28 May 2012

If your goal is eternal life. . .

8th Week OT (M)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Look far ahead, down the road, and off in the distance. . .do you see a goal for yourself? Do you see what it is or who it is that you are pursuing? Are you being led, or are you giving chase? Make no mistake, whether we know it or not, we are all closing in on an end point. Most are stumbling toward it. Some are strolling casually. A few are even sprinting wildly. That we all have an end point is a fact. We give it different names, use different euphemisms: passing, “gone to a better place,” “dirt nap,” “giving up the ghost,” death. The separation of body and soul is a hard constant of being alive. No one escapes. But death is not a goal. A goal is something to be achieved, something to be worked toward. Accomplishing a goal is not a given; we can fail to complete a goal. What goal are you striving toward? Are you being led to achievement, or are you trying to go it alone? Peter teaches us that the goal of faith is the salvation of our souls; that is, the reason for believing, the purpose of trusting in God is to save our immortal souls. Quoting the rich young man, “. . .what must [we] do to inherit eternal life?” 

The rich young man clearly sees his goal: eternal life. Will he be led to it, or will he chase after it? Since he's asking the Good Teacher how he might inherit eternal life, we can assume that he's willing to be led. Jesus shows him the Way: obey the Commandments and detach yourself from the things of this world. The young man eagerly volunteers his obedience to the Commandments, but when Jesus tells him to sell all his goods and give them to the poor, Mark reports that “his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” So much for being led to the goal of eternal life. With so many possessions to tend to and so many responsibilities to shoulder, the young man chooses to chase after the goal of eternal life. And he will chase that goal alone. Being wealthy in no way disqualifies the young man from entering heaven. What disqualifies him is his attachment to wealth. It loads him down, it fills him up. With all his riches, with all his obligations there is no room in his heart for the treasures of God's kingdom. He has much and more anchoring him to the world of things, the smallish things of a smallish world which too soon fade away. Eternal life is inherited by those who will be led, unattached from the passing away of things. 

Showing exemplary compassion, Jesus laments, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!” The disciples are “exceedingly astonished” at his outburst and wonder who then can be saved. Jesus says, “For men it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” What exactly is impossible for men but not impossible for God? It is impossible for wealthy men to enter the kingdom alone, by themselves, but God can lead them there if they will be led. But to be led, they must come to believe and trust fully in the providence of God. So must we all. We cannot serve two Masters. If our goal is eternal life, then we serve the one Master who can lead us there, and serving Him means abandoning all other attachments. The only other choice is to serve our possessions and chase after eternal life on our own. As the adopted children of the Father through Christ, we are heirs to the kingdom He has bequeathed to us. To lay claim to our inheritance, we must cease loving things more than we love Him. He is the source and summit, Love Himself, and loving Him first makes all other loves possible. Chasing after temporary things leads to a permanent death. Be led by His love so that you may inherit eternal life. 

Give me some feedback in the combox!  Good, bad, ugly. . .


  1. But how does one steward great wealth without giving one's heart to it? That's a toughie -- not that I've ever had to do it, mind you, but I've seen what wealth can do to people.

    1. Like any gift from God, wealth should be used for the benefit of others. There's nothing wrong with enjoying wealth but attachment to it is spiritually dangerous.

  2. Me, I'd begin the homily where the first paragraph ends: "Quoting the rich young man, 'What must me do to inherit eternal life?'" Then I might say a few words about how that's the true goal of every Christian; and then go on to the second paragraph.

    1. HA! This is how I started the first draft. But the result was less than I had hoped. Turned into a "how-to" that sounded like every other cliche driven homily--pray, fast, go to Mass, do good. Kind of a yawner. Now, there's no good reason that a homily starting there couldn't be good. . .just wasn't in me yesterday.