CHOOSING NOW – October 14, 2012 -Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
CHOOSING NOW (Mark 10:17-31)
October 14, 2012
Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
Fifty years ago, on October 11, 1962, I had the good fortune to be in Rome as a student of theology. For months, Catholic press and Catholic talk centered on Vatican Council II. Just as in this country the TV commentators have for two years argued about the presidential election, so Christian pundits squabbled about themes of Vatican II.
In this Year of Faith, begun on Thursday of this past week, Pope Benedict calls us to renew acquaintance with the documents of Vatican II, the Council that opened half a century ago. That gathering of the world’s bishops has shaped our faith-lives. Remember when our altar faced the wall, when Eucharistic prayers were offered in Latin, when we ate no meat on Friday, when Lent meant forty days of fasting, when we joined a line at the confessional?
In this Year of Faith, we recall that Vatican II changed our Catholic culture. My father, I remember, wanted to attend the wedding of his friend, but that wedding would occur in a Protestant Church, and Catholics took a dim view of familiarity with Protestant church affairs. I cannot agree that those former times should be called the good old days.
Vatican II, by inviting officials and theologians from other Churches to attend, opened Ecumenism that impacts respect for the religious practice of our Protestant Brethren. Today, my father might easily attend the wedding of his friend. We can rejoice in our ecumenical sharing more fully in our reading of scripture and in our believing Christian tenets.
A rich young man runs up to Jesus and kneels before Him and asks: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” That question reveals his faith. That issue burdens his thinking. And Jesus answers. “You know the commandments: Do not kill, do not commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie about other people, don’t cheat, and respect your mother and your father.”
Without faith, a thoroughly modern person would reply differently. “Lord, I have not killed anyone, and I am not about to do such a thing. On adultery, though, you should not be old-fashioned; everyone expects a bit of action between guys and dolls; a pill and stuff heads off mistakes. Besides, I don’t steal money; going into a bank with a gun only invites a guard to shoot you. Nuts like that nearly always get caught. But jacking up the price—well sure—everyone does that. So look, I live a normal life. I pay the bills that come my way, and I do okay. The cops have never arrested me.”
The young man in the gospel, a weak believer, offered Jesus a better line than we have heard from the contemporary youth. In the gospel, the man insists “Teacher, all of these [commandments] I have observed from my youth.” “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Our Lord does not doubt the youth’s sincerity.
A faithless youth apparently observes those commandments that he finds easy. That person hardly sees the commandments as issuing from God. “Rules of Citizenship,” might fit better his approach. A humanist—he has no faith—refrains from bank-robbery because the police will ultimately lock up such bold thievery; a smart white-collar crook, however, would be able to skip atop the slight waves of disapproval. Chastity, in this person’s estimation, would fall out of the list of virtues. Chastity would mean a deprivation of pleasure, and that would require a sense of God among us. A contemporary humanist takes no heed of God, or of God among us.
Christ invites this young man to join His disciples, to walk with the Lord as one of the intimate few. “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor…; then come, follow me.” This invitation included an itinerant living unencumbered by possessions, requiring faith in the Son of God.
The Lord invites, holds out His hand, beckons and bids, seeks and solicits, without force or constraint. And this person, whose name we will never know, shakes his head and pales; his face falls. He goes away appalled and dispirited. The Lord has asked too much, more than he can afford. He cannot bring himself to such faith, to living with the Lord.
The obstacle seems to be that he hugs and cozens his riches so much that he can scarcely abandon these for committed faith in the kingdom of God. Perhaps he could have won “eternal life” more cheaply, without emptying all of his pockets. But the Lord says that some treasures have greater worth. Christ promises that “You will have treasure in heaven.”
In the Book of Job, we witness a person who contrasts with this rich young man. Job possesses land and servants and animals and wealth. Job has seven grown sons and three daughters. Daily Job offers sacrifice to the Lord (1:5). But in one day Job loses all his animals and wealth and his sons and daughters, yet he falls on the ground and worships God (1:20). Job rejects suggestion that he curse God and die (2:9). “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (2:10) Instead, Job issues his well-known line, saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord”(1:21).
Job knows that God creates us and gives us being and life. Inviting each of us into the Kingdom of God, the Lord requires our faith and our nearness to Himself. “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Vatican II has broadened our perspective. Changes in church design and in church relations have not resulted in change of Christ inviting you and me to faith and discipleship. The Lord beckons us, all of us, who recognize God among us. Amen!