Sometimes when the topic of religion comes up its sometimes stated, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you’re good.” I’m sure we’ve heard this before, when I hear it, it always makes me cringe inside. What luke-warm sentiment, how boring! It misses the point completely. This statement reduces our faith to just a list of ethical practices, and our faith is so, so much more than that. Our faith is about relationship, relationship with our Lord and all the good that we do is the fruit of that relationship. The purpose of our existence is not to be good. It’s so much more than that. And the rich man in the Gospel helps us to see the more.
The rich man came to Jesus, asking life’s most important question, he asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In other words, “How do I get to Heaven?” But it doesn’t only mean that. He’s also asking, “How do I live the fullness of life now?” “How do I find the answer to the restlessness in my life?” Jesus answers him by telling him to keep the commandments, to be faithful to what God has taught us. This is the God who is infinitely happy and who made us for eternal happiness. But the man has kept God’s commandments and is still not satisfied. He’s still restless. He’s still hungry. He’s still looking for something more. He’s restless, hungry, and looking for something more because the purpose of life, the goal of life, the reason why God created us and brought us into existence is not just to be good. The purpose of life, the goal of life, and the reason why God brought us into existence, as some might remember from the Baltimore Catechism is “To know God, love God, and serve God in this life and to be happy with Him forever in Heaven.” Or maybe today we might simply put it this way: God made us for true friendship with Himself. He is the purpose of life. To know Him is the goal of life. The reason why He brought us into existence is to experience His love and to love Him (and each other) in return, in that order.
The rich man of the Gospel, despite his keeping the commandment, despite being good, is still wanting more. And the more, is Jesus. That’s why he came running up to Him. He sensed Jesus to be the answer to his restlessness and the answer to all his deepest questions and desires. But there is a problem. The man is rich and he’s unwilling to part with his wealth to follow Jesus despite the fact that his money didn’t and couldn’t satisfy his restlessness and he knew it.
The first commandment in part says, “You shall not bow down to or serve idols.” It can also mean, “You shall not let idols make you bow down and serve them.” In this man’s case riches had become his idol, his little god, despite the fact they didn’t satisfy his restlessness and couldn’t. He was a slave to his riches; they kept him from real happiness, because they kept him from following Jesus. This man was attached to his things. They became an obstacle to his friendship with our Lord. Nothing wrong with possessions, money, hobbies, or activities but they shouldn’t come between us and our friendship with God.
October 4th was the feast day of St. Francis and he too was a rich man. But over time he learned not to let his possessions own him. Before his conversion Francis would think nothing of spending large amounts of money on parties, buying the best food, the best wine, and the best music. But with his conversion he began to divest himself of anything that might be a roadblock to his relationship with God. So he began ridding himself of all the trappings of wealth knowing them to be his temptation. The problem was, he was also getting rid of all of his dad’s property as well. Going into his Dad’s warehouse, loading up the cart with all sorts of things and then selling it all and giving the money to the poor. Dad was not amused; this was his livelihood being given away. So he brought a law suit against his son. In those days civil law cases were decided by the Bishop.
The father brings Francis before the Bishop explaining the situation. And the Bishop sides with the father telling Francis to return everything to his father. Francis promises to return everything and he even goes one step further. Removing all the clothing he’s wearing and giving it back to his father. So there he is standing in the Church courtyard in all his nakedness. If you go to the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi you can see this scene depicted in a PG rated fresco.
Not everyone is called to a life of radical poverty like St. Francis. In his case possessions would have been too great a temptation; keeping him from full friendship with Jesus. That’s not the case with everyone. And so today we ask ourselves; is there something that I value more than a relationship with the God who made me and who loves me so much that He would rather die than live without me? Is there something keeping me from following Jesus? Is there something that gets in the way of our friendship? We know that possessions, activities, and gifts we receive in this life can bring us legitimate joy. But it is the ultimate giver of these possessions, activities, and gifts who is able to bring us much more joy.
To be a friend of Jesus means to become a saint. And so we work at this friendship:
- Spend time with each other, prayer and adoration
- Share a meal, Eucharist
- Saying sorry when we need to, Act of contrition, Sacrament of Reconciliation
- Getting to know his family, St. Joseph the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Saints.
With God’s grace we can all achieve deep friendship with Jesus and become a saint. May the Body and Blood of Jesus we receive at Mass give us the wisdom to distinguish the truly important things in life from the not so important, and the courage to choose wisely.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley