The Continual Conversion Asked of the Rich Young Man and of Us, 28th Sunday (B), October 10, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Church of the Holy Family, Manhattan
28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Mass of the Reception into Full Communion with the Catholic Church
October 10, 2015
Wis 7:7-11, Ps 90, Heb 4:12-13, Mk 10:17-30

 

To listen to an audio recording of tonight’s homily, please click below: 

 

The text that guided tonight’s homily is below: 

Seeking and Choosing True Wisdom

As a young king of the Lord’s people, Solomon pleased the Lord very much. One night God appeared to Solomon and told him to ask for whatever he wanted from the Lord. Solomon could have gotten anything he wanted. We might ask ourselves what we would ask for if the Lord queried us in the same way. Solomon asked not for power, or money, or health, or a long life, or even a beautiful queen, but for wisdom. In today’s first reading, Solomon shows us that, to some degree, he was already wise in asking for what he did. “I preferred [wisdom] to scepters and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her. … I loved her more than health and beauty, and I chose to have her rather than light, because her radiance never ceases.” This real wisdom was a gift from God to make right judgments, to choose well, to order decision on earth in accordance with the way things really are, made that way by God.

This is the prayer we all asked for in the responsorial psalm today. We begged God, “Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain wisdom of heart.” We asked him for the grace to help us see how in each of days, including in the hardest ones, God was there, forming us, helping us, passing on to us a wisdom not of this world. “Make us glad,” we asked, “glad for the days when you afflicted us, for the years when we saw evil.” This type of wisdom would reach its culmination, St. Paul would tell us, in “Christ Crucified,” who is a “ stumbling block for Jews and foolishness for Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Christ Crucified would become the wisdom of God and he would call us to follow him along that cruciform path of wisdom. He would tell us, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, take up his Cross daily, and follow me” (Lk 9:23). Jesus wants us, like Solomon, to prefer this wisdom to scepters and thrones, to account wealth as nothing in comparison, to love it more than health and beauty, even than light. He wants to give us this wisdom. But this wisdom doesn’t come on the cheap. We have to treat it like the pearl of great price, the treasure buried in a field, worth sacrificing all we have to get it — because this relationship with God and the way it changes us is worth far more than everything else in the world.

The Path to Having it All

This helps us to understand the great drama that takes place in today’s Gospel in Jesus’ encounter with the Rich Young Man. This was a good man. He had kept the commandments of the Lord from a young age. He was concerned about the deepest and most important questions, like the one he asked Jesus, “What good must I do to inherit eternal life?” He already had some faith in Jesus, coming to him not just as a rabbi who knew a lot but as a “Good Teacher,” whose whole bearing intrigued him to approach and ask about the way he should live in order to live for ever. He also recognized that, despite all his material wealth, despite even his moral goodness, there was something missing in his life. His heart yearned for something more. He knew he was called to something greater. He grasped that the life God intended for us had to consist in so much more than merely not breaking the Decalogue. And so he asked in St. Matthew’s account of the same scene, “What do I lack?” Jesus looked at him with love and gave him the challenging, brutally honest, direct answer to his question, “You lack one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me!” It was a highly paradoxical answer. What he lacked was precisely that he had too much. He lacked total detachment from substitutes so that he could attach himself to the Absolute. He had previously lived a good life, but Jesus was now calling him to greatness. He already had some faith in Jesus as a “good Teacher” who was reflecting the goodness of God alone, but Jesus was now calling him to an upgrade in faith, a total commitment. He had previously kept the “second tablet” of the Ten Commandments, all about love of neighbor, but now Jesus was calling him to a much more radical following of both tablets of Decalogue: to love his neighbor to the point of using all his possessions to care for them and to loving God to the point of accounting him more valuable that all his possessions and following him on the path of total-self-giving love.

St. Therese of Lisieux, the great doctor of the Church who never even attended high school — and therefore a tremendous example of one who was enriched with a wisdom from God that you can’t learn by devouring even all the titles in the New York Public Library! — taught us that we grow in the spiritual life by subtraction, not by addition. Once a novice sighed in her presence, “When I think of everything I still have to acquire!” The Little Flower replied, “You mean, to lose! Jesus takes it upon himself to fill your soul in the measure that you rid it of its imperfections. I see that you have taken the wrong road; you will never arrive at the end of your journey. You are wanting to climb a great mountain and the good God is trying to make you descend it; he is waiting for you at the bottom in the fertile valley of humility” and detachment. The Rich Young Man needed to learn this lesson. Unfortunately he wasn’t ready for the challenge that spiritual perfection requires because he had so many possessions that owned him. He looked at the path of holiness as something he could add on to what he already had, whereas it was an emptying precisely so that Christ could fill him.

The Faith To Follow the Lord All The Way

The Lord is always asking us to let go of many of his gifts in order to help us to recognize that the greatest gift of all is the Giver. He’s regularly asking us to lose our life so as to save it, to go the path of the grain of wheat, falling to the ground and dying, in order to become truly fruitful. He asked this choice of Abram, to leave his ancestral land of Ur of the Chaldeans at 75 and follow him to a new land that he would only reveal to him much later. He asked this choice of Moses, asking him to leave behind his refuge in Midian and return to Pharoah in order to lead his people to freedom. He asked this choice of Old Testament prophets. He asked this choice of the apostles, to leave behind their boats and nets and great draughts of fish, their tax tables with the money on it, their whole lives up until then — what St. Peter said in today’s Gospel “everything,” and he meant “everything” — in order to follow the Lord Jesus and commit themselves entirely to collaborating with him in saving the world. He asked this choice of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, to whom this Church of the Holy Family is dedicated, placing their lives fully in the service of God and his redemptive plan. He asked this choice of so many of the great saints, Augustine, Benedict, Francis, Dominic, Ignatius, Francis Xavier, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, Francis Xavier Cabrini, and Therese Lisieux. He’s asked it of so many “converts,” like Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, whose feast the Church celebrated yesterday, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and scores of others. The Lord asks us to give up a lot, sometimes everything, burning bridges and boats, and staking our whole life on what he is asking. And real wisdom involves seeing that as the greatest investment, the biggest no-brainer deal, we’ve ever been offered.

There’s a temptation for us to look at today’s episode of the Rich Young Man exclusively in terms of material possessions. When the Rich Young Man was confronted with the choice between his stuff and Jesus, between his jewelry and gold and silver coins and the “pearl of great price,” between continuing to call his own shots or following the Lord, between the good life that he had and the great one to which Jesus was calling him, and between the little faith he had and the great faith to which Jesus was trying to upgrade him, the Rich Young Man chose the former. His face fell, St. Mark tells us today, and he went away sad and grieving, because he had many possessions and couldn’t let go of them in faith to follow Jesus. This is why Jesus told us quite clearly that we cannot serve both God and mammon. We have to make the choice to God over all the riches in the world. But the far more general point for all of us, including the Sisters of Life here present who live by the vow of poverty is to put God over the gifts and to look at everything with which he’s blessed us as to be used for his kingdom. We need to be ready to spend it all, to give it all, to use everything he’s given us as spiritual Oskar Schindlers to follow him along the narrow path of wisdom and to get as many people as possible to join us on that road to life.

This is not easy! All of us at some point are tempted to try to water God’s calling down, to blunt its immediacy, to soften its summons. The devil wants to tempt us in this path by trying to substitute a worldly wisdom for God’s, to convince us is that all God wants of us is to love him a little rather than to love him with all — 100 percent — of our mind, heart, soul and strength. He wants to seduce us into thinking that if we give a quarter to a homeless person everything is fine in our relationship with God when Jesus is calling us to love others as he has loved us, to sacrifice ourselves and all that he’s given us out of love for them just like Jesus never held anything back out of love for us.

The Surgery that Saves

That’s why we need God’s word. In today’s epistle, we read that the “word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword [the sharpest sword in the ancient world].” It has the ability to find the dividing point between soul and spirit, joints and marrow. To discern the reflections and thoughts not just of the mind but of the heart, what we really desire and love most. Everything is naked and exposed before God and the word of God is like a mirror, St. James says, to help us to see who we really are so that we can then turn to God for the help he knows we need to become whom he created us to be. The word of God both shocks and consoles us. It leads us to die to ourselves in the way we must in order for God to become truly and fully alive.

God wishes us all to become perfect, to become teleios, the Greek word that means fit for why we’ve been made, as his beloved sons and daughters, as chips off the old divine block. But rather than impose his will on us, he proposes his will to our will. His heart speaks to our heart. We approach him who is good, admit to him that we’re not yet who we want to be, whom we know He wants us to be, that we are not yet fulfilled in our relationship with him, and we ask him “What do I lack?” And he will help us to divest ourselves of our attachments so that we can cling to him in love and trust.

Making the Choice the Rich Young Man Didn’t and Following Jesus to Perfection

Tonight we give thanks that you, Kirsten, have never stopped asking “What do I lack?” and have constantly kept coming to the same, good Lord Jesus whom the Rich Young Man approached to receive from him the wisdom the world can’t give or rob. You’ve never stopped searching for the truth and have found not only that the truth has a proper name — Jesus — but that he continues to want to enrich you so that your life may alway be in full communion with him who is the way, the truth and the life. The same Jesus who looked on this young man with love looks on you, Kirsten, with love from the inside and he wants to lead you on the path to have it all, so that you might become truly teleia and accomplish the purpose for which he created you. And after quite a journey, an adventure that is ongoing, the Lord has drawn you here tonight, where he will strengthen you in the Sacrament of Confirmation and then feed your deepest hunger — the hunger for God — in the only way God deemed worthy of your soul and ours, with Himself. He’ll give himself to you tonight in Holy Communion and unite you in full Communion to his Mystical Body the Church. He’ll look at you with love from the inside out. It’s here at Mass that Jesus will help to become poorer in spirit, to treasure ever more his kingdom. It’s here where you will behold and receive Him who is the greatest wisdom of all. It’s here you will enter into the Last Supper and stand at the foot of the Cross, on which Christ gave of himself completely for those he loved so that you might gain an eternal treasure and learn from him how to give yourself totally and follow him along the cruciform path that leads to eternal life.

The Catholic Church welcomes you with great joy and the Church here, throughout the earth, and in suffering and triumph all pray that God who has become this good work in you and brought you here to this altar will bring that work to completion and give you the fulfillment for which the Rich Young Man longed and every heart has been made by God to seek. Kirsten, welcome home!

 

The readings for tonight’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 WIS 7:7-11

I prayed, and prudence was given me;
I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.
I preferred her to scepter and throne,
and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her,
nor did I liken any priceless gem to her;
because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand,
and before her, silver is to be accounted mire.
Beyond health and comeliness I loved her,
and I chose to have her rather than the light,
because the splendor of her never yields to sleep.
Yet all good things together came to me in her company,
and countless riches at her hands.

Responsorial Psalm PS 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17

R. (14) Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
R. Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!
Fill us at daybreak with your kindness,
that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.
Make us glad, for the days when you afflicted us,
for the years when we saw evil.
R. Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!
Let your work be seen by your servants
and your glory by their children;
and may the gracious care of the LORD our God be ours;
prosper the work of our hands for us!
Prosper the work of our hands!
R. Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!

Reading 2 HEB 4:12-13

Brothers and sisters:
Indeed the word of God is living and effective,
sharper than any two-edged sword,
penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow,
and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.
No creature is concealed from him,
but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him
to whom we must render an account.

Alleluia MT 5:3

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 10:17-30

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up,
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 human beings it is impossible, but not for God.
All things are possible for God.”
Peter began to say to him,
“We have given up everything and followed you.”
Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you,
there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters
or mother or father or children or lands
for my sake and for the sake of the gospel
who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:
houses and brothers and sisters
and mothers and children and lands,
with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.”

 

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