This week our Diocese of Lake Charles buried Bishop Jude Speyrer, the founding bishop of our Diocese. Though he retired in 2000 at the age of 71, for many of us, his passing signifies the ending of an era in our own lives.
His funeral — like so many funerals before — was a reminder of the limits of life and the fact that we will not live forever. You have “been there before” — we all have. A parent, a good friend, a classmate — dies. Maybe their life was long like Bishop Speyrer’s; maybe the person died at 55. Maybe an accident claimed the life of someone we knew at 30 years of age. We pause, we think, we realize — and we return to routine. Maybe the effect of a death is huge — maybe it has little effect.
Vanity of vanities — all things are vanity. [Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23] What a classic line from scripture — what could be clearer? What profit comes to someone from all the toil and anxiety of heart ….? Who can miss this point?
At the prayer service the night before Bishop Speyrer’s funeral, one of the speakers reminded us all that when Bishop Speyrer retired and left Lake Charles, everything he took with him fit in his car. While he enjoyed life — travel, music, the arts, reading — things were not important to him. He himself reminded us of that in his burial — he was buried in a simple, wooden, monastic coffin.
The story in the Gospel [Luke 12:13-21] of the man who built larger barns to store his grain and other goods — who lived with a motto of rest, eat, drink, and be merry — was a fool in the truest sense of the word.
Things are not bad. Having things is not evil. Having a position of authority is not wrong. How are we using what we have? For what do we live? Does “what we have” cause us to think we are privileged — due something — better than someone else?
Someone can have very little monetarily — and yet be focused on keeping what they have and getting more — unwilling to share time with others, being unwilling to lend a hand to someone in need.
Some can have much — and use their wealth to help others, to give without recognition. In fact, there is real truth in saying —- One must do well before one can do good! You can’t help another if you have nothing to offer.
THE QUESTION: Do we own things —- or —- do our things own us?
Be rich not in what the world considers rich —- but rich in what matters to God. What matters to God?
> An attitude of gratitude — grateful for what we have — realizing that all is a gift. We are richly blessed — simply by being able to read this reflection on some form of electronic device. Realize that all is grace — the very breath we breathe at this moment. Let’s appreciate what we have —- the very gift of today. We are guaranteed no tomorrow. Entitlement is so contrary to what God is about.
> Realizing that as I have been blessed — so am I to bless others. For the past 25+ years I have understood the teaching regarding tithing — a giving back, a sharing of a tenth — 10% — with others. This is the minimum that our God asks of us. One day we literally will surrender it all — hand it all over. If our possessions cause us to be smug — or to think of ourselves as better — we have missed the point.
> Realizing when enough is enough — and that we need no more. Mother Theresa used to remind folks that “extra” shirt in our closest belongs to the person without one — she would say, when we buy a new coat, it is time to give that “old” coat away. Some of us drop clothes off at Goodwill — others depend on the clothes at Goodwill to dress themselves and their families.
> People must always be more important than things. We have all had the experience of breaking something that belongs to another — we feel bad about it. If someone breaks or loses something belonging to us — we might understandably be upset. If was an accident — how long will we stay mad? How much do we add to the bad feeling the other person already has?
Some folks questioned the amount of money spent for and on Pope Francis’ trip to Brazil? Was it worth it? Was it a waste of money? Well —– you and I and the rest of mankind will answer that question in the days ahead. If nothing happens in my life and my heart — if nothing happens in your life and heart — if the people of Brazil, Argentina, the US, Canada, Japan, Italy —- live ‘tomorrow’ as we have today —- then the money and trip have meant little.
In life and in death, Bishop Speyrer was a both brilliant and simple. I believe his life made the world a better place. Now it is our turn.