Thursday, October 11, 2012

Good Master, What Must we do ...?

Twenty Eighth Ordinary Sunday Year B

This weekend, parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur and many parts of the world will officially launch the Year of Faith. The Year of Faith, in the words of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in his letter ‘Porta Fidei,’ is a “summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Saviour of the world.” You’ve been hearing a great deal about this event but perhaps the whole thing may still appear fuzzy. The question on everyone’s mind somewhat reflects that of the rich young man in today’s gospel. “Good master, what must we do…?” You may be glad to know that the answer to this question lies in the same story, which starts off as a tale of a promising candidate for discipleship.

The story, however, ends on a sad note. We must not, however, be too quick or harsh to judge the rich young man. He was no ordinary youth lost in worldly pursuits. He seemed willing to listen and even eager to learn. He sincerely desired eternal life and wanted to know the winning formula for salvation. The young man claimed to be a good observant Jew who faithfully kept the Law. He just wasn’t too sure whether he missed anything. His persistence in pressing Jesus for an answer would eventually lead him to one that he did not bargain for. The answer would require a price too heavy to be paid; a cost he was unwilling to bear.

The failed story of the rich young men need not necessarily be ours. Our story could have an entirely different ending, provided we are prepared to learn from his mistakes. The lesson learnt gives us a blueprint on how we could make this Year of Faith a fruitful one, but not just for the year. It’s a lesson of a lifetime for  all sojourners of faith.

The first mistake of the rich young man was that he failed to recognise Jesus as Lord. The young man could only manage a title of honour at best, “Good Teacher.” Jesus, perceiving the youth’s inability to move beyond human categories, answers with another question, a question that would challenge the depths of the young man’s understanding. "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” By providing the answer to his own rhetorical question, Jesus was laying out a simple logic for the young man’s consideration - If Jesus is good, then He is God. Knowledge of the person of Jesus Christ is the foundation and objective of faith.  We must always remember that faith is not just confined to knowledge of our catechism. Although this is necessarily important, knowledge of faith should ultimately lead us into an intimate communion with Christ. The Gospel that Jesus Christ came to reveal is not information about God, but rather God himself in our midst. One of the most famous and repeated phrases of the Holy Father comes from his first encyclical, in the very first paragraph: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Belief in Jesus Christ, then, is the way to arrive definitively at salvation. The Year of Faith is first and foremost an opportunity for Catholics to enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus. We need to move from a cognitive knowledge of Jesus to a unitive one.

The second mistake of our protagonist was settling for less when he could have achieved so much more. That too may be the frequent problem with many Catholics who often suffer from legalistic minimalism. The oft repeated question posed to the clergy by laity is ‘must’ we do this? In other words, it is obligatory? They believe that as long as they fulfilled the minimum requirements of the law, it would be deemed sufficient. This is best summed up in Yogi Bear’s famous life philosophy, ‘Why do more when you can do less.” When religion and ethical principles settle for the lowest standards to accommodate personal convenience, it will finally and quickly bottom out. Settling for less does not only take away the edge from our faith, it also condemns us to mediocrity. Today, we see the rise of mediocrity in every sphere. Mediocrity today poses as democratisation, inclusiveness, populism, condescension, tolerance, broad-mindedness, optimism and even charity. Mediocrity provides the anaesthetia our society needs to shield it from the sting of suffering. In other words, mediocrity presents the promise of salvation without a cross, charity without needing to sacrifice. We try to make religion easier and more accessible in order to stem the steady decline in followers. But mediocrity is settling for cheap; it is selling a lie. The call to holiness, ultimately, is a call to perfection. Being average or just good when it comes to holiness just doesn’t make it! In the Year of Faith, you will hear the Church’s rallying cry to walk the extra mile, to go out into the deep end, to make the greater sacrifice for faith. You will hear Jesus constantly prodding you, “Why do less when you can do more?” The law may simply set the minimum base line. But the maximum limit is literally the sky – heaven, in fact! We are all called to be saints!

The third mistake of the young man was that his deeds did not match his words when it came to faith. The young man had claimed that he had kept the Law perfectly. But the sincerity of this claim would be tested by the demand made by Jesus. The man’s sincerity was made poignantly clear by Jesus’ command to sell all and follow Him. His face fell and he went away sad because he could never part with his great wealth, not even in exchange for a greater prize, eternal life. Many fail to see the discrepancy, the dissonance between words and deeds. By claiming he had kept the Law, the man was declaring that he had obeyed the first commandment to love the Lord supremely and above all things, including wealth. He was also saying he loved his neighbour more than himself. But if he loved God and fellow-creatures more than he did his property, it would hardly be difficult and should have been quite effortless on his part to give up his wealth to the service of God and of man. But that was not the case. If the Year of Faith is going to be a year of deeper conversion, greater commitment to catechesis, relearning the fundamental basics of our faith in the light of the Second Vatican Council and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, then we need to match deeds to words. Words not matched by deeds are simply hollow and insincere.

Finally, the young man’s last mistake that proved decisive in determining his fate was that he chose to walk away. Situations arise where we may need to walk away, but then again, there are moments which calls us to stand our ground. The call of faith demands that we make such a stand. The young man walked away from the challenge of deepening his faith. He walked away from the heavy cost of discipleship but he also walked away from its reward, eternal life. Ultimately, he walked away from Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. In choosing to walk away, he has chosen to close the door on Jesus. It is ironic and yet beautifully consoling that Jesus does not close the door on him. The Gospel of Mark records this little detail, that Jesus whilst looking at him, ‘loved him.’ The letter of the Holy Father inaugurating the Year of Faith tells us that “the “door of faith” (Acts 14:27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church.”  Now is the critical moment for decision: do we walk through that door or turn our back and walk away?

Having faith in Jesus and following him along the path of holiness is not going to be easy. Recognising Jesus as Lord shakes us from our complacent stupour, challenges us to match deeds to our words, and calls us to reject mediocrity in all its varied manifestations and aim high for perfection. Not only does this mean embracing a completely different style of living; but it also calls us to stand against a world that has grown indifferent to the sacred. The temptation to walk away is great, and many have done so, especially when the zeal has run out, the sentiment no longer enjoyed, the theology distant and less relevant, faith has become boring and empty and God has been reduced to an abstract concept. The Year of Faith throws us a challenge to return to the raw basics – ‘sell everything, take up your cross and follow me!’ What this means is that our faith is in need of a major overhaul or in the words of Blessed John XXII when he convened the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago, we are in need of a ‘renovatio’ – a renovation of our hearts and minds so that we may breathe and live the newness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This requires us to launch ourselves not just knee-deep but right up to the point where we are totally submerged. We must risk giving up every false security, our comfort zones, and our complacent self-satisfaction with the status quo. Will you choose to walk away like the rich young man or stand your ground and accept the challenge of the cross? This may seem to be a tall order, but remember, "For human beings it (may seem) impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God."

The Holy Father tells us that “during this time we will need to keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus Christ, the "pioneer and perfecter of our faith" (Heb 12:2): in him, all the anguish and all the longing of the human heart finds fulfilment. The joy of love, the answer to the drama of suffering and pain, the power of forgiveness in the face of an offence received and the victory of life over the emptiness of death: all this finds fulfilment in the mystery of his Incarnation, in his becoming man, in his sharing our human weakness so as to transform it by the power of his resurrection… Faith commits every one of us to become a living sign of the presence of the Risen Lord in the world.” Let us then make this journey of faith into the wilderness of the world so that we may transform it by the message of the gospel into a place brimming once again with life, joy and hope.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Terms of Use: As additional measure for security, please sign in before you leave your comments.

Please note that foul language will not be tolerated. Comments that include profanity, personal attacks, and antisocial behaviour such as "spamming" and "trolling" will be removed. Violators run the risk of being blocked permanently. You are fully responsible for the content you post. Please be responsible and stay on topic.