Saturday, October 22, 2011

On Honor and Money

The pharisees and Herodians began by acknowledging our Lord’s sincerity and detachment from the world: “Teacher, we know you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion for you do not regard a person’s status.” Rightly did they say so because our Lord was really as they say he was. At the last supper, he spoke about this sense of detachment by saying: “They do not belong to the world as I do not belong to the world.” He was not concerned for earthly honors nor for any human respect. What mattered to him was the favor of the Father who sent him: “Behold my Son, my beloved, in whom my favor rests.”

That is why the question which they posed to him seemed inappropriate: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? It seemed inappropriate because the issue at hand was that of money. And why should anyone, after acknowledging our Lord’s sense of detachment from worldly honor, ask him about money? Money issues are asked of worldly people like Donald Trump or Bill Gates. But the Lord? If he did not care much about the honors of the world, why should he care about money? St. Teresa of Jesus makes this point about the corelation of desire for honor and love of money: “In (poverty of spirit) lies great dominion. I say that it gives once again to one who doesn’t care about the world’s good things dominion over them all. What do kings and lords matter to me if I don’t want their riches, or don’t care to please them if in order to do so I would have to displease God in even the smallest thing? Nor do I care about their honors if I have understood that the greatest honor of a poor person lies in the fact of his being truly poor? In my opinion honor and money always go together: anyone who wants honor doesn’t despise money, and anyone who despises money doesn’t care much about honor. Let me be clearly understood, for it seems to me that the desire for honor always bring with it some interest in money or income. It would be a wonder if any poor person were honored in the world; on the contrary, even though he may be worthy of honor, he is little esteemed. True poverty brings with it overwhelming honor. Poverty that is chosen for God alone has no need of pleasing anyone but Him.” (Teresa of Jesus, The Way of Perfection II, 5-6.)

The Lord’s sense of detachment from both honor and money is what great men are really made of. Before his retirement, Cardinal Rosales said that the moment Rome appoints a new archbishop of Manila, he will take his maleta and ride to the retirement home in Lipa, Batangas. Last Thursday, when the appointment of the new archbishop of Manila was announced, the good Cardinal was asked what legacy was he leaving the archdiocese. He replied: “Legacy? What legacy? Forget me.” Here was a man who was truly detached from both money and honor. He cared for neither. And this is what great men are made of.

A man who is truly detached will rightly identify what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God. Because he did not care about Caesar’s favor, he would rightly say that the coin belongs to Caesar but everything else belongs to God…yes, even Caesar belongs to God. Lest Caesar forget, if he has power, it is only because the Lord loaned it to him. To Cyrus the king, the Lord said: “I called you by name, giving you a title, though you knew me not. I am the Lord and there is no other, there is no God but me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that from the rising and setting of the sun, people may know that there is none besides me. I am the Lord, there is no other.”

When a man chooses to serve God and him alone, he finds no need for money nor honor. He is not afraid to lose rich benefactors because he trusts that the Lord will always sufficiently provide for his works. He is not afraid to be judged by human opinion. He is not afraid to lose human respect. The only things that matters is what God would say. The only words he desires to hear would be those of the Lord who, at the end of his service, would say to him: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the reward prepared for you by my Father in heaven!”

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