“Shrouds don’t have pockets.”

Today, on the Feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, rather than focus on him, let’s focus on the Gospel. That would be his preference.

One occasionally sees a cartoon that features a cell phone ringing from inside a coffin, or other takes on the notion that I can carry certain prized possessions or essentials with me into the next life. Alas! No one has yet to accomplish that trick. But many of us go through life making the assumption that we will be the exception.

The scripture selections for this Sunday offer reminders of how to prepare for the inevitability of the demise of our own lives and the folly of thinking that there is something to be gained by having more and more. Paul reminds us to set minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. His advice deals primarily with things such as evil desire and greed. As usual, Jesus offers an image to drive home the point: the land of a rich person, which has produced enough for the person to consider building larger barns.

Jesus gets right to the point. “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Jesus is warning us against all kinds of greed. “For one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” All truly is vanity!

Like a growing number of very wealthy individuals, Sanford and Joan Weill have become influential philanthropists. They are billionaires. They abide by a line from Joan. “Shrouds don’t have pockets.” They are committed to spending as much money as possible on worthy projects such as universities, rather than amassing all of it for their offspring. It’s dubious that people reading this post have that kind of material wealth. Many of us would probably state that no one should have that kind of wealth.

But it is possible that we have other kinds of wealth or possessions, things that have become other forms of personal idols. Greed is not confined to money or nice furnishings or having a collection of some sort of precious and tasteful item. We may not build bigger barns, but a lot of people rent storage space to store unused items. We know that anything has the potential to become an idol, even something seemingly good and appropriate. Personal fitness or being attractive are examples. Even spiritual activities such as retreats and significant experiences can be the object ofgreed. How about our use of time? Am I overly possessive of that? Greed comes in many shapes. What is it for you?

When Steven Jobs (of Apple fame) knew that his cancer was terminal, he said: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Happy Feast of Ignatius! I think that Ignatius would agree with the scripture and my thoughts on this Sunday in mid-summer.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

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