I recently read that half of Americans have nothing saved for their retirement. Ouch.
It would be interesting to get the statistic for our eternal savings. The fortunate in our culture can type in an online password and get a chart to see how certain investments are faring, seeing how close or how far they are from attaining the necessary savings for retirement.
Too bad we couldn’t do the same for our heavenly treasure, reviewing the status of our eternal IRA.
Scripture says one day we’ll have a seat and get a thorough overview of our portfolio.
Perhaps we may say the equivalent of, “Ah, that was a good year.” Or, “Ouch, things sort of took a nosedive during those years.”
One thing seems almost certain. If we have saved so little for earthly retirement, despite being reminded and encouraged every day, it’s a strong possibility our heavenly IRA could stand more investment as well.
How do we do that?
A couple of weeks ago, Teresa and I contemplated a major life decision that would affect our whole family. We had had been praying for some time. One morning I opened up the daily readings and discovered it was the parable of the rich fool.
In the Gospel of Luke, a gentleman is pleading his case to Jesus because his brother hadn’t shared any of the family’s inheritance with him. The request didn’t seem all that far-fetched. Surely Jesus will suggest a fair solution. Perhaps he’ll go to the greedy brother and goad him into sharing. That would be fair.
Instead, Christ tells a story. He tells the story of a wealthy man who reaps a bountiful harvest and decides to build a bigger barn to store that harvest in order to live a life of happiness, rest and leisure. Finally, the gentleman can be secure for many years in his retirement without a care in the world. Hakuna Matata: it means no worries.
Then we get to the juicy part of the story.
Christ says, “‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?”
Christ continues, “Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”
After reading this, most of us would probably respond the same way. “I don’t want to be like the rich fool.”
But in another sense, it might be difficult to understand how we can be responsible citizens, save for our retirement, provide for our families, make major life decisions to better ourselves and our families, without being like the rich fool. What went wrong in the story? Where did the gentleman go wrong?
We know in Scripture that saving is commended. Proverbs tells us a good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children. Was the rich person doing this? It appears not.
His goal seems to have been focused squarely on his own interests and desires. He truly was saving up “treasure for himself.” He was thrilled about the possibility of amassing wealth to eat, drink and be merry. He doesn’t happen to mention his grandchildren or the orphans in the nearby village.
Conversely, Christ exhorts us to build up our heavenly IRA by being rich in what matters to God.
How do we do that? For one, we can imitate the saints.
Recently, we had the great opportunity to make a two-hour pilgrimage to visit the body of St. Maria Goretti when it came to Wisconsin. It was a prayerful experience that reminded us of a glorious woman, who despite being very young and very poor, had become extraordinarily wealthy in what mattered to God. She did this by living out the Gospel, primarily by loving and forgiving just as Jesus had done.
Her life, even a brief synopsis, is a powerful testimony. At age 11, she was sitting on the steps watching her younger sister. Alessandro, a young man who lived in her shared home, physically asserted himself onto her. She vigorously fought to retain her purity, while he responded with brute force. He harmed her gravely and on her deathbed 24 hours later, she forgave him and said she desired to see him in heaven one day.
What became of Alessandro? After being visited by Maria in a dream while in prison, he said he experienced the true light of God’s mercy. He repented. He asked forgiveness from Maria’s mother after leaving prison, and he lived the remainder of his days as a lay brother in a Capuchin monastery.
The life of St. Maria teaches us about purity, forgiveness, love, sacrifice and faithfulness. It helps us see what truly matters to God. This will build up our heavenly IRA and, most importantly, bring us closer to God.
When we approached the church where we visited the remains of this great saint, there were hundreds of people lined up inside and outside. The disabled were driven to the front doors and lifted out. People clasped pictures of loved ones which they held next to the reliquary that contained St. Maria’s bones.
The leaves that fell off the neighborhood trees highlighted the promise of the springtime that she is enjoying and which we all are called to enjoy.
May we all strive to be rich in what matters to God.
(Joe is married to Teresa. They have four children and run a joyful home in Plymouth. Opportunities for heavenly-inspired humor abound. Joe, a librarian and Teresa, a physical therapist, are parishioners at St. John the Baptist, Plymouth.)