Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Katherine Drexel
March 3, 2014
1 Pet 1:3-9, Ps 111, Mk 10:17-27
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Yesterday in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us that no one can serve two masters, that we cannot serve both God and mammon. I mentioned that Pope Francis commented that once a person’s heart begins to treasure accumulating things for oneself, there’s no longer any room for true faith, for placing one’s heart and trust in the things of God rather than the material things of the world. Today we see those truths exemplified in the episode of the Rich Young Man.
- This good young man runs up to Jesus to ask him the most important question any of us really needs to ask. “What must I do to inherit eternal life.” His running up to Jesus shows this youth’s hunger for the most important things. When Jesus begins at the beginning and says that the first thing we need to do to inherit eternal life is to keep our end of the Covenant, by living according to the Commandments God has given us, this young man says that he has kept them all from his youngest days. Again, he was a really good kid. St. Mark tells us that Jesus looked at him on the inside with love. But he knew he was still lacking something. Paradoxically what he was lacking was that he had too much stuff and was lacking the poverty in spirit that we need truly to seek and live in God’s kingdom. So Jesus told him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” And he walked away sad. When given a choice between Jesus and his stuff, between serving God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength or serving (rather being enslaved to) mammon, he chose the mammon, and for that reason walked away sad.
- Jesus immediately went on to describe how hard it is for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. He said it twice and mentioned that it was harder for a rich man to enter his kingdom than for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle. The richer one is, the more possessions one has, the easier it is to be enslaved by them. If Jesus called somebody who had nothing to leave behind, then it would be somewhat easy for the person to leave. But if one needs to count the cost, if one has become attached to one’s possessions, then it makes it much harder. And we all have to remember when we hear this that Jesus is not talking about Bill Gates and Warren Buffett but he’s also speaking about us. Almost all of us in the States are wealthy by comparative statistics to those who are alive today and especially to those who were alive in previous centuries. Last week, statistics came out that showed that in Massachusetts the average yearly income of someone on welfare — when you could all of the checks coming in from the government, free medical costs and the rest — is over $50,000. Even those on welfare in our Commonwealth are comparatively rich. And because of that, it’s very easy for us to become servants of mammon rather than God, attached more to things than we are to him.
- That’s what makes it very hard to follow our vocation to be saints. This morning in his homily in the Vatican, Pope Francis spoke about this difficulty. Speaking specifically about young people, he said that many young people feel the call to draw close to Jesus within their hearts, and they are enthusiastic about it. “They are not ashamed to kneel before Him” and to “publicly show their faith in Jesus Christ” and “they want to follow Him. The problem is that “their hearts are full of something else and they lack the courage to empty their hearts. They turn back and their joy becomes sadness.” There sense a vocation, but something stops them. That’s why, for them and for ourselves, we must pray that our hearts “may be emptied of other interests and other sentiments, so that they may become free… of the idolatry of vanity, the idolatry of pride, the idolatry of power, the idolatry of money.”
- That freedom from mammon makes us capable of truly serving the Lord. That’s why the first beatitude Jesus gave us is about spiritual poverty, that the poor in spirit are blessed because their treasure is the kingdom of God. The more we seek God, the less we’ll be tempted to make a god of the things of this world, and the more we’ll be able to sacrifice all things to obtain the pearl of great price. St. Peter describes that dynamic in today’s first reading, from the beginning of his first letter to the Churches in the Christian diaspora of Asia Minor, modern day Turkey. He reminds us of the treasure of the rebirth and new life brought about by Jesus’ resurrection. He calls in a “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” That is the treasure Jesus mentioned to the Rich Young Man we can obtain when we sell what we have, give our gifts to the poor and then come follow him. St. Peter went on to say that once we have that hunter for the imperishable and unfading inheritance it can give us the strength to sacrifice, whether it be our goods, or even our lives — and to sacrifice with joy. The first Pope alludes to the sufferings that the first Christians were undergoing and how this would purify and increase that inheritance of faith: “Although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, [this is] so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The ability to follow Jesus begins not with counting the cost of the material things or even our livelihoods and lives we may need to sacrifice for him and others but in anticipating the payoffs that will come from the treasures of the kingdom.
- We have a great example of someone who sought first the kingdom of God, who yearned for the imperishable inheritance, who served God rather than mammon, in the great American saint we celebrate today. St. Katherine Drexel was born into a very wealthy Philadelphia family in 1858. Her father was a rich investment banker. Even when she was young, she sought to give to the poor, setting up with her two sisters and her step-mother a charity center from their own home, where twice a week they would distribute food, clothing and rent money to the poor mothers and single women of the area. But her young heart was touched hearing stories of the black and native American Indians who were growing up not only in material poverty but spiritual poverty. She began to contribute to their causes even taking long train rides to visit their reservations. When her father died when she was 27, she and her two sisters inherited his $15.5 million fortune, the equivalent of about $250 million in today’s dollars. She thought about becoming a cloistered nun, but a priest friend of the family suggested that she wait a little while to see what God was asking. She took a pilgrimage to Rome where she had a private audience with Pope Leo XIII, something that was quite common for that holy pope (as we likewise see in the lives of St. Therese Lisieux and St. Francis Xavier Cabrini). She mentioned the plight of the African American and Native American immigrants to the United States and how they need spiritual, educational and material care. The Pope surprised her by saying that she should found an order to care for them. After much prayer, that’s precisely she did, dedicating herself and her entire fortune to the care of the poor and neglected, building many schools and even Xavier University in New Orleans in order to give African Americans a chance to make a better life for them and their families within the context of raising them to be adults in the faith.
- When St. Katherine Drexel looked at her life, she recognized that she was an heiress to something far greater than $80 million in today’s money. She was an heiress to the kingdom of God. So she spent her life trying to help others to grasp that they, too, were joint heirs of that imperishable fortune that rust couldn’t corrode, moths destroy, or thieves rob. Because she had that awareness of that fortune that will last forever, she was able properly to make the choice that the Rich Young Man didn’t: to use all that God had given her to obtain it and help others seize it. She’s interceding for us today so that all of us might make a similar choice to place what we have at the service of God and of his kingdom, so that we, and many others, might come to experience the eternal imperishable treasure with her and all the saints.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 PT 1:3-9
who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,
kept in heaven for you
who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith,
to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time.
In this you rejoice, although now for a little while
you may have to suffer through various trials,
so that the genuineness of your faith,
more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire,
may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor
at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Although you have not seen him you love him;
even though you do not see him now yet you believe in him,
you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
as you attain the goal of faith, the salvation of your souls.
PS 111:1-2, 5-6, 9 AND 10C
I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart
in the company and assembly of the just.
Great are the works of the LORD,
exquisite in all their delights.
He has given food to those who fear him;
he will forever be mindful of his covenant.
He has made known to his people the power of his works,
giving them the inheritance of the nations.
He has sent deliverance to his people;
he has ratified his covenant forever;
holy and awesome is his name.
His praise endures forever.
R. The Lord will remember his covenant for ever.
knelt down before him, and asked him,
“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good?
No one is good but God alone.
You know the commandments: You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not defraud;
honor your father and your mother.”
He replied and said to him,
“Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.”
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
“You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
At that statement, his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
“How hard it is for those who have wealth
to enter the Kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words.
So Jesus again said to them in reply,
“Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God!
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”
They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves,
“Then who can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said,
“For men it is impossible, but not for God.
All things are possible for God.”