Loving The Church

Loving the Church – from Henri Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey

Loving the Church often seems close to impossible.  Still, we must keep reminding ourselves that all people in the Church – whether powerful or powerless,  conservative or progressive, tolerant or fanatic – belong to that long line of witnesses moving through this valley of tears, singing songs of praise and thanksgiving, listening to the voice of their Lord, and eating together from the bread that keeps multiplying as it is shared.  When we remember that, we may be able to say,  “I love the Church, and I am glad to belong to it.”

Loving the Church is our sacred duty.   Without a true love for the Church, we cannot live in it in joy and peace.  And without a true love for the Church, we cannot call people to it.

- Henri J. M. Nouwen

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The Rich Young Man, Homily

Homily, Oct 10-11, 2015: Cycle B, The Rich Young Man

Our readings today begin with the beautiful words of King Solomon recounting his experience with the Holy Spirit and the Gift of Wisdom.

He is explaining what happened to him as a young king. God told him to ask for anything, even great wealth & it would be his. David answered God that He was too young to lead this great people, and needed the Gift of Wisdom to lead his people well, rather than great wealth. Since his choice was noble, God gave him both Wisdom and wealth.

In this 1st Reading today, much later in his life, he looks back and shares that things of the spirit are much more valuable than physical wealth.

His words are a good lead in for us as we examine the Gospel, which is the classic story of the Rich Young Man.

If you remember, Jesus was leaving on a journey when a man ran up to Him, knelt down in front of Him, asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life”.

In reply, Jesus listed various commandments, but the man said, “All of these I have observed from my youth.”

Our Gospel tells us that Jesus looked at him & loved him. Jesus no doubt gave an eye roll, but looked beyond the brashness of youth and saw something genuine in him.

So He said, “Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, then come follow Me.”  His face fell & he went away sad for he had many possessions.

Up to this point, as I read this Gospel several days ago, I actually felt like I had been given a reprieve; that this story didn’t have a lot to offer me personally, but was really directed toward the wealthy 1% that we blame for everything else today.

But, in the Book by Stephen Covey, entitled, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, there is one habit in particular that I think pertains to today’s Gospel and to all of us.

It simply states, “Begin with the end in mind”. That is, if we do not know where we are going, how will we know when we get there?

The young man’s question about inheriting eternal life was actually a very good question, whether he was wealthy or not.

When we were born and our parents made the choice to bring us to church, to have us baptized, sent us for religious instruction at a parochial school, or enrolled us in education in the parish; they were trying to prepare us for our journey to eternal life, right there at the beginning of our lives.

They were doing their best to help us discover what we must do to inherit that eternal life.

So, again, the question put to Jesus by the young man was a good question and one that we all ask ourselves over our lifetimes – am I doing enough, am I serving enough, am I praying enough, what else must I do.

The problem in our Gospel was not the question, but the reaction to Jesus’ directive to, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor”. Not only did he have many possessions, he was hopelessly attached to those possessions. That was the problem.

The issue is not so much wealth per se, but how we let it affect us. Do we possess it maturely and do good things with it, or does it possess us & we clutch it to ourselves in greed?

In the case of the young man in the Gospel, he had not matured to the point of understanding the difference. He wanted eternal life, but not at the expense of giving away his wealth.

At this point, let us change directions a little and look at the other side of the coin.  It is not just about being rich physically; it is also about being rich in spirit, as well.

Those of us who are not physically rich do not get a pass from the intent of this Gospel. We should apply Jesus’ words to our tendency to want to be rich in spirit.

We can be rich in spirit in a number of ways:

1 – Our egos can lead us to lording it over others. We’re always right, they’re always wrong

2 – Our behavior can be arrogant and hurtful

3 – We can enjoy minding other’s business, inserting ourselves in their business where we have no business

4 – We can think ourselves better than others, it’s all about me, my, mine. From here we are only a hop, skip, and a jump away from judging others

And, the list goes on and on. We need great personal awareness of these areas or they escape our sight.

Jesus is also talking to us in this Gospel today if we exhibit these symptoms of being rich in spirit.

He is telling us to get rid of that richness just like He told the rich young man, so that we can more clearly follow Him, unencumbered.

In essence, stop doing those things. Get serious about becoming more like Him. Our mission here on earth is to do just that.

Do you remember the old Baltimore Catechism? One of the very first questions was, “Why did God make us?” Remember the answer? To know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in the next.

Interestingly enough, all of this connects to Jesus’ call in the Sermon on the Mount to Be Poor in Spirit.

Being Poor in Spirit is the first item on the list. In fact, the other eight items are just examples of the first. Being a peacemaker, applies not just to Secretary of State, John Kerry trying to get two warring countries to come to peace with one another. We have members of our own families that don’t speak to one another that we can work on.

Or, being merciful, can be difficult when the offense against us is horrific. Being lowly instead of thinking highly of ourselves, are all examples of being poor in spirit.

Indeed, all of these are the way Jesus dealt with people when He walked this earth, so it makes sense if we are going to join Him in the hereafter we should learn how to be like Him before we get there.

Begin with the end in mind. The end is to be like Him in this world so we can be happy with Him in the next.