“At this statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
As we hear this statement about the Rich Young Man in the Gospel going away sad, we should feel a similar sadness in our own hearts. The main point is not that the young man is so caught up in the worldly possessions he own. This is a story of a great lack of faith – he followed all the laws and commandments, yet he did not have faith in the Divine Lawgiver or the promise of heavenly treasure. It is because of his lack of faith that he does not come to know Christ. If that thought doesn’t evoke sorrow for him within our hearts, it’s time to do a little soul-searching because if we have come to know Jesus Christ personally in our own lives and experienced the incredible gift of being friends with the Lord, it should hurt us to see others come so close to Him and not experience the same.
This past Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI began the Year of Faith, lasting from October 11 of this year until November 24, 2013. Thursday was the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th Anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. But that wasn't the primary reason for the Holy Father calling this Year of Faith. Rather, it was because of what he has identified as a 'profound crisis of faith.' Namely, the world around has lost the sense of God, faith, and anything other than what the world around us offers. To combat this, this year is supposed to be one in which each of us focuses on our own “authentic and renewed conversion to Christ” so as to be more compelled and better able to share our Catholic faith with the world around us; and our Gospel passage today gives us a beautiful outline of how to do so.
St. Mark’s description of the young man running up to Jesus seems to imply some urgency on his part; he has something important to ask. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” How do I get to Heaven? This is an important question and one which all of us should have asked ourselves before and must ask again from time to time. This is the first point in authentic conversion to Christ – we must realize that we have been created for something more than this life. We have been created for Heaven and that inheritance awaits us, but we must first walk the path to get there.
This brings us to our second point in conversion to Christ. Upon hearing the young man’s question, Our Lord recalls the Commandments. In speaking of these laws, Jesus is telling the young man the actions that must be done or avoided. This is necessary because doing what God desires is the path to Heaven. For us today, this path is quite clearly marked out for us by the Church. Guided by the Holy Spirit, the teaching of Jesus Christ has remained the same in its essence for nearly 2000 years. This faith has been beautifully preserved in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a book published 20 years ago under the guidance of Blessed John Paul II that outlines all the essential elements of our Catholic faith. We Catholics must know our faith so that generations after us can benefit from the beauty and wisdom of the teaching of Christ just as we have.
Upon hearing the Lord’s response about the Commandments, the young man says that he follows all the Commandments. Then something unexpected happens - Our Lord invites the young man to go an extra step and place his trust not in commandments or created things, but in Jesus Himself. He says simply, “follow me.” This personal invitation to relationship with Jesus is the key to personal conversion. Surely we must long for Heaven and we must know the teaching of Christ on how to get there, but most important of all is the relationship with Jesus Christ. Without this there is no conversion, there is no change of heart. The Letter to the Hebrews, written years after the death and resurrection of the Lord reminds us that “the word of God is living and effective” – Jesus Christ is still alive and very much at work in the world and in our lives. In the same way that Jesus looked at the young man and “looking at him, loved him” He does the same with us. In this moment Jesus in all of His glory is looking at each of us, loving us and inviting us to renew our commitment to follow after Him. The Gospel passage etches into history the reality of the young man’s lack of faith. Let us today begin a new story wherein each of us is etched into the memory of our family, friends, and community around us not as a person who lacked faith but rather as a person who was fully alive with faith in Christ Jesus.
And how do we become those people of renewed and vibrant faith? We can read about our faith, we can put faith into action by acts of charity, and we can come to various classes and meetings to build us up in faith. But most of all, we must simply draw closer to Jesus Christ and know in our heart that He is alive and He loves us. This knowledge can only be found in prayer. So, in the end, while we are called to do many things, we must done only one – pray, pray, and pray.