By Father Pete Iorio
One of the books that I am reading is called The Road to Character by David Brooks. While it is not a “spiritual” book, it contains true wisdom for our time, really for all time. The author focuses on the deeper values that should inform our lives and challenges us, and himself, to move from “resumé values” – achieving wealth, fame and status – to our “eulogy values” that exist at the core of our being: kindness, bravery, honesty and faithfulness.
I definitely see a correlation between the book The Road to Character and the Scriptures for today. Today’s readings present us with examples of people making choices. Solomon, in the first reading, clearly chooses God’s gifts of prudence and wisdom over other gifts that might be tempting to others: power, riches, and even health and beauty. Guided by the spirit of wisdom, he sees beyond the desirability of the things of this life to perceive the beauty of God’s wisdom – a beauty that might be hidden to others.
In the Gospel, there is something absolutely right about the young man, something spiritually alive, and that is his deep desire to share in everlasting life. He knows what he wants, and he knows where to find it, in Jesus. Jesus responds to his wonderful and spiritually alive question by enumerating many of the Commandments. The young man takes this in, and replies, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my childhood.” So Jesus looks at him with love and says, “Go and sell what you have and give to the poor.…After that come follow me.” God is nothing but love, straight through, and therefore the life of friendship with him, in the richest sense, is a life of total love, self-forgetting love. Jesus senses that this young man is ready for the high adventure of the spiritual life: he is asking the right question and he is properly prepared. But at this point the young man goes away sad. He cannot give it all. The spiritual life, at the highest pitch, is about giving your life away, and this is why the many possessions are a problem.
It is so easy to get caught in the same dilemma as the rich young man as Jesus challenged him to go against the common understanding of the day which was “my wealth and possessions are signs that God is blessing me.” Does this sound familiar or even ring true in your own belief system? If so, it is not from Christ who said: Blessed are the poor.
Solomon’s values – and those of Christians – are much less visible and obvious. Many would label the rich young man as foolish to give up all the advantages he had always enjoyed to follow an itinerant preacher.
In contrast, the disciples – who admittedly had less to give up than the rich young man – were more easily willing to give up all they had to follow Jesus. Yet, they also took a risk – giving up their trades and a way of life that they knew and that had become comfortable for them – in order to follow Jesus. Like the rich young man, they were drawn to Jesus, but unlike him, they were able to give up the familiar to follow Jesus.
In Brooks’ book, he says that people of character ask different questions than ones that are self-focused. The man asks Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Instead of asking a question that benefits me, like “What do I want to do when I grow up?” you ask a different set of questions: “What does life want from me?” I would substitute the word God for life. What does God want from me? We are summoned by life, Brooks says. We who believe in God who is the Lord of all life, know that God is the one who summons us.
I quote from the book again and here Brooks is using a word which is definitely part of our religious vocabulary: “A vocation is not a career. A person choosing a career looks for job opportunities and room for advancement. A person choosing a career is looking for something that will provide financial and psychological benefits. If your job or career isn’t working for you, you choose another one. A person does not choose a vocation. A vocation is a calling. People generally feel they have no choice in the matter. Their life would be unrecognizable unless they pursued this line of activity.”
Jesus continues to call the people of our world to follow him, to take on his values and those of the Gospel, to prefer God to riches and pleasure. The key is to listen prayerfully for Jesus’ call in life, and to follow him in that call. He could be calling today’s young men to priesthood, or young men and women to religious life or to the vocation of marriage. Jesus might offer others the path of a difficult life as a physician, requiring a great deal of personal sacrifice for the healing of others, or the path of an educator who dedicates his or her life to teaching and guiding students. God aligns each call with the interests, personalities and gifts of the recipient and with the needs of the world.
But God does not offer us these choices only once in a lifetime. Each day is filled with countless choices, from how we respond to a particular situation, to the books we read, the attitudes we take on each day, or the ways we spend our waking hours. We here present have made a wondrous choice: to allow God to transform us in word and sacrament. So as we listen carefully in prayer and allow the Spirit – God’s wisdom – to guide us, and soon partake of the Eucharist, let us commit to making choices that reflect only the values of the Gospel and a faith filled YES to do whatever Jesus asks of us, even if it seems absurd.