Today, as we celebrate the beginning of the “Year of Faith,” the Gospel poses us with very fundamental challenges that will determine whether our universal Catholic Church, our Parish family, our personal family and our personal faith will truly grow in God’s Love and Ways or it would just be another calendar year that would pass us by.
The first fundamental question that today’s Gospel poses us is, “Do we love God?”. For this, I am sure, almost all of us here would say, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you . . . and that’s why we are here for this Mass?!” And, not only that; I have also “obeyed all the commandments of God: I have not killed, or steal or bear false witness or cheated anyone and have honoured my mother and father.”
What would Jesus response be like when He hears this answer of ours? He would look on us with love . . . and He would then pose us the second question. He would say, “You say you love me and that’s very good, but how much do you really love me?”
This second question is not so easy to answer, not so much because it is an abstract or vague question, but it is because like the “rich young man” in today’s Gospel, we are easily drawn into, what Henri Nouwen says, of living lives that are too complex. We have too many things to worry about, too many affairs to take care of, too many people to relate to. And thus, like the rich young man, if we cannot let go of these concerns, we will also turn away from Jesus “sad.” Do we want this to happen to us?
If our spirituality is a conditional love for God, like that of the rich young man in today’s Gospel, then it would not make sense to us to see someone who is offered a Mercedes Benz, but prefers a motorcycle because of his detachment to material things or his commitment to the vow of Poverty. We would also not be able to comprehend why someone who can retire in comfort and luxury, but prefers to work in Africa amongst HIV aids poor without any pay and living in deplorable conditions. Likewise, we too would not be able to understand how someone could go to the murderer’s family’s home and embrace them with forgiveness for killing their son. Yes, all these would not make sense to us if our love for God is conditional and lived on our own terms; not what Jesus upheld, preached and lived. This was the conditional spiritual of the rich young man in the Gospel.
When we love God conditionally, actually what we are saying to Jesus is, “Lord, I love you, but I am afraid I love myself more. I am afraid all these other complex concerns of my life have to be sorted out first before I can come back to you.” If this is what we are saying to Jesus daily, then like the rich young man, we too will remain sad and unfulfilled in our lives.
But, Jesus has not given up hope in us. In today’s Gospel, Jesus continues to remind us, “But, if you, put me first in your life, if you love me more than your other loves in your life, then, “you will be repaid a hundred times over in this present life and in the world to come, eternal life.”
There is a story of two caterpillars called “Stripes” and “Yellow”. As soon as Stripes was born, he started to eating one leaf after another; . . . day after day and he was growing bigger and fatter. One day, Stripes said to himself, “Life is getting very boring. I am sure there is more to life than eating and sleeping.” So, he crawled down the tree and explored the whole garden with great excitement.
One day, Stripes saw many caterpillars crawling up a pillar and trying to reach the top. When he asked around what was at the top, no one seemed to know. So, he too joined the crowd; along the way, Stripes had to kick aside weaker caterpillars who were in his way; as he was almost reaching the top, he met “Yellow” a very beautiful caterpillar who was blocking the only way up. But because he had fallen in love with “Yellow” he said to her, “Whatever that is up the top it is just not worth it.” So, both of them climbed down the pillar and started a family of their own.
One day, Stripes began to be curious again at what was at the top of the pillar and wanted to find out. Regardless of how Yellow tried to persuade Stripes to value the blessings of the home, Stripes left home. Meanwhile, Yellow had grown into a beautiful butterfly. Yellow flew around and finally found Stripes; he was still struggling to get to the top of the pillar. Yellow then said to Stripes, “Hey, Stripes, we are all meant to be butterflies; not caterpillars! Look at me!
How do you do it? Stripes asked. “Well,” Yellow explained, “You have to first come home again. Stripes, being humbled by the truth, crawled down the pillar with Yellow’s guidance. When they reached home, Yellow urged Stripes to learn to let go of the fantasies of the pillar; they are merely distortions and distractions of life that can never be fulfilling. As Stripes began to learn to die to himself, he started weaving a cocoon and withdrew into the depth of his true self. Meanwhile, Yellow waited patiently for the day when Stripes would emerge from his cocoon and fulfil his deepest desires in life. When that big day came, Yellow filled with deep joy embraced Stripes with her love; at last like her, Stripes have found the true and deepest meaning in life.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we can see from this story that while Stripes was lost in his search for meaning in life, like the rich young man, his saving grace was that he had Yellow to guide him back to the truth. All of us are called to be like “Yellow” for the many people whom we know are lost in this world of fantasies. The tragedy of the rich young man in today’s Gospel is that he was turning away from the opportunity to develop and deepen his intimate relationship with Jesus. He was turning away from the hundred fold reward that Jesus wanted to give him. But, like the rest of the secular world, he was like Stripes living in the illusion that life was about climbing up the pillar with the rest of the crowd.
Like the rich young man in today’s Gospel, all of us are searching for a deeper and more fulfilling life. However, for many of us, God’s challenges often do not seem to make sense to us. We cannot understand, let alone accept the lifestyles of those who are able to choose to live the vow of poverty instead of plenty; or live in deplorable conditions and serve the poorest of the poor in Africa, or forgive unconditionally.
Malcolm Muggeridge, who wrote about Mother Teresa says that while the Missionaries of Charity sisters live a tough and austere life, I have never met such delightful, happy women, or such an atmosphere of joy as they create. Mother Teresa says, ‘the poor deserve not just service and dedication, but also joy that belongs to human love.”
I would like to conclude by reiterating that, unlike the rich young man, if we are to become detached from the complex concerns of our daily living, if we are to put God at the centre of our lives and love Him more than all other loves of our lives, then, for this to happen, we all need to begin to withdraw from our busy and hectic living into the cocoons of our lives and spend more quality quiet time with God, and listening to Him.
When we are able to do this, with God’s help, our love for Jesus will deepen and become personal; we will discover our true and authentic self. And, we will fulfil Jesus’ promise to repay us a hundred times over in this present life and in the world to come, eternal life.
(Ref: The Mustard Seed, Reflections for Daily Living, by Fr Joseph A Galdon,S.J.; The Bookmark, Inc.; 1991; pg 186. Quoting from “Hope for the Flowers” by Trina Paulus.)
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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