“How must I live to enjoy eternal life?”
Let’s be honest, this is not the kind of question people ask Christ or His Church much anymore. And it’s not because people don’t care about life after death. Based on the books we read and all the other media we consume, we remain fascinated by the topic.
I could be wrong, but it seems to me that people don’t ask Christ this question because they already know the answer. Sociologists describe how even the most religious among us are more interested in their own opinions on these and other moral questions than they are in what the “Mind of the Church” is.
And if they do ask this question of the Church, then it is only to find out the Church’s opinion on something – they do not recognize it as being any more authoritative or informed than the one they came up with on their own.
But Christ is offering more than just one of many opinions on this question: He is The One who loves you enough to sacrifice everything to rescue you from darkness, The One who knows “good” not because He has thought about it but because He is the Source of Goodness, and He is the One through whom is the only path to eternal perfection.
This One who is complete love, complete goodness, and the path to eternal perfection is doing more than giving an opinion. Nor is He telling you what you want to hear. He is even doing more than teaching you the Truth: He is holding out His hand to guide you towards the very thing you most desire.
So what does it take?
First, we have to follow the Commandments that delineate right from wrong. Not our opinions about what is right and wrong. Not what our politics tell us is right or wrong.
‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” (St. Matthew 19:18-19).
And don’t think that these are easy steps. Christ teaches that each of these must be interpreted in the broadest way possible:
- Murder? So you have never taken up a knife and stopped someone’s heart with it. But have you born a grudge? Gossiped? Lost yourself in anger? If so, then you have committed murder, and unless you repent and avoid such behavior, you cannot enjoy life eternal.
- Adultery? This is not limited to every act of fornication committed outside of marriage, but includes pornography, and the entertainment of lustful thoughts. If you have done any of these, then you have committed adultery, and unless you repent and avoid such behavior, you cannot enjoy life eternal.
And so it goes with the others. These are challenging standards. But they are challenging because that is what is required. It is hard to be perfect, and only the perfect are good enough to enjoy life eternal! In fact, only the perfect are good enough to enjoy life at all. No one but God is good enough, and no one but God is really alive.
So, aside from repenting and trying harder to live a moral life, what can we do? What do we learn next from today’s Gospel?
Second, give up everything and follow Christ. Yes, we have to give up our attachment to EVERYTHING and follow Christ.
What do we have that is more important than life itself? What do we have that will bring us greater joy than perfection? Nothing compares to the life in Christ. Not our wealth. Not even our health. And certainly not our opinions about right and wrong, our own righteousness, or what it takes to live forever.
Anything that comes between us and complete love of God and complete service to our neighbor must be removed. So our lives can be rebuilt from the bottom up.
We have to empty ourselves of every distraction so that holiness can make its home in our hearts.
Many people get hung up about giving up their attachments to wealth – and that is hard! – but the fact is that it is that most of us would find it much easier to part with our savings and other stuff than our misguided opinions about God, morality, our communities, and ourselves than we are to our wealth.
We have to give our attachment to all of it up. All of it. And then we have to follow Christ. This is what Jesus told the rich young man two thousand years ago, and it is what he is telling us today.
But what does “following Christ” mean in practical terms?
It means recognizing Christ’s authority over this world and everything in it. It means accepting His authority over our lives and trying to find out His will for us objectively, without the filters of our ego and addictions.
And it means allowing Him into our hearts so that His love can transform us into the saints we were made to become.
It means releasing ourselves from the shackles of sin and delusion and accepting the freedom and truth that come when we dedicate ourselves completely to love.
When the rich young man heard the truth, he went away sad because it sounded too hard. And it is hard. Impossible, even. But as Christ goes on to say; “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
So what are we waiting for? Let us repent of our sins, turn our lives over to Christ God, and enjoy the eternal abundance that is the inheritance of all the saints.