Monday, August 20, 2012


In the Gospel at Mass today (Matthew 19: 16-22), a young man approached Jesus and asked what "good" he must do to "gain eternal life."  Jesus responded that "there is only One who is good"--God.  Then he told him the minimum requirements for eternal life: to follow the commandments which were given for humanity's spiritual health and ultimate well-being.  When the young man responded that he followed these commandments, yet felt that something was missing, Jesus challenged him to give everything away and to follow Him.  The young man "went away sad, for he had many possessions." 

Jesus told the young man that God is the only good, the greatest good.  No created good should come before Him.  If we choose a lesser good as more important that the greatest good, we've got our priorities wrong, we will be unhappy, and we will risk losing eternal life.  The young man was too attached to material things which were more important to him than following Jesus.  He could not let go of earthly treasures and his hands, full of these lesser goods, were not open to receiving "treasure in heaven."  He needed detachment.

Mother Mary Teresa Tallon, the foundress of the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate, to whom I am giving a retreat this week, wrote an article dated July 30, 1926 and entitled "On Poverty and Detachment."  She points out that true wisdom means having one's priorities right:

"But the Gift of Wisdom or spiritual detachment ... means freedom from all earthly things in order to reach an entire attachment to God and to the Will of God.  Detachment brings every virtue, or it presupposes the possession of every virtue.  True humility, which is the foundation of detachment ... means freedom from self with its aspirations toward egotism....  The possessor of the gift of detachment has every theological and Christian virtue.  Why?  Because the great obstacle SELF is eliminated, the spirit rises to Heaven, and the good God is brought into full possession."

Possessions or honors or relationships--any good that is less than God--can weigh us down.  They can distract us from the "one thing necessary" (see Luke 10: 42) and can lead us to lose track of our priorities and what is most important--eternal life.  The focus on self, egotism accompanied by selfishness or self-pity, is especially burdensome.   But detachment frees us to fly:

"So detachment means freedom from self, freedom from the earth, to rise like a great eagle--like a great angel, rather--up to God."

We can let go of all and surrender ourselves completely because God has done this.  Jesus gave completely of Himself, offering Himself for the salvation of every human being at the Last Supper and on the Cross.  He continues to offer Himself for us and to us in the Eucharist.  Having received all--our life, our talents, God Himself--we can give all in return.  We don't do this grudgingly but with joy.

The saint whom the Church honors today--St. Bernard--had a deep personal relationship with God.  His commentary on the Song of Songs addresses the spousal relationship that God desires to have with every human person.  Love cannot be forced or imposed, so God has continually proposed to humanity and to each individual.  In the Gospel Jesus reached out in love to the young man who could not return love for love.  He wanted to know what was the minimum he had to do in his relationship with God.  A marriage based on minimum requirements won't last.  Love doesn't ask "What can I get away with in our relationship?" or "What's the least I have to do to keep you satisfied?"  Love always asks "What more can I do to show you I love you?" 

God has shown us the vastness and depths of His love for us.  What is our response? 

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