Reading (1 Peter 1:3-9) Gospel (St. Mark 10:17-27)
Our Lord in the Gospel reading today makes it exceedingly clear where we stand as far as eternal life is concerned. He says, For men it is impossible. We cannot make it to heaven by ourselves. Heaven is something which is supernatural, and all that we can do is something which is natural to ourselves. So we need the help of God to be able to get there; we need His grace. But we also need to be purified. If we have grace, we will be able to get to heaven. Everyone who dies in the state of sanctifying grace will go to heaven, but Our Lord is not interested in seeing what the minimum is that we can perform. He is interested in us growing in holiness.
So this man comes to Jesus and Our Lord says, “You have to follow the commandments.” The man says, “I have,” and Our Lord says, You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give it to the poor and then you will have treasure in heaven. The man could not do it. He was too attached to all of his material things and he could not handle the idea of being without them. The material things were more important to him than Jesus was. He was willing to do the external things, to follow the commandments, but when it came to the interior things, that was too difficult.
Then we have to ask: Is it really possible for us to do this? Not by ourselves, but only with the help of God. Saint Peter lays out for us exactly what has to be. He says, You may for a time have to suffer through various trials, and then goes on to tell us why, but this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. That is what it is all about. He tells us then that what we are striving for is to obtain the ultimate goal which is the salvation of our souls, and he makes it very clear that the salvation of our souls is not going to happen without suffering.
Now we have to look at it and say: Our Lord is saying that it is impossible for the rich to be able to enter into the kingdom of heaven, and there is not anyone here who can suggest that we are not rich by comparison. Maybe we are not among the elite as far as wealth goes, but anyone in this society is pretty wealthy. We do not like to do without. We do not like to be deprived. We do not like to suffer. We like the easy life. The Lord is going to have to purify that, and He makes very clear what it is going to require: It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Well, that is not a very easy thing to do and it does not sound real good for us, does it? But, thanks be to God, in His mercy He gives us suffering so that we can be purified, so that we can make it through the eye of that needle.
We can look and ask ourselves (because suffering has certainly come into every one of our lives here and there): Are we at the point yet where we can say that we are rejoicing? where we can say that what we are doing is for the praise, glory, and honor of God? If we are not yet rejoicing in our suffering, if we are not praising, glorying, and honoring God, then we still need more purification. The suffering has not yet reached its fulfillment. If the goal of the suffering is the salvation of our souls and we are going to know that that has been accomplished when we can rejoice in the suffering and offer it to God for His praise, glory, and honor, then we can think that maybe we are getting somewhere. Most of us probably are not there at this point, and so we realize that we still have a way to go. We are like the camel looking at the eye of the needle, and we are not going to fit through very easily.
So we need to continue to turn to the Lord and recognize exactly what He is going to require of us. He is not asking something that is easy, and yet He is not asking something that He was not willing to do. He took the Cross upon His shoulders and He was crucified for us. He simply asks that we would follow Him. It would be one thing if He simply sat back and said, “Here is what I want all of you to do. Now I’m just going to sit back with my feet up in the air-conditioned comfort of My home and I’ll watch.” No, He did not do that. Instead, He did it first and said, “Now you do the same. And anyone who does not take up his cross daily and follow Me cannot be My disciple.” It is required of us. Saint Peter even goes on to say that Jesus has left us an example of suffering so that we can follow in His footsteps. It is necessary. It is not an option for us, because we are the rich young men and women who come before Him and say, “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Today all He has to do is point at the Cross and say, Follow Me. That is all that is necessary.
We have to learn to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength. And when we get to the point that we can rejoice in the suffering and see that it is all for the greater glory, honor, and praise of God, then we are following Him, then the suffering is finally having its proper effect, and then we can say that we are really beginning to love God with our whole heart and soul and strength. Prior to that, we are far more in love with ourselves, just like the rich young man, and we do not want to give up the things that make our lives easy. That is why the Lord has to take it away, because for us it is impossible, but thanks be to Him because for Him all things are possible – even the salvation of our souls.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.