Detach Yourself and Give Alms
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

“Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom”.

More than twenty times throughout the New Testament Jesus counsels us not to fear. There is nothing for us to fear, because everything is subject to the providence of God. Nothing happens to His faithful without His permission, and whatever He permits to happen to His faithful ones, He permits for their greatest good. He desires our greatest good. As Jesus said here, “Your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom”.

This world is not the kingdom, no matter how wonderful our life is here. The kingdom of God does not pass away, it is eternal. But just as the sun is too bright for us to gaze at for any great length of time, so too the kingdom of God exceeds the capacity of our soul. Our souls have to be prepared for the kingdom of God. They have to be properly disposed for the kingdom of heaven. We do this by detaching from this world and directing ourselves towards the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is God Himself, God who is Love. Our soul has to be gradually detached from the love of self and more deeply attached to the love of God.

But God dwells among us, He hides Himself under a very real disguise, and He told us where we can find Him. He said in the parable of the Last Judgment: “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, sick and you visited long as you did this for the least of my brethren, you did it for me.”

That is why immediately after urging us not to be afraid, Jesus said: “Sell your belongings and give alms.”

There is the detachment: “Sell your belongings”, get rid of what you do not need, get rid of all that is weighing you down and binding you to this world.

Soon we are going to see colourful hot air balloons in the sky over North York. That’s always a sign that the end of the summer is near and fall is approaching. It must be exhilarating to ride in one of those balloons. But there is no rising from the earth unless the line that secures the balloon to the earth is detached from it. It has to be completely detached from the ground, otherwise is goes nowhere.

So too with us, there is no rising towards God until we begin to detach from the love of this world.

But detachment is not enough, even for the balloon. It needs hot air to rise, and that comes from the flame. So too, we need the flame of the divine love to raise us towards the Lord. That is why in this gospel, Jesus immediately said: “give alms”. With the excess money that we get from selling all that weighs us down and keeps us attached to the earth, give alms, turn towards the poor and the needy, think of them, serve them, because they are a tabernacle in which Christ dwells. He said it himself: “…as long as you did this for the least of my brethren, you did it for me”.

Giving alms is an act of love. If we begin to love Jesus in loving and serving the poor, we will come to know him intimately. We will know him not just from the outside, from hearing about him, but from within, from the inside, by actually loving him in the poor. We never really know anyone just by reading about them, but only by loving them do we come to know them.

At the end of this gospel, Christ speaks of punishment. That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be “beaten severely”. That’s a pretty serious warning.

The person who does not use this life to prepare for heaven, but lives his life for himself, whose treasure is here in this world, such a person will enter eternity with a soul completely indisposed to delight in the joy of heaven—which is the joy of loving God and His saints.

To exist forever, in eternity, with a heart that was created for God, for the possession of God, but forever deprived of that possession, is hell. And it is very difficult to imagine the pain of hell. But there are ways of coming to some appreciation of it.

I’m not sure how many of you are fans of The Twighlight Zone, but there is a great episode called “A Nice Place to Visit”. The story is about a crook named Rocky Valentine, and he’s in the middle of a robbery when the police arrive. He ends up getting shot. He wakes up, and there standing next to him is a man in a white suit who looks like Burl Ives, whose name is Pip. He is Rocky Valentine’s guide in this new after life of his.

Rocky is given everything he desires, i.e., money, nice clothes that fit perfectly, three beautiful women, a beautiful house to live in, the finest cigars, and he loves to gamble, so at the casino he is gambling and winning all the time, no matter what game he plays, whether it’s roulette or a slot machine. Money just pours in. Every day he feasts on the finest foods, whatever he wants. He drives the car he’s always wanted to drive, when he plays a game of pool, he hits a perfect shot every time. None of this changes his heart, however. He still feels resentment when a tall police officer walks by, and since his wish is that the officer be humiliated in some way, his wish is granted—the officer is reduced in size to a small boy.

At one point he tries to recall what good deed he ever did in his life that made up for all the bad he’s ever done, and that would explain why he’s enjoying this heavenly bliss.

To answer this question, his guide Pip takes him to the Hall of Records. He reads his file, and all he reads are his past crimes. He can’t find any good deed, so he shrugs his shoulders and goes off to fool around with his girls, to gamble a bit more, and his guide tells him if he needs anything, to just call him by dialling PIP.

He’s back in the Casino, still winning, but he just doesn’t care anymore. In the next scene he’s surrounded by his three girls playing poker in bed, and of course he wins with a royal flush, and the women having nothing but admiration for him. But he’s fed up and kicks them out of his room, insulting them on their way out. He’s terribly frustrated, so he picks up the phone and dials for Pip.

When his guide appears, he tells him that he’s been here a month and he can’t stand it anymore. “I’m bored, I’m bored,” he says. Well, his guide gives him the option of returning to his former way of life. If he wants, he can rob a bank or a convenient store, and he will even arrange for a get a way car of his choice. In desperation, Rocky asks: “Is there a chance that I could get caught?” Pip replies: “Of course, I’ll just make a note of it”. Whatever Rocky wants, he gets.

But Rocky sees that this is pointless. “There’s no meaning”, he says. And so Rocky tells Pip: “I just don’t think I belong here, I just don’t fit in”. He says “If I have to stay here another day, I’m gonna go nuts. Look, I don’t belong in heaven. I want to go to the other place”.

Pip stands up and says: “Heaven? Whatever gave you the idea you’re in heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place”. Rocky’s face is struck with horror, and he tries to open the doors, but he cannot. It ends with the narrator: “A scared angry little man who never got a break, now he has everything he’s ever wanted, and he’s going to have to live with it for eternity”.

It’s a brilliant image of hell—the eternal love of self, forever trapped in the small world one has made for oneself.

But now imagine what it would be like to be forever in the presence of those who love only themselves, who love sin more than they love God. Those whose love for human beings was always a matter of self-love: they loved others only for what they could do for them. Outside of that, they had no use for others.

To have to exist forever in the realm of the damned is unthinkable. The basic food of the soul is love: We were created to love and be loved—to love God above all things, and to be loved by God, who loves each one of us as if there is only one of us. To have rejected that in favour of prosperity in this temporary world is unthinkable stupidity.

Many people die without having prepared for eternal life with God. As a chaplain once said to me who spent many years with the dying: “Generally speaking, people die as they live”. If they live without God, they typically die without God. If they live never having developed a prayer life, an interior life, they die without an interior life. If they have lived loving only themselves, they die loving only themselves. The eternal existence that they have freely determined for themselves is nothing other than hell.

But our preparation begins here by trusting in God, listening to Christ when he tells us not to fear, by detaching ourselves from all the riches that we possess out of a fear that we will be left without, and by thinking of the poor and giving alms regularly. The angel Raphael, in the book of Tobit, says: “Prayer with fasting and alms with right conduct are better than riches with iniquity. Better to practise almsgiving than to hoard up gold. Almsgiving saves from death and purges every kind of sin. Those who give alms have their fill of days; those who commit sin and do evil, bring harm on themselves.”