When I was newly ordained, I heard our retreat master mention something that has stuck to the back of my mind as Gospel truth and has had the significance of a milestone on the road to happiness, i.e., to God: “Jesus has to be everything for you.”
In the course of my 46 plus years of priesthood, that phrase has presented both a goal and a benchmark pointing to my vain attempts at finding other people/things/goals to replace, at least partially, that EVERYTHING which Christ was supposed to become for me. Consequently, from time to time, I must admit my foolishness in having lessened the EVERYTHING of Christ for me by finding poor, miserable substitutes that, even if enjoyed all at the same time, would never amount to much; certainly not enough to satisfy the void that Christ alone can fill.
As I reveal this truth about my life, I hope that you would admit to yourselves that you, too, have been and perhaps still are, just as foolish.
Notice, then, how much God loves us in placing before our eyes of faith the images of two people for whom God had become “everything:” the widow of Zarephath and the widow that threw into the Temple treasury her last two copper coins.
A few drops of oil a handful of flour, that’s everything that was left for the widow and her son in our reading from the Book of Kings (1 Kings 17: 10-16): Everything: …when we have eaten it, we shall die. In our Gospel passage from Mark (12:41-44), we have the same scenario. “Everything” was given to God: …but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.
As we are edified, and shamed, by the heroic gesture of these defenseless and clout-less women, we begin to wonder if we are really called to donate all that we have to God/Church and spend the rest of our days in misery and want. How do we set for ourselves the goal of making Christ to be EVERYTHING for our family and us and yet make a decent, dignified living? This question is even more relevant nowadays that are always filled with ever-mounting insecurities and uncertainties.
By way of answering that question and meeting the challenge that Christ becoming EVERYTHING for us presents, let me tell you that, by joining a religious order as a nun or a friar with the vow of poverty, one doesn’t necessarily make Jesus to be EVERYTHING for her/him. It can be, actually, quite possible for a professed religious, for a priest, brother or nun to give the appearance that Jesus has become EVERYTHING when, in reality, they are leading a carefree life in which all basic needs are met by their superiors and their institutes. Jesus becomes EVERYTHING only gradually, painstakingly, a bit each day; and it is done by the Holy Spirit working in one’s heart.
In theory it is possible to be very wealthy and yet detached from material possessions and comforts to the extent that Jesus alone would fill one’s heart. Conversely, there can be a poor, destitute person who hates the rich, envies them and dreams of getting his/her hands on their money in any possible way, thus leaving in his/her heart not much room, if any, for Jesus. Furthermore, one can be egocentric, rich of oneself without being financially rich. One can try to fill the void inside with diplomas, recognition, selfish pursuits, arrogance, stubbornness, prejudice, aloofness, pleasures and so on.
How, then, do we make our heart such that it makes room only for Jesus? So that Jesus becomes EVERYTHING for us?
- We do so by becoming convinced that God collects in His flask every tear ever shed, and records every sigh in His book. (cf. Psalm 56:9)
- We do so by being aware that the Lord alone has an accurate and updated account of every single hair on our heads.
- We do so by seeing everything that we have as a gift from His caring hands and being thoroughly grateful to Him.
- We do so by being content with what we have and by sharing generously with the less fortunate until we give all of what an impartial judge would consider “surplus” in our possessions.
- We do so by allowing the Holy Spirit to shape us with the same attitude that was in Christ Jesus.
In the Letter to the Philippians (2:3-55), we read: Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not only for his own interests, but also everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.
Hence, Jesus becomes everything for us when we come to believe that our true security rests in God alone, exclusively—while nothing/nobody else would even come close!
On the way of being “everything” for us, if our love for Jesus begins to be truly powerful and compelling, we would realize the numbing, mind-blowing significance of the word “everything” and we would feel swept by the Holy Spirit to let at least some of our friends know about Jesus and encourage them to see if he can become everything for them too! Everything means that we would be giving up any attempt at finding fulfilment and happiness elsewhere.
We would not be content with preaching about Jesus by example. The fire inside would be uncontainable and we would be driven to let others know about him. But whom should we approach? But how should we preach about him? But when should we be doing our version of unleashing the Gospel? We should not concern ourselves with answering these questions. We have simply to let Jesus know that we are available. It will be the Holy Spirit who will indicate the “whom,” “how,” “when” and “where.”
At this time, it should be clear both how far we might still be from duplicating the heroic gesture of those two widows and what we need to work on, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to be truly happy, i.e., to make Christ to be EVERYTHING for us—and for many others.