Pains and Gains

Antonio P. Pueyo
August 28, 2005
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Reproduced with Permission

I am a teacher. Sometimes, students with failing grades come to me and ask for some consideration. As they present their case, varied reasons are given. Mostly, their parents will be angry, or will not allow them to go to school any longer. Eventually the question is asked, "What will I do in order to pass this subject?" My standard answer is "Study."

When we want something badly enough we have to work hard for it. We do not often get a free lunch. If we do, somebody is paying for it.

There was a time in my life when I was into body building (those who know me will not believe this). As we physical enthusiasts enter the gym, a big sign greets us, "No pain, no gain." The first week was indeed a week of muscle pains (or pains due to undeveloped muscles). I remember especially the pain in the abdominal area because of the sit-ups we had to accomplish.

It is a fact of life. You want the fruits, take care of the roots. You want muscles? Then bear the pain.

Since life is short, we really have to look hard into the choices we make. When we choose one thing, we are bound to sacrifice another. We have to make the wise decision to give our time and effort to things that really matter. Jesus reminds us about this in this Sunday's Gospel "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?" (Mt.16:26)

Do you have a life? Or are you just existing? What is that which makes one really live? What is that which is more important than gaining the whole world?

Humanity's millennia of experiences show that people's struggle for a worthwhile life mostly revolve around three things: to be somebody, to have something, and to have somebody. Stories in all cultures tell of people's search for fulfillment through conquest, wealth, and relationships. Enshrined in world history are the exploits of Alexander, Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon. Explorers have searched for the fabled wealth of the pharaohs. We are fascinated by that great monument to love, the Taj Mahal.

Alongside these stories are those of people who have given up life, power, riches and loved ones for what they believe is a greater purpose. Famous examples are Socrates, the Buddha and Francis of Assisi.

Life really revolves around two poles - the pole of having and the pole of renouncing. Acquiring and surrendering. One may acquire the whole world, but at the end one has to relinquish them. One may have a perfect physique and flawless beauty but eventually old age diminishes them. One may have developed intellectual acuity but eventually memory fails and thinking gets fuzzy.

The Lord's challenge for us is that in this life we give importance to that which has eternal repercussions. Go for life, life that lasts eternally. How? When one acts like God does, which means acting with the mind and heart of Jesus Christ, then we really have life. When we act with love, kindness, justice, and concern for the poor, then our earthly life somehow overlaps with eternal life. We are acting as citizens of God's Kingdom. And when we cross the great divide, we will not be strangers in paradise. We will be coming home. We will have gained Eternal Life.

Action starter: What will you give up now for the sake of the kingdom? What will you gain by giving it up?