For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
Christians of the western churches celebrated Easter five weeks ago. At midnight tonight Orthodox Christians light candles around the world to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. And most of the rest of the world will go on with business as usual.
For those of us who are Christian it is important to stop and reflect on what being Christian really means. Today two billion people classify themselves as Christians but do most of us really dedicate ourselves to living Christian lives? The answer is clearly no. The world that we live in is full of distractions and pleasures that pull us away from a spiritual life. Even our jobs which are a very necessary and important part of our lives can end up being the altar at which we pray. They consume most of our waking hours and provide the income on which we are dependent in order to take care of our families.
We spend more time at cinemas, theaters, art galleries and theme parks than we do at churches, and they have become our new cathedrals. We can spend hours at any of these places of entertainment but if church service goes on too long we get impatient. We love to listen to music and to dance the night away much more often than singing hymns to our Lord. We pay more to watch a football, basketball or baseball game than we leave in the tray as it is passed through the pews.
We care more about money, honors, fame, glory, recognition, entertainment, physical gratification and a myriad of other things than we do about enlightenment, spirituality and peace in our lives. Yet even when we are satiated with the good things in life we often find ourselves feeling empty. Something seems to be missing.
Many people turn to yoga, gurus, “feel-good” seminars legitimately looking for ways to fill the empty void it their lives. Others turn to alcohol, drugs, or prostitutes in their search for ways to either deaden the pain or find a source of intimacy that is missing.
Yet none of the above will provide the sense of peace for which we are all searching. Only a connection to God can provide that ultimate peace. And for Christians our path to God is through Jesus Christ, the son of God. His resurrection is what we will celebrate tonight when we light our candles. And through His resurrection we have been given the hope of salvation.
It is important for those of us who are Christian to remember that our physical lives don’t last forever. Our souls will last an eternity, and thus we should place even more emphasis on the health of our souls than the health of our bodies. The later is important to nourish but our souls also need nourishment, and that nourishment is love. We need to love and be loved by others. And since God is love He is the ultimate source of nourishment for our souls.
A hundred years from now very few of us will be remembered by anybody living at that time. So if we focus all our attention on the successes of this world what will it have gained for us. When we die our money, fame, and honors will be meaningless. We own nothing in this world. Everything we think we own is in reality only being loaned to us until we die. And on our deathbed at the moment of death, no one but God can save our souls.
The happiest people I have ever seen are often times those individuals who have very little in the way of material comforts or public recognition. They were people I met in trailer parks when running for public office, or nuns and monks who had given up everything in order to follow Christ. They had a sense of community and fellowship.
On the other end of the spectrum were the billionaires, famous actors, and elected officials that I met throughout the years. They clearly loved their work and excelled at it. They had achieved the spoils of this world but yet most of them were not at peace.
I lived much of my life in the world of business and politics gaining wealth and a modicum of fame. Was it exciting? Yes, of course, for a short period of time. But when I lost my last political race that world came to an end and at the time I considered it a tragedy. However, the good news was that out of that loss came a rebirth.
I became an Orthodox Christian after spending time in a monastery in Greece, and I joined a church that became my home away from home. And on the back wall of that church was an inscription that changed my life forever. It said: “For what profits a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul”. If I had won that Senate race I might well have gone on to “gain the whole world” and lost my own soul. Looking back that would have been the real tragedy. My prayer tonight is that we will all find love and peace in our own lives so that we can focus our attention on helping others rather than just ourselves.