This past weekend I spent in Boston on retreat with 14 wonderful students from Merrimack. We stayed downtown at the Jesuit Urban Center and spent the weekend discussing and reflecting on issues of social justice, doing service, and trying to figure out how God fits into it all (these seem to be the themes of my entire year). Our retreat was guided by the passage of the rich man in Mark’s Gospel:
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 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.’” He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to 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.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
This weekend some tough questions were asked. What is enough? Where is the balance between living simply, giving to those in need and still maintaining a comfortable life for myself, being able to support a family, etc.? How much are we called to sacrifice? As a campus minister I wished I could offer the students the right answers, but I realized once again that all I can do is sit with them in the questions and maybe even add a few more of my own.
As I continue in my year of service with the Augustinians, I can’t help but see the similarities between myself and this rich young man. I have been blessed with much in my life. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with thanksgiving, but more often I take for granted the fact that I have and will always have that which is necessary for my survival (and much, much more). I enjoy the comfort of my possessions and to seldom do I reflect on whether my possessions in fact possess me.
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that possessions are evil in and of themselves. I don’t think God wants me to live in poverty any more than he wants those currently in poverty to remain there. But one of the lessons this year has been teaching me is that I encounter my God in a deeper way when I allow myself to be free from this culture of possession. I’ve seen the faith and the dependence on God that results in people when there is nothing else to rely on and I long for that kind of faith. How would my life be different if I truly believed with my whole being that I could not survive another day, another moment, without my God?
I think this is what the rich man was called to. I think this is my calling as well.
Every Tuesday when I go with students to the soup kitchens I realize the value I give people based on their appearance and material wealth and based on their usefulness to me. I find that I am uncomfortable (though I try to appear otherwise). I want to see each person as Christ - I do. But I find it is much easier to talk about the dignity of the human person than to preach it with my life because poverty, when you actually have to face it, is ugly. It’s uncomfortable.
I think that this is why the rich man went away sad. He wasn’t ready to be stretched out of his comfort zone. He wasn’t ready to be called to something deeper than the image of God he’d always known. This is why I turn away sad at times. I don’t like to be stretched. I don’t like to be uncomfortable. I don’t like my (very small) image of God to be challenged. But I pray that it would continue anyway because it is in the discomfort that we become better people. It is in the discomfort that we find the true God - the God that doesn’t judge based on appearance or material wealth or usefulness, but on how we love.
Lawrence, MA 2006-2007