Breaking Free

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Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

Mark 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.”

 

Opening Prayer: I believe in you, my Lord. I believe you are here with me right now because you want to be with me, you care about me, you are eager to give me your grace. So often, I forget about your presence, your interest. So often I try to live my life as if everything were under my exclusive control, as if it were entirely up to me to bring myself the fulfillment I yearn for. Today, I come to you just like the man in today’s Gospel: Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life, to live my life to the full, to deepen my friendship with you and make it the true center of my life? 

 

Encountering Christ:

 

  1. Goals versus Means: The man in this parable wanted the right goal—to inherit eternal life, to enter into God’s Kingdom, to live fully in communion with God. He also sought guidance from the right person: Jesus himself, the Son of God, the Lord of history. And yet, this man was unable to accept the answer he received about how to reach his worthy goal. He wasn’t willing to put in place the means that would allow him to achieve the end he sought. How often we find ourselves in the same predicament! How often we set a noble goal but refuse to do what’s necessary to achieve it! The ancient spiritual writers call this flaw imprudence, which in particularly spiritual matters is also known as sloth. Prudence, the charioteer of the virtues, is about choosing the right means to achieve worthy goals. Another name for prudence is wisdom, as today’s first reading makes clear. We would all like to be wise. And we can be wise, if only we humbly turn our minds to what is truly good, and courageously reach out our hands towards it.
  2. The String That Binds Us: The one thing keeping this man from experiencing the transforming power of Christ’s grace was his inordinate attachment to wealth: … his face fell, and he went away sad, because he had many possessions… He gave up an intimate friendship with Christ because he didn’t want to give up his wealth. Wealth promises so much! With wealth we can fulfill so many desires—but not the deepest ones. Money can’t buy us wisdom, friendship, communion with God, or virtue. To put wealth–or any merely earthly good, be it popularity, pleasure, power, good looks, smarts, or talent of any sort–ahead of our relationship with God is a form of idolatry. If we enthrone an idol in our hearts, Jesus cannot reign there, and so we cannot experience the peace and joy of his Kingdom. We know this, and yet we still fall into idolatry. The things of this world enchant us. The empty promises of earthly idols blind and entrap us. How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God! St. Teresa of Avila, the sixteenth-century Spanish mystic and Doctor of the Church, used to say that you don’t need a heavy chain to ground an eagle; a simple string will do. What strings are holding me back from following Christ more closely? What inordinate attachment is my equivalent of this man’s “many possessions”? What is the “one thing lacking” in my quest to allow Jesus to reign freely in my heart? 
  3. A Hundred Times More: What a promise Jesus makes in response to Peter’s query! …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… and eternal life in the age to come. In this promise, we can sense Jesus’s eager desire to give us a full, abundant life: I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly! (John 10:10). He wants to fill our hearts with the overflowing joy of his very own wisdom! But he can’t, because there is no room there to receive his grace; we are afraid to take out of our hearts the many little idols we have been accumulating. Throughout the history of the Church, spiritual writers have seen this exchange with Peter as a particularly eloquent presentation of religious and consecrated life. Since the dawn of the Church, Jesus has called many men and women to follow him through embracing the evangelical counsels of poverty, celibacy, and obedience. These consecrated persons and communities have consistently witnessed to the reality of spiritual things–the Kingdom of God–amid the seductions of this material world—the kingdoms of man. Under the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, the Nazi Reich, and various communist experiments, entire communities of religious have been gruesomely martyred, because their mere presence exposed the hollow core of all such radical secularist ideologies. Those empires come and go, leaving a wake of human wreckage, while Christ’s Church continues to live and preach the Gospel, leaving a living legacy of sinners who become saints. Whatever idol Jesus may ask us to give up so that we can follow him more closely, we can rest assured that courageously doing so will enable us to receive a hundred times more in this life, and eternal life in the age to come. Because all things are possible for God. 

 

Conversing with Christ: I want to follow you more closely, Lord. I want to live wisely, prudently, and courageously. You know I do—you have given me that desire. And yet, when I look within me, I find other desires at war with that core desire. I need your grace to do battle! I need your comfort to reassure me! I need your friendship to bolster my faith. You are my light and my salvation, why am I afraid? You are my good shepherd, what could I possibly lack if I follow where you lead?

 

Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will go through my closet (or my desk, or my garage…) and separate out all the things I have accumulated that I really don’t need, to give them to someone who does need them, simplifying my own life and discovering if there are still some strings that keep my heart from soaring.

For Further Reflection: The Widow’s “Might”: A Retreat Guide on Good Stewardship and Authentic Wealth.

 

Written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC.

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