GOD'S WORD TODAY - Manuel V. Francisco, S.J. -

I do not even remember her name now. She was tall, Chinoy, and she was my monita (kris kringle) in one of our college classes. When it was time for Christmas gift giving, I agonized over what to give someone who obviously seemed to have everything.

In the end, I decided to just make a simple gift out of a matchbox in which I placed a little ceramic (or was it plastic) Jesus wrapped in some white fluff (cotton balls, I guess). I do not remember the note I wrote to accompany the gift. All I remember was the tone of her note back to me: joyful, thankful, soulful.

If you have friends who are rich and you do not know what to give them, you only have to give something that will speak to the hollow in their heart. Rich or poor, we carry this cavity all our mortal lives. This primordial poverty only appears to be more stark and thus more tragic with the privileged gentry.

It is like the loneliness of married or busy or famous people. You don’t expect it. The radius of the emptiness stays nearly the same for rich and poor alike; the sink hole only gets larger with those who try to stuff it with some thing or another.

To his disciples and to us today, the Lord says, “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.”

Mammon isn’t even a god in any of our cultures but we’ve managed to make it into one. Such is mammon’s magnetism that we’ve deified it out of nothing. It is an old Aramaic word for “riches” that translates more properly as greed or avarice. When understood as the latter, mammon has the uncanny power to make demons out of angels and mere mortals.

Money therefore is not the root of all evil. Our coveting it however is the source of so much sorrow in this world.

To escape the gravity of mammon, I suggest therefore doing any of the following:

Go to a mall. Before you go inside a store where the letters SALE are shouting at you, remember the good angel’s voice, “ang di mo kailangan, huwag mong bilhin; ang di mo mabibili, huwag mong kakailanganin.” Then set aside those silly words, and feel the tug. Feel the rush. Feel the plastic in your wallet. The best way to know mammon is to know your vulnerability to the intensity of its force.

Go to a casino. Or place all your bets in equities or stocks. Experience the ephemeral highs and lows of winning or losing. When you win, splurge and get the things money can buy. When you lose, sell what you have to survive and dive into a depression. Then one evening, when things are a little clear and quiet, listen closely to your life. Listen for the sound the wind makes over the hollowness inside you.

Go to a hospital or a cemetery. Ponder the fragility and brevity and end of life. Ponder how life’s shortness and unpredictability can make for so much hoarding and grabbing. Mortality keeps us in mammon’s orbit. It is the constancy of faith and its defiance of death that release us ultimately from mammon’s grip.

Read the newspaper. Then read the callous lines from today’s first reading: “We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating! We will buy the lowly for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals.” If you’ve bought into mammon, be afraid, be very afraid. When it comes to his beloved poor, the Lord knows how to swear and remember. “The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!”

Go to a kindergarten class. Go to where children are learning to count. Instead of counting coins or the hours, learn to count the things that truly count. Count your blessings; go for the bottom line in the balance sheet of your life. This demands training your eye to discern those assets and liabilities that truly matter. It also means learning not to lie to yourself.

Open your car window just once when an urchin sells you sampaguita. You don’t have to do this everyday at the traffic intersection. Just once, give a token coin to get that flower. Smell the flower before the light turns green and think for a moment how little it takes to make people happy. Discover again how little it takes to make you happy.

Enter a chapel and gaze at the God that hangs on that cross. Pray to experience neither pity nor fear; only freedom and love. Pray to find happiness in receiving him, even as a ceramic child in a matchbox from someone who can speak to the hollow in your heart.

*      *      *

Fr. Jose Ramon T. Villarin SJ is President of Xavier University, Ateneo de Cagayan. For feedback on this column, email tinigloyola@ yahoo.com

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