Loving and despising the world

How interesting that both the reading for December 30 and the saint celebrated on this day speak to the same virtue: despising the things of this world. How do we reconcile loving God’s creation, recognizing that He proclaimed it “Good”, and the call to despise the world?

Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world. Yet the world and its enticement are passing away. But whoever does the will of God remains forever.

1 John 2: 15-17

I studied and meditated on a very similar virtue in Buddhism, called nekkhamma, often translated as “renunciation”. It is the active renouncing, or letting go, of whatever binds us to what causes our suffering. I think the same thing is meant by John above. Renunciation is not meant to cause suffering, but just the opposite! Grasping at “the world and its enticement” is what will cause us to suffer, precisely because it is transitory, “passing away”, and can never fulfill our real desire! It can entice us, and in our frailty we can lust after the things of this world, but soon enough we find how empty it all is, and how much we still suffer. If we obtained what we desired, we desire more, and if we didn’t, how miserable we are!

We’re meant to love and enjoy this beautiful creation God has given us, but not attach ourselves to it, and make it the goal, the object of our desires. That leads instead to the ugliness and misery of sin. Separated from God, racing after these created things cannot bring us happiness, and even worldly philosophers recognized this. Renouncing this depressing, hopeless quest will bring us what we seek.

We will realize the truth that Saint Augustine spoke, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” We’ll discover that this world is the reflection, the brief flicker, of the beauty and glory of what will be revealed to us in the world to come, the wondrous gift to “whoever does the will of God…”


Butler’s Lives of the Saints speaks beautifully about renouncing the transitory enticement of the things of this world, in the context of the biography of today’s saints, Sabinus and his companions, who were martyred in the year 303:

How powerfully do the martyrs cry out to us by their example, exhorting us to despise a false and wicked world! What have all the philosophers and princes found by all their researches and efforts in quest of happiness in it! They only fell from one precipice into another. Departing from its true center they sought it in every other object, but in their pursuits only wandered further and further from it. A soul can find no rest in creatures. How long then shall we suffer ourselves to be seduced in their favor! be always deceived, yet always ready to deceive ourselves again! How long shall we give false names to objects round about us, and imagine a virtue in them which they have not! Is not the experience of near six thousand years enough to undeceive us! Let the light of heaven, the truths of the gospel, shine upon us, and the illusions of the world and our senses will disappear. But were the goods and evils of the world real, they can have no weight if they are compared with eternity. They are contemptible, because transient and momentary. In this light the martyrs viewed them.

How I love the beauty of this world, especially because I live in such a beautiful corner of it! 🙂

And, at the end of another year, realizing how transitory is my allotted time here, how much more do I love this wondrous world, knowing now that it is a promise of the splendor and glory to come…