Seek First the Kingdom - The March of Hope - Chapter 3
Seeking First the Kingdom of God
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A fantastic set of circumstances occurred as soon as I found myself home again. How many times have we made vows or promises to ourselves that we were going to change only to discover the hard truth down the road that while we had had the emotional energy to make the commitment at the time, the day-to-day grind of life had sapped us of our enthusiasm? We were, of course, and as usual, right back where we started. It seems impossible at times to overcome our lives' inertia and snap into a new pattern that is lasting and meaningful. This is the tyranny of our modern culture of death, rebellion, noise, rudeness, vulgarity, and irreverence. We know something must be better, but we cannot escape the gravitational pull of the depressing, anxious world around us. Why would things be any different for me as I walked back into the real world from the protection of my secluded silent retreat? I had made thousands of promises to change for the better, only to consistently find myself circling around the same mad, mad world.
But this enduring life change did happen, and I will tell you how. The Virgin Mary was already preparing the road for me, which was to be my journey. Saintly friends in the kingdom of God were waiting for me. Mary was opening the door to my mystical path. Here is what happened.
Overwhelmed by the experiences of the silent retreat, I spent the following two weeks contemplating my life in light of the decree to "seek first the kingdom of God." And I had plenty of time to sit, think, and read. I lost my job in the middle of my retreat two weeks prior. That I was on my way out as the President of a well-known foodservice manufacturer was not a surprise. Several months earlier, I had been informed that our division was to be sold and that the Board of Directors wanted a new President who had experience with putting together private equity deals, an experience I needed to have. But I was supposed to stay in my position until the middle of August, so when the call came to empty my office in the middle of that week in July, it did raise my eyebrow, to say the least. Fortunately, my wife supported me in staying at the retreat and took care of my belongings. I could wait for the week, but things were obviously changing quickly.
So, I was home now, stunned from my retreat, jobless, and with nothing to do but think while I began my job search full time. I had spent my entire adult life totally absorbed in this world, always chasing the next higher paycheck, enjoying as much as possible of the "world" while still being "Catholic," and constantly trying to win the esteem of my fellow man. After all, my two Ivy League degrees, top-tier executive consulting experience in New York City, and stewardship of a world-wide recognized brand name made for wonderful cocktail party conversation. I could portray myself as a successful and influential person in the right company.
Alas, I had been playing a perilous game whereby I wanted to strike a deal between the world and God. I liked both the kingdom of man and the kingdom of God. I tried to play both sides of the fence, so to speak. This is a dangerous game, for when one plays in this manner, one ends up on only one side of the wall. With God, it is all or nothing. St. Louis de Montfort, whose True Devotion to Mary was to form the singularly most important influence in my spiritual life, puts it this way, using the biblical story of Jacob and Esau as an analogy:
“Sinners sell their birthright, that is, the joys of paradise, for a dish of lentils, that is, the pleasures of this world. They laugh, they drink, they eat, they have a good time, they gamble, they dance and so forth, without taking any more trouble than Esau to make themselves worthy of their heavenly Father’s blessing. Briefly, they think only of this world, love only the world, speak and act only for the world and its pleasures. For a passing moment of pleasure, for a fleeting wisp of honor, for a piece of hard earth, yellow or white (St. Louis’s favorite expression for gold and silver) they barter away their baptismal grace, their robe of innocence and their heavenly inheritance.”
All of this pleasure-seeking, money-grabbing, and esteem-building had, over the years, led me to the brink of insanity, depression and manic behavior, physical deterioration, the emotional estrangement of my family, and, most significantly, spiritual death. Through my days of the silent retreat, I understood and interiorized the concept that the “wages of sin are death.” Oh yes, I finally got it. It made sense now. And all of those “thou shall not’s” in the bible that I thought no one had a right to force on me? They were there to keep me from killing myself. I had not known that.
But now, our Holy Mother, the Virgin Mary, had pulled me out of “the world.” I sat pondering my new situation for a couple of weeks without power, prestige, position, or influence.
It was time to “seek first the kingdom of God,” and to Hades with the world.
St. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. New York: Montfort Publications. Paragraph 189, p. 95.