Profit

Mk. 8:31-38

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (NRSV)

Last May was the 40th anniversary of my graduation from an Ivy League college. My class had about 1,000 men in it. Most of them have become successful doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs. Some of them have died. Each year the list in necrology gets longer.

Not too long ago I got a call from a classmate about our reunion. There would be several panels on various germane topics. Would I, if asked, be on the panel on spirituality?

At first it struck me as oxymoronic for these highly successful overachievers to have a panel discussion on spirituality. But, since we have male gynecologists in our class (which also has struck me as being oxymoronic) perhaps the fault is “not in the stars but in ourselves,” and I was being overly critical.

I told my caller “Yes, I would be glad to be helpful in any way that I could.” He needed to know that there were some who did not consider me to be spiritual. You see I am a rather flat-footed midwesterner by birth, and I tend to be somewhat straightforward and blunt. My take on spirituality, I told my caller, quite simply is this: “You are going to die. Get your life in order.” There was a moment of silence on the phone. Then my friend replied, “Well, you could also say, ‘You are going to live. Get your life in order.’ “My friend,” I replied, “that is really good.”

We chatted a little bit and I brought up the second thing that was on my mind. It was this: When the directories for our 35th and for our 40th reunions came out there were a number of “personal reflections” in which classmates said that they had discovered the importance of family, love, and nonmaterialistic values. In short, many of them had discovered that there was more to life than being a successful executive, corporate president, surgeon, judge, or lawyer. “Give me a break,” I said. “It took 35 to 40 years to figure that out? I knew that when I was l8 years old!”

My caller-friend replied that it did seem odd that a prerequisite to becoming a monastic mystic seemed to be first having been a top executive in a Fortune 500 corporation. After a few more observations we concluded our conversation. He never called back.

Today I made funeral arrangements for one of my parishioners who was homeless and died in a shelter. She was poor in worldly goods but rich in faith. Amen.