Fr. Bryan Howard
28thSunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – 14 October 2018
If you’ve ever had a conversation with an evangelical Christian about religion, they probably asked you if you’re sure that you’re going to heaven. You see, many groups of protestants believe in “faith alone.” They believe that faith alone is necessary for salvation. They’ll try to convince you that because you’re a Catholic and can’t say that you 100% certain of going to heaven, that your faith is deficient. They’ll tell you that all you have to do is make a public profession of faith in Jesus, and that’s it. “Once saved, always saved.”
After all, in today’s Gospel when the rich young man comes to Jesus and asks Him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”Jesus replies, “Just profess your faith in me, then you can do whatever you want.” Wait, no, that’s not what He says at all. He tells the rich young man not to sin, saying, “You know the commandments: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother." Then He tells the young man to sell what he has and give to the poor and to come and follow Him. In other words, it’s not enough to profess your faith in Jesus, you have to show your faith in Jesus by following Him and living as one of His followers.
Today’s Gospel gives us a sort of cheat sheet in how to grow as a follower of Jesus. He starts off with the Commandments. Learning to follow the Commandments is one of the basics of being a disciple of Jesus. The first three are about our relationship with God: love the Lord Your God, do not take the Lord’s name in vain, and keep holy the Sabbath. The first commandment tells us not to have any idols and not to put anything else ahead of God in our lives. The second doesn’t just mean to not use foul language. It means that when you do speak the Lord’s name, in prayer and in Church, that it shouldn’t be meaningless, but that you should really mean it. The third commandment points back to the creation of the world, when God rested on the seventh day, and it reminds us that everything we have comes from God. We should set aside one day each week, preferably Sunday, to express that gratitude to God.
The last seven commandments are about our relationships with other people and how we should treat them. These are the ones Jesus quotes: honor your father and mother, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t covet your neighbors spouse or property. The commandment to honor your parents is the only positive one our of all of these, and it’s the only one that comes with a promise, “that you may have a long life in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you.”The commandments not to kill (murder), commit adultery, steal, and lie can be summarized as telling us not to treat other people wrongly, and the last, to not covet, concerns our thoughts. Covetousness is related to greed or jealousy, and means to desire something that someone else has. This doesn’t mean that your neighbor gets a new car and you want one like it, but that you want that specific car and start thinking about ways that you can get it from him.
If we can do all of that, then we’ve made a very good start, but that’s not all that Jesus has to say. The young man says that he’s done all of that since his youth, so Jesus tells him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”What Jesus tells us to do on top of the Commandments is to follow Him. Follow Him how? We are to follow Him by imitating His sacrificial love which He showed us by descending from heaven to become a poor human being and then dying on the Cross for us. Some people are called to live this out in a radical way as an example for us. Think about people like St. Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Most of us are called to live it out in more ordinary ways, by being dedicated to your vocation as husband or wife, mother or father, by giving to the most needy in our community, and by trying to treat everyone with kindness.
One of the great things about the apostles is that they react to these sayings of Jesus in the same way that we would. This time it says that they’re “amazed at His words,”and ask, “Then who can be saved?”Jesus tells them, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”In other words, we have to learn to rely on the grace of God. This is really what the spiritual life is all about. We try not to sin, but we inevitably fail and fall back into sin. DO we fall into despair and give up? No, we rely on the grace of God to forgive our sins and strengthen us to do better next time. We find it hard to treat some people with kindness, humility, and compassion. Do we give up and stop trying? No, we pray for them, and for ourselves, and try to do a little bit better every day.
Is there a certain sin that you struggle with more than others or a virtue that you think you need to grow in? Then pray for it by name. As our first reading says, “I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her.”And in Psalm 90, our responsorial, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart. Return, O Lord,! How long? Have pity on your servants!”And finally in our second reading from the book of Hebrews, “Indeed the Word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.”
We don’t believe in once saved, always saved, but we have a better promise, a promise that God will not leave us in our sins and afflictions if we place our trust in His grace and allow Him to teach us to walk in His paths and draw us every close to His Most Sacred Heart.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.