The man in the Gospel (Mark 10:17-30) is after our American-pragmatic sense: he gets right to the point: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Our Lord then makes sure he is at least following the commandments, but then He gives him a deeper call: drop everything and follow me. In other words, I want more from you.
We can think of this Gospel in a 3 fold way:
Follow the Law of God, which weans us from our selfishness. Then, give up the idols of the heart: possessions, pleasure, power, pride. Then, “come, follow me.” Attach the heart to Christ.
We must first be at least following the commandments. Then we can take one more step in prayer and ask our Lord to reveal to us what we must get rid of in our lives to follow Him more closely. Then we will be able to truly follow Christ.
We must respond to this call from the Lord generously. We cannot simply be lukewarm, ride along with the culture, and once in a while think of God. One of the biggest deceptions of the devil is that everybody goes to heaven. That salvation can be achieved simply by being good or donating to a good cause once in a while. There are atheists who deny the existence of God who work for the Red Cross. Salvation is not just from doing good things.
Our Lord calls you and I to sanctity. He reminds this man of the second part of the commandments that have to do with the love of God-making sure he is at least living in accord with God’s law. He sees this man has love of things and his own plans, and love of God in his heart is not total. He gazes at this man with great love—you and I should never be ashamed to pray, to come back to Christ in the Sacrament of Confession. Our Lord sees the goodness in this man, despite his failings. He loves the sinner, but calls the sinner to a deeper conversion. If we go to pray, we might be more aware of our sins, our failures. Remember—we are not alone—Christ is right there. He brings these things up so we can see areas where we need His help, his mercy. Every time we pray, our Lord looks at us—he gazes at each person, and sees into the depths of the soul. He calls us to freedom-to not allow our whims and desires to control our lives, but to generously respond to him. He never calls us to presumption—God will forgive me anyway. No. Is your life, is my life, being transformed by Christ’s call? Do our daily lives show that we are truly followers of Jesus? Do we truly seek out Christ everyday of our lives?
He calls this young man to a heroic, manly work. Who knows what adventure our Lord desired for this man, but this man said no because he didn’t want to let go of the idols in his life. We too want to find happiness, salvation in our belongings, our passions, our selfish desires, our vices. Do we want Jesus to just forgive our sins or do we want Him to actually free us from sin? Our Lord calls some in a particular way to give up belongings through a vow of poverty, and He perceived this radical call was necessary for this man. For others we must do the best we can to not live attached to the material possessions we need to use everyday. To live, as Saint Josemaria put it, as “a father of a large, poor family”. Families do you spend as much time praying together as you do watching television or attending sports matches? If we watch a sitcom together every night, we can pray a rosary together.
This is the option: to respond generously to the Lord’s call or be a coward. Yes, the call of the Lord entails sacrifice, difficulty, rejection, suffering, and sometimes death. Yet this way leads to eternal life which we can experience even now.
The other option is to say no. To allow one’s heart and one’s zeal to be limited to obtaining wealth, to try to control one’s own life entirely, to be a coward.
There is plenty of work in the vineyard and very few laborers. Our Lord is speaking to men today, calling them just as He called this man, but are they, are you, listening? To be a man is to be heroic, to be generous, to give one’s life entirely for the other. Nothing more manly than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, let alone one’s enemies as our Lord did! There can be no higher love than the love of God, to give oneself entirely to Christ as His priest, to labor for the salvation of souls-to renew the holy sacrifice of the Calvary upon the altar, to absolve sins, to anoint the sick and the dying, to baptize. To be Christ in the midst of the world. There is lots of work to do here in Johnstown. So many people do not know God. So many people have rejected God. So many people who never pray. Let the Lord speak to you: “Come, follow me.” Yes, you might have plans for your life, but give them to Christ. Our Lord is never outdone in generosity, and he never calls one to an easy life. So to those men here, whether you are 4 or 40, and if you are not married or in the religious life, allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you: do not be afraid to respond. Parents, do not hinder the call of Christ for your children. Encourage them to be open to saying yes to God’s plans for them, even if it means you will not have grandchildren. Do not instinctively point to your friend and say “that’s his vocation, not mine. I have other plans.” It doesn’t work that way.
We can think of the story of Demetrius Gallitzin. A Russian prince, he came to the United States in 1792 at the age of 22. He saw the need to work for souls and the faith, and was ordained a priest. He received a sick call to go to McGuire’s settlement (current day Loretto) which was 150 miles away from where he was. Off he went on horseback. There was no route 219 or 22 back then! He eventually lost all inheritance from his family and the government because he had become a Catholic priest. What a heroic example of a man who heard the call from Christ, gave up all he had, and did not go away sad.
What does Our Lord offer in return to those who follow Him? A reward that is richer and more fulfilling than we could ever provide for ourselves. Even in the face of persecution the saints rejoice because they know they are standing up for the one whom they love entirely.
Our Lord will never be outdone in generosity, but if we are not generous, we should not be surprised if we do not hear him, for we are like that young man, going away sad because we want to find our salvation elsewhere. Follow the commandments, get rid of idols, follow Christ. If we want to be generous, but we realize our own limitations, we should go to the Blessed Mother, who can help us to be more generous and pry open our hands to let go of the idols in our lives. Pray the rosary, everyday. There we will learn to seek Christ in all aspects and moments of our lives.