28th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Preached October 14, 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
“Always begin at the end”: That is a good rule for everything we do. In other words we always need a goal, we need to keep the goal in mind and not lose sight of it.
If you are building a house don’t leave it unfinished and don’t change it into a barn halfway through. Of course that means you need to think things through first, before you start building; you need to determine the sort of house you are going to build and that you have sufficient resources to do so. You need to start at the end, with the finished house in mind, before you start building.
This rule that applies to everything we do in life, small or great, but it also applies to the whole of life. The whole of life has a goal, eternal life, which should govern all that we do. To put the matter simply, we should be continually asking ourselves, “How is this going to help me get to heaven?”
In today’s Gospel the rich young man approaches Jesus with the right question: how do I gain eternal life? He does not like the answer he gets.
For our part, to learn from the Gospel, we should first pay attention to the answer, because that will show us the path we must follow. Second we should pay attention to the reason the rich young man turns away because that might show us why our commitment to the path is lacking.
So first the path. Jesus’ answer has three parts: God alone is good; keep the commandments; and follow me.
First we must turn to God. We must turn to God simply because he is good, the supreme good, the source of all that is good.
People wonder how a good God could allow evil. But evil is no more than a parasite on the good. Much more mysterious is goodness. Why should we find goodness at all, in existence, in the world, in life? Yet not only do we find goodness, goodness is always the deeper underlying reality.
Finally, behind all the good that we encounter in life, there is God, the source of all that is good, who contains in himself such an ocean of goodness that by comparison nothing else seems to merit the name ‘good’. So first we must turn to God, because he is the supreme and perfect good. He is the goal. He is the one we must seek.
Second, Jesus tells us: Keep the commandments. The commandments are simply guidelines for living a truly good life, for acquiring a good character, for practicing virtue, so as to become, as much as possible, like the good God in whose image we were created.
You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud. These things are bad. We will not become good by practicing them. Honor your father and your mother. That is good. We will not become good by denying or cutting ourselves off from our origin. We did not make ourselves; we are not the first human beings to exist; we do not invent what it means to be human. To be human is to receive humanity as an inheritance that we received by way of our parents. Inherently, to be human is to be traditional. Nothing is so traditional as honoring your father and mother. That is the root source of all tradition.
Keep the commandments. That is the first most basic step. Keep the commandments. They mark out the way. If we are not keeping the commandments, then we are not on the way and we are not going in the right direction, and so we will not get to the goal, eternal life, heaven. It is that simple.
If we fail to keep the commandments there is a solution. It is called ‘confession’. Then we must return to the path and keep the commandments.
But that is not enough. The rich young man declares that he has kept the commandments from his youth, but feels that something is lacking. He must follow Jesus and in order to follow Jesus he must leave everything that could keep him from following Jesus.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, shows us what it truly means to be human and how to live as human beings. Also, through his death and resurrection, he gives us the power of his Holy Spirit that we might share in his life and live as he lived.
Jesus himself is the way to eternal life and the goal of eternal life itself; he is the way, the truth, and the life. (Jn 14: 6) Heaven is nothing else than living eternally in the embrace of the Holy Trinity, through sharing in the life of Jesus Christ. God is the goal.
Jesus looked upon the rich young man with love and called and invited him to follow him. The rich young man experienced the loving gaze of Jesus Christ the Son of God; he experienced the loving gaze of the Son of God and turned away sad. Why? Because he had many possessions and in his case Jesus called to leave all his possesions. This elicits from Jesus the remark, How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter into the kingdom of God.
The problem is not so much the wealth or the possessions as such. We could say that the problem is the distraction. The goal is beyond this life; wealth belongs to this life. This life is good, but as we pursue the things needed for this life – and the things we just plain old want – we very easily lose sight of the goal; we become distracted. Indeed, distraction from the goal is very often the greatest failing in the practice of the faith. Faith teaches us that this life is a pilgrimage, but we want to build a home, a stable home, a permanent home.
A family home should truly be like a nest, in which the parents prepare the children for their own pilgrimage, their own life’s journey. Then when the parents have completed the task entrusted them by God, a task that is part of their own pilgrimage, they should make ready to take flight from the nest so as to go to their true home, the Father’s house in heaven.
We sum everything up in relation to Sunday Mass. This life is a pilgrimage and the Holy Eucharist, the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, is the food that God gives us for the journey. The one who truly consumes this food in faith and devotion has eternal life and God will raise him up on the last day.
Many Catholics no longer attend Mass or attend only irregularly. There are many reasons for this. Some find Mass boring; some do not like the priest; some don’t like the music; some think they are too busy – busy working or busy enjoying the many entertainments and diversions of modern life – some are just plain lazy. Very often it is not because a person does not believe; it is simply because they have lost sight of the goal. They have become distracted. They have too many possessions, or dreams of possessions, or things they want to do, or items on their ‘bucket list’, that keep them occupied with the things of this world. Like the rich young man, they keep the commandments, but they do not follow Jesus. In the end their life is weighed done by sadness. Leon Bloy once wrote: “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy, is not to become a saint.”
Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, our Mother, the Queen of heaven, the Queen of all saints, the Cause of our Joy, shows us the real life, the real joy, the real happiness that waits for us. She prays for us, now and at the hour of our death, that we might not lose sight of the goal.