“It won’t fit into two square yards.”
Perhaps that statement was on the mind of Saint Cyprian as he wrote about those who would store up treasure in “earthly” riches:
“Their property held them in chains…chains which shackled their courage and choked their faith and hampered their judgment and throttled their souls…If they stored up treasure in heaven, they would not now have an enemy and a thief within their household…They think of themselves as owners, whereas it is they who are owned: enslaved as they are to their own property, they are not the masters of their money but its slaves.”
And all the while this great third-century bishop and saint pondered the way in which we pilgrims should fashion our journey toward eternity, the words spoken by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel must surely have been ringing in his head:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Mt 6:19-21)
For in those two verses, Jesus pours not just words upon us, but rather, true wisdom. In a certain sense, if we humans had the capacity to receive those two verses from Sacred Scripture and make them our own, they would likely guide us to, as Bishop Fulton Sheen often remarked, a “life worth living.” While giving us wisdom, Jesus not only encourages the embrace of a lifestyle that will ensure a richness to our lives, but also one that will make us the recipient of treasure that will not break, tarnish, or fade away. His encouragement leads us down a path whereby our riches will not be measured by what we accumulate, but rather, based upon how much we give away— especially of ourselves.
A few years ago, on a sunny October afternoon, I received a phone call that my grandmother had died. For me, it has always been the case that when someone passes, images of that person flow softly across my memory. With “grandma,” that image was of a person who had both sacrificed and suffered a great deal. The mother of a dozen children (and nearly forty grandchildren, with me being the oldest), in her early twenties she had faced the sudden and tragic death of her first husband. With limited resources, she was forced to re-create a life for herself and two small children. A few years later, she would once again fall in love, marry, and open herself to ten more children. Throughout her life, although I am afraid all too infrequently, her oldest grandson would ask her the “secret to life.” While already knowing her answer, I nevertheless enjoyed hearing her proclaim the secret: her love of and trust in Jesus Christ.
Following my grandmother’s funeral Mass, I began the ten-hour drive home from Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula and was provided the grace of silence in which to contemplate her life amidst the colorful leaves that had taken center stage across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Amidst nature’s glory, the memories of grandma began to flow once more. Throughout my life, she would give me small gifts or send me money on special occasions. But interestingly, these were not the things that I remembered. Rather, my recollections were of our time together and simple sharing: pancake breakfasts, gatherings at the lake, picking strawberries, or chats over coffee and homemade pie where we would recall our stories of faith. And with each goodbye came the firmest of hugs and some of the most generous expressions of I love you. After each of them and given the vast miles that separated us, I always wondered whether that moment would be our last.
At the cemetery, as the priest prayed the final blessings, I remember grandma’s casket being lowered softly and slowly into it’s final resting place. Although her human life had come to an end, her eternal life was just beginning. And while not leaving behind a million-dollar investment portfolio and vacation homes for distribution to the living, she left something far more valuable: the gift and memories of herself.
Something eternal and not easily contained within the confines of two square yards.