Monday, 28 May 2012

A Rich Young Man

Today’s reading from Mark 10: 17 – 27 about the rich young man who asks Jesus what he can do to inherit eternal life is a challenging one.  Jesus first councils the young man to keep the commandments, but then further gives him a startling invitation that definitely takes him out of his comfort zone.  “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  Even the apostles were amazed at these words!  The young man went away sorrowful, and I fully understand his discouragement. But from verse 21, which reads “And Jesus looking upon him, loved him…”, I see that Jesus speaks these words out of a heart full of love, tenderness and forgiveness. He wants nothing but the best for each one of us, which means true, lasting fullness of joy, and He knows that earthly pleasures offer us but a shadow of that.

I have this print in my office, taken from a larger painting called Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, painted by Heinrich Hoffman in 1889.  I think the artist really captured Christ’s compassion. I love looking at it and being reminded of how much He loves me, and understands my struggles. 

The paradox is that so many things in life – good food, books, artwork, music, a cosy living room, a lovely garden – are wonderful blessings if seen as gifts from God to be thankful for, and enjoyed and shared.  But when we start to see them as our own hard-won treasure that must be guarded, then the blessings turn to shackles.  Francis was given this insight, and though it took him a few years to understand and absorb, he eventually took it fully to heart and experienced a radical conversion of attitude, lifestyle and faith. 

We aren’t told in the Scriptures, but maybe Jesus’ words to the rich young man also stirred his spirit, and led him to question where he was putting his trust and hope.  Who knows, maybe Jesus’ words led him to a place of more abundant joy, stronger faith and life-giving freedom.  As we study the life of Francis, maybe we too can travel further down that same path, developing an attitude of healthy detachment from our possessions and wealth, embodying a community spirit rather than a competitive spirit. It’s a measure of God’s love for us that He believes we are capable of growing in holiness, and He longs to accompany us, guide us and strengthen us on the journey.  But He won’t impose; we have to take the first step, and ask for His help.  It can happen if we believe it can happen. As Jesus reminded His apostles at the end of this reading, “All things are possible for God.”

Tuesday, 22 May 2012


This past weekend we celebrated the Ascension of our Lord.  On this solemnity, I always can’t help but think about the emotions that the apostles must have felt.  Talk about mixed feelings!  Not long before this they had been living in grief and fear because of the death of Jesus.  Then they experienced the elation of seeing Him alive again, risen from the tomb. Next came forty joyful but confusing days of trying to comprehend His resurrected presence among them.  Now He leaves them again to ascend to His Father in heaven, promising them that they will soon receive the power of the Holy Spirit. What a range of events and intense emotions in such a short time. 

I realized this weekend, as I heard the Scripture readings at Mass, that the Ascension is another example of detachment – the same kind of detachment that happens naturally in our lives as we say good-bye to loved ones, to seasons, to experiences, to places, to stages in our growth.  But it is also an example of another kind of detachment, that doesn’t feel so natural.  This is the detachment that God calls us to as He invites us to enter a new phase of spiritual maturity and trust.  Mary said “Yes” to that invitation when she received a visit from the Angel Gabriel. Paul said “Yes” after meeting Christ on the road to Damascus.  Francis said “Yes” after hearing the Lord’s voice in the little Chapel of San Damiano.  In all of these instances we see an opportunity seized that brings new life and transformation.

God invites each of us to this same transformation, but it always involves a risk, a letting go, a detachment from the familiar.  It also takes a lot of courage.  In a way, Christ’s Ascension is a continuation of His invitation to all of us to “Follow Me.”  To quote the Franciscan Richard Rohr, one of my favorite authors, “There is a movement from Jesus to the Christ that you and I have to imitate and walk, as well. A lot of us have so fallen in love with the historical Jesus that we worship Him as such and stop there.  We never really followed the same journey He made, which is the death and resurrection journey – Jesus died and Christ rose.” 

Will we accept His invitation?

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Paradox of Gospel Living

            There is such an abundance of material for reflection in the life of St. Francis.  One of the most intriguing things to absorb is Francis’ joyful discovery of how God kept giving him back everything that he had given up for Christ’s sake – but with a sacred twist. 
            How is it that Francis’ life of harsh deprivation contained such richness, joy, beauty, peace, and love?  He was re-gifted with the fullness of all these things through the very act of putting God ahead of them. As he embraced Jesus’ way of living, as presented in the Gospels, he also embraced poverty, weakness, austerity, insecurity and rejection.  But to his great delight, Francis found that God generously and lovingly graced him with richness in poverty; joy in weakness; beauty in austerity; peace in insecurity; and love in rejection. 
            How is this even possible? It seems that when we are able to move beyond searching for happiness in our circumstances, and instead derive our sense of wellbeing from the simple fact that we are God’s beloved children, we start to understand that we have found a well that will never run dry. 
           Incredibly, we undervalue His tenderness and mercy and care for us, thinking instead that we’ll find enduring fulfillment in…exciting travel experiences…a great family life…a beautiful house….the latest gadget…a fit and trim body…a busy social life…a rewarding career…a big bank account…a good reputation…a much-admired talent…and on and on. Thin ice to skate on, but it’s so easy to be fooled into believing that these things will bring us the contentment we yearn for. They are all as temporary as the grass, in God's eternal perspective - while His love for each of us is rock-solid and permanent. As Francis found out from his own experiences, the equation on which so many of us are basing our lives is a faulty one. Maybe it’s time to scrap it and head back to the drawing board. But how? What does that mean, especially for us who live in an affluent western society and are totally addicted to its pleasures?  What does it mean for me, as a baby Franciscan?
             It all seems to come down to one question – do we trust God?