it: “Do not give your heart to your money”. One of the things we need in order to live in this world is money. But it is one thing to have money and use it for our normal well-bring, to purchase what we need and quite another thing to be possessed by money and to be caught up in its web. Once you have given your heart to money, your heart is no longer yours and it has no more room to love anyone or anything else. With this, you become self-sufficient and win the admiration of the world. This leads to a feeling of superiority and eventually to pride. This is the path of the Evil one that St. Ignatius spells out for us emphatically in the Meditation on the Two Standards: the Evil one entices us from riches to vain glory and honour, from there to pride and from pride to all the other vices. Therefore, the response to today’s psalm is meaningful: “Happy the man who has placed his trust in the Lord”.
The first reading also cautions us about several other important things for life e.g. living a loose and wayward life in the assurance that the compassion of God is great and “he will forgive me my many sins”. It also cautions us about delaying our conversion and return to the Lord. Procrastination is something that quite a few of us are victims of. One of the points of today’s first reading is not to put off your conversion to the Lord. Too much is at stake. We tend to procrastinate especially when it comes to spiritual matters.
The Gospel of today contains a series of saying against those who cause scandal and cause others to sin. The language that Jesus uses seems harsh – if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; if your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out….etc. I do not think that Jesus is asking people to maim parts of their bodies. Rather, he is using striking and graphic images to dramatize that we must be willing to root out from our lives evil and whatever threatens our relationship with God. No one and nothing, especially money, must be allowed to compromise our relationship with God and compromise the kingdom. As followers of Jesus, we must be ready and willing to forego anything for the sake of something much greater, the kingdom of God.
Our behavior in public may, sometimes, not be inspiring and may, at times, even cause scandal. This could lead others away from God. We have all heard of the experience of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of this great nation. He was deeply inspired by the life of Jesus as he encountered him in the Gospels but not with the lives of Christians. We have an enormous responsibility to make Jesus known and loved. May we lead such lives that people are almost compelled to ask, “Who are these people that live such lives and do such things and these things in such a way that our hearts burn when we see and encounter them? Who or what inspires them to be and live this way?”. May we not be deaf to the call of the Lord but be prompt and ready to do His most holy will, Amen. (Spiritual Exercises 91)