When I first joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps I didn’t really understand the simple living pillar and thought it simply meant that I needed to give up my technology for the sake of giving it up or just to prove I could do it. Turns out that wasn’t the point at all. Throughout my time as a Jesuit Volunteer, I came to understand that in order to be meaningful, sacrifice cannot just be for the sake of sacrifice; it needs a greater “why.”
We didn’t choose to give up so much just to say we sacrificed something, but rather we gave up many things—our time, many of our material possessions, our comforts at home, holidays with friends and families—in order to open ourselves and our hearts to receiving so much more—new relationships, new experiences, a simple way of living, community, new found peace, and a renewed sense of trust and faith in God and in other people. Any of us who have sacrificed anything meaningful in our lives for the sake of others knows this to be true. This is what Jesus is trying to remind us of in this week’s Gospel reading.
A young rich man asks Jesus what he has to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replies that the first step is to follow the commandments, but it does not end there. The commandments are all about love—loving God and loving others—and we are called in this week’s readings to go a step further. We are invited to step away from the comforts and security that our possessions afford us. Jesus reminds us that will be rewarded in heaven for the things we sacrifice now, but anyone who has sacrificed anything important in their life knows that these rewards are here on earth too. It is in giving that we receive and once you’ve experienced this mutual exchange of love, there is no going back to any other way of being.
I don’t think Jesus wants us, or the rich man in the Gospel, to give up our things for the sake of giving up our things, but rather for our own sake and the sake of others. Simple living, intentional living, and a life of giving in service to others—all of these things bring us closer to God and to other people and those rewards are more fulfilling than any material wealth or status. This message is not just for the wealthy, either—we all have something that we can give up and let go of for the sake of drawing closer to God.
Let us now reflect: What a perfect time to reflect on this in our own lives, as autumn has officially begun and leaves are beginning to fall around us. Trees are shedding their old leaves to make room for new ones later on. What are the things that we are willing to shed and give up during this autumn season in order to bring ourselves closer to God? It might mean leaving our homes and committing to doing a few years of service, or it might mean letting go of and shedding our pride, greed, or grudges in order to shift our focus to what truly matters in life—relationship with God and with those around us.
One of my Jesuit friends put it best, “The call to love God and love our neighbor, if really followed, leads to a glimpse of what heaven holds—a place where the ego burns away and we literally carry nothing. By giving to others now, we practice for that. Or as Pope Francis says: ‘Shrouds have no pockets.’”
Alyssa Perez serves as a community organizer for LA Voice, a multiracial and multifaith organizing network in LA County. She was a Jesuit Volunteer in Belize City (’15-’17) and holds theology and political science degrees from Loyola Marymount University and a masters of nonprofit administration from the University of San Francisco. Having been Jesuit educated for 12 years, she is deeply committed to Ignatian spirituality and building the Beloved community.