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What is Detachment?

Q. What is Detachment?


A. In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 19, a rich young man comes to Christ seeking eternal life. The man had kept the commandments all his life, yet Jesus calls him to something more: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (19:21). After this, the man departed in sadness. Why? He was attached to his worldly goods. Then, does detachment mean we must sell everything? Not necessarily. Detachment, in the tradition of the Church, is primarily of mind and heart. As the Catechism tells us, detachment “means making good use of created things: faith in God, the only One, leads us to use everything that is not God only insofar as it brings us closer to him, and to detach ourselves from it insofar as it turns us away from him” (226). Therefore, in the case of the rich young man, the call of Christ, “follow me,” points to a reality that, for the young man, material goods were a hindrance. The world is full of fleeting joys. If we seek our fulfillment in them, we always fall short—only heaven is everlasting. However, one can make good use of material goods by offering them for the greater glory of God. A good measure of attachment to material goods is to ask ourselves: “does this bring me closer to God?” An honest answer to this question helps us to discern whether or not we must “sell what we possess” in order to “have treasure in heaven.”  

My Lord and my God, take from me everything that distances me from you. 

My Lord and my God, give me everything that brings me closer to you. 

My Lord and my God, detach me from myself to give my all to you. (St. Nicholas of Flüe) 

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