17 January 2007

Bottomline Holiness

St Anthony, abbot: Ephesians 6.10-13, 18; Matthew 19.16-26
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX


We’ve all heard the story about the bored student sitting in class, wanting nothing more than to get out in the sunshine and run. The teacher drones on and on and on and finally the bored student—in total exasperation—asks the bottom-line question that clears through all the distraction and clutter of learning. In Adultese the question is: Is this going to be on the test? Translated into Teenagerese the question is: I'd rather stick a hot poker in my eye and spend eternity screaming into the abyss than sit here for another second listening to you drone on about stupid stuff I don't need to know anyway so just tell me what's going to be on the test so I write it down and memorize it and please stop torturing me with what if's could be's maybe's and you really have to think about that's and just give me the facts so I can give them back to you on the stupid test and for pity's sake get to the point and let us go! Now, I don’t know about you, but I never said such a thing in class. I was and am a school geek. But we all know the sentiment: get to the point, tell us what we need to know, and move on.

The RYM in Matthew’s gospel is in a hurry. He asks Jesus, “What good must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus answers with what seems like an annoying rhetorical question about who is good and then gives the guy his bottom-line answer. Jesus says, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” The RYM asks the teenager question: “Which ones?” Whadda mean, “Which ones?!” Translated into Teenagerese this question is something like: Ok stop with the philosophical muttering and weird religious speculation and just give me the formula, the prayer, the sacrifice, or the whatever it is that gets me into heaven because I'm a bottomline kinda guy and your cryptic zen puzzles are annoying me and making me think and I just wanna know how not to go to hell so please Jesus tell me what's going to be on the Test at the End so I can spit it back up and get my eternal A+. Jesus, being a good teacher, tells him which of the commandments he must observe and the RYM says (in effect), “Been there, done those. What else?” Jesus, ever the one for surprise and difficult demands says, (in effect), “Sell all of your stuff, give the money to the poor, then come, follow me. This is just how you start on your perfection.”

Not a good answer for the RYM b/c, well, he’s rich and young after all. So he goes away sad. And then Jesus tells his disciples that it is hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Why? Probably b/c riches incline one to cling to them, making it difficult to follow Christ in a life of poverty. It’s not the having that’s the problem; it’s the clinging. Remember: you become what you worship. Cling to temporary things and you become a temporary thing. Easily bought and sold, easily lost. Cling to Christ and his work and you become Christ to do his work.

The temptation, of course, is the path of least resistance. Just tell me, Father, what I need to do! Bottom-line it for me, padre! The truth is: holiness is work, hard work and there are no shortcuts. I could tell you to throw on scapular or pray a novena or sing a litany to St. Jude and all of those would be fruitful. But none of them will substitute for following Christ in his work—healing, feeding, clothing, visiting those in need, those who need our help and want our company. There’s no magic spell to holiness, no Instant Win scratch-off card that guarantees you heaven. If you want to be perfect, unclench your heart, move your feet on Christ’s way, lift your hands in prayer, attach yourself to nothing temporary, rather, give yourself to eternity. And listen again to Jesus: “Give what you have to poor, come, follow me.”


  1. Father: I think you should take regular vacations/retreats. You are on fire after your U.K. retreat! Very good homilies.

  2. Fr. P.,

    I am always struck by this snippet from the Gospels. Upon reading the Mark version I was struck by the fact Jesus explicitly showed His love for the "Gospel Rich Kid." (Mk 10:21 "And Jesus looking on him, loved him, and said to him...") As, of course, He does for all of us, even as He sets down the guidelines we need to follow.

    Yours in Christ,



  3. Jordan Kelly5:14 PM


    Congratulations on such a great way to preach! I enjoy reading this everyday!

    Your Brother,

  4. Cathy and Jordan,

    I'm glad you guys find my homilies edifying! Thanks for reading...


    Can't have love without truth. Excellent observation.

    Fr. Philip, OP