You Always Get What You Want
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

The First Reading is one of my favorites in the Old Testament. The Lord appears to Solomon in a dream one night and says: “Ask something of me and I will give it to you”.

It is significant that this occurred in a dream, because it is while in this state that we are alone with God in the depths of our unconscious mind and completely open and unable to interfere with Him. It is on this deepest level of the unconscious that the secret of what we ultimately want lies hidden from the world, but exposed to God. And when it is revealed what it is we ultimately want, we are revealed, that is, our deepest and truest identity. It all starts on that level. What is it you want, ultimately?

In this state, Solomon, like every one of us, discloses to God what it is he wants ultimately. He does not ask for a long life for himself, he does not ask for great wealth. He does not ask that he may conquer his enemies. He asks for wisdom. This is what Solomon loves above all things; wisdom. And notice the sense he has of his own limitations. He says: “I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act.” So he asks God: “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong”.

That’s Solomon. That’s who he is. You are what you will. That is one of the most important truths that I try to get across to my students. You determine your character, your moral identity, by the choices that you make, and the choices that you make are ultimately rooted in a very general decision that each one of us has made, in the very depths of our subconscious mind, a general decision to be a certain kind of person.

You are not what you feel. A person might have all sorts of feelings that bother him, feelings that he does not want; perhaps feelings of anger, or sadness, or fear, or feelings of inordinate desire. Those are feelings, but you are not what you feel. And you are not necessarily what you think—a person might have all sorts of ideas floating around in his head, perhaps even very disturbing ideas. You might even have wrong ideas that you were not responsible for. You are not what you think. But you are what you will. The only time you are what you think is when what you think stems from what you will. And what a person wills ultimately is not always manifest to others, or even to himself.

But in the end, you always get what you want. God always gives you what you want. Solomon wanted wisdom, and he received it. He was given a heart that understands right and wrong. He wanted to understand right and wrong because he loved the good, he loved truth, he loved wisdom. As a result of that, the name of Solomon has been associated, throughout history, with wisdom.

If you are looking for a fascinating book, read the book of Wisdom in the Old Testament. In chapter six we read: “Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her; one who watches for her at dawn will not be disappointed, for she will be found sitting at the gate. For setting your heart on her is the perfection of prudence, and whoever keeps vigil for her is quickly free from care; because she makes her rounds, seeking those worthy of her, and graciously appears to them on the way, and goes to meet them with full attention.”

What this reading makes so clear is that if a person does not have wisdom, it is because the person simply does not want it. And there are many people who are indifferent to wisdom, indifferent to coming to a genuine understanding of the Law of the Lord, that is, the truth of what is good and what is evil.

A person’s character describes what a person is. There is nothing that is more intimately yours than your moral identity, your character. And character is determined by our free choices. If I choose to lie to you, I am a liar. If I choose to commit adultery, I am an adulterer. That’s my identity. If I freely choose to kill another, I have the moral identity of a killer, even if no one knows about it, that is, even if it is my deepest secret. That’s what I am. It is only genuine repentance that brings about a change of my own moral identity.

And character is not the same thing as personality. Our personality traits are inherited and in part determined by environment. But we are not going to be judged on our personality. You can have a very dull, drab, even cantankerous personality, but have great character. Conversely, you can have a great personality, but depraved character. Character is entirely yours, personality isn’t. In fact, some of the most notorious psychopaths have very charming personalities—that’s how they were able to deceive so many people. Being a nice guy is not the same as goodness, much less holiness.

Bad character begins with being indifferent to one’s own character. Some people couldn’t care less what kind of person they determine themselves to be by their choices; they couldn’t care less. What these people care about primarily is how they feel. Feeling is more important than being. We know this is true in our case if we are willing to do something that is evil, thus corrupting our moral identity, for the sake of feeling good, for the sake of possessing some temporary good, like money, or position, or a feeling of pleasure. Money and position make a person feel a certain way. And some people are simply more interested in feeling good than they are in being good.

But when things shift the other way, when we begin to become more interested in being than in feeling, more interested in character than in possessing, then there are certain choices we simply will not make no matter how much enjoyment or security they bring to our lives, because in making this or that choice, I become a certain kind of person, and I don’t want to be that kind of person, no matter how easy and enjoyable my life becomes from that point onwards. And some students are very honest. They readily admit that feeling comfortable and having a rather upscale lifestyle are more important to them than their own character, their own moral identity—more important than holiness. And so they “sell their soul”, so to speak, for the sake of that temporary state of affairs. And that’s what it is—temporary. They exchange the eternal for the temporary.

Solomon couldn’t care less about riches, nor about the satisfying feeling of victory over his enemies, nor about a long life. He wanted a heart that understands good and evil in order to be able to serve the Lord well in the position in which the Lord placed him, namely, ruler of God’s chosen people.

It all comes down to what we ultimately want. And it is possible to attend Mass week in and week out without ultimately wanting wisdom, without loving the Law of the Lord. I think that’s why some Evangelical Churches in the U.S are doing so well, because some preachers have given a new twist to the gospel, which is known in Evangelical circles as the “gospel of prosperity”. The idea is that if you accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, you will prosper, because the Lord wants you to prosper economically (Cf. 3 Jn), and if you embrace his name and immerse yourselves in the Scriptures, prosperity will follow. Most people today love their own prosperity above all things, and so if going to Church will open the flood gates of financial prosperity, Church is where you’ll find them. That’s why these Churches are bursting at the seams.

But that’s not a genuine love of holiness. Recently in a major U.S. city, a Church group put on a Passion play, and it was a Black man who was chosen to play the part of Jesus. After realizing this, many people walked.

I know a young lady from the U.S. who comes from a very wealthy family, and who is about to be cut out of the will because she is in a very serious relationship with a black man—of very good character, I might add. If she marries him, she will be left with nothing. And these parents are people who attend Mass weekly, including Eucharistic adoration.

Now that’s the U.S., but Canada is just as bad; we are just hung up on other issues. There are parishioners who will write letters of complaint to the bishop if a priest were to preach a hard sermon on sexual morality, or abortion, contraception, or euthanasia. It happens all the time—which is probably why we rarely hear these topics preached from the pulpit. The fact is, some people come to Church to actually pray their way away from God. “If I go to Mass regularly, say my prayers, then I must be okay; I don’t have to deal with this nagging voice in the depths of my conscience.” This is self-deception. But on the deepest level of the subconscious, what we ultimately want is fully exposed to God’s gaze.

We are what we will. We are what we love. And only God knows for certain if at our very depths we love ourselves above all things, or if we love God above all things. But if we love the self above all, and if we persist in that to the end, the Lord will give us what we want. He will leave us to ourselves for eternity.

Christ said that in my father’s house there are many mansions. The mansion we get is the one we build by the choices that we make. It is the mansion of our own soul. Our soul is an interior castle, and its beauty and majesty depend upon us, on how much we cooperate with the grace of God offered to us, and if we neglect our soul because we are so preoccupied with this life, this world, with our own lifestyle, our house will be very dilapidated and small. It might even be a hell to live in, and it will be ours forever. But if we put the works of charity first, the kingdom of God first, the Lord’s will first and above all and everything else second, we will have built a beautiful mansion that will be ours for eternity, and it is eternity alone that matters.