Our Possessions That Possess Us
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
“A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
Let me begin with story about a 4th c Desert Father, Abba Agathon.
One day, the old monk, Abba (Father) Agathon was walking with his disciples when one of them saw a small green pea. He asked Abba Agathon, “Father, may I take it?” The old monk looked at him with astonishment and said, “Was it you who put it there?” “No”, the younger monk replied. Abba Agathon then said, “How can you take up that which you didn’t put down?”
The other day, I was cleaning my little apartment and I am astonished about the amount of things I have accumulated but no longer have use for: books I’ve not read in years, school catalogs of twenty years ago, love letters from the distant past, and clothes I’ve not worn in years. We are all creatures of desires, and our desires- our wants and needs- make us want to possess- covetousness, I believe, they call it, the excessive attachment and desires of the souls that we tend to clutter our lives with things, and often things we don’t have a need for really, or perhaps, even when we do have a need of things, we accumulate them beyond what is necessary. The Gospel today about the rich man is about our attachments to possessions. The difficulty with the rich young mas was not his possession or wealth per se, but that he was overly attached to them so as to prevent him from having a deeper relationship with Christ. Likewise, we could be attached to money and possessions that we dedicate our lives to the accumulation of them so that there is no time for God, or perhaps no time for our family and other important things in life. We could be attached to our money or possessions that we don’t want to share some of it with the poor. But material things are not the only possessions that could hinder us from following the ways of Christ. Possessions could mean our mental possessions- our negative habits we have accumulated, our attachments to our resentments and our anger, or even our attachments to our views that make us think we are always right. These are our psychological and spiritual “possessions” that could clutter our soul.
The Church Fathers said that the spiritual life partly consists in training our hearts and soul not to become attached to our physical and mental possessions to the degree that they could hinder us from following God. We must cultivate a habit of a relaxed hold on things spiritual, emotional and physical- so that these things would not pull the soul down from its ascent to God. Sometimes, this habit is cultivated by the spiritual discipline of fasting or abstaining. Every time I visit a Filipino store near me, the owner never fails to offer to sell me crispy pork belly. I love crispy pork belly but I often abstain from buying because I know if I taste it would increase my desire for it and so I would buy it more often, and that won’t be good for my health. Sometimes, we need to fast or abstain from what we want- to deny the desires of our hearts- in order to train our souls and bodies. Maybe we need to fast from buying that latest gadget or clothes we don’t really need. Sometimes we might have to fast from work overtime when we find ourselves not having time for God or our family. Sometimes we need to fast from resentful thoughts that would lead us to saying something that could be hurtful something that comes from the heart’s possession of a resentment or anger. When we have managed to train our heart and soul, then our desires for things and the things themselves will no longer make us slaves of them. In regards to being freed from negative mental possessions, we are freed to love more. As to material possessions, we become free to use them for love. When we have detachment, we can actually use things for the service of God and our neighbor.
One day, as Abba Agathon went to town to sell some the things he made, he met a sick man who asked him to carry him to town. Abba Agathon obliged him. Once Abba Agathon managed to sell one item, the same sick man asked him to buy him a cake. Abba Agathon obliged him again. When Abba Agathon sold another item, the sick man asked him to buy him another thing. Abba Agathon did so. At the end of the day, the sick man asked Abba Agathon to carry him back home. And Abba Agthon obliged him. The sick man then blessed him, “Agathon, you are a man filled with blessings on heaven and on earth. Abba Agathon suddenly realized that it was no mere sick man but an angel of the Lord who came to test him.
© 2016 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a queer Filipino priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
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