Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Good Life, the Moral Life, and Eternal Life

(28th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B;This homily was given 15 October, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read Mark 10:17-27)

What do you think of when you hear the words “The Good Life”, or when you think of those who are living “The Good Life”? I think many of us would consider perhaps someone who has wealth; power and prestige; fame and fortune. That is what the Good Life looks like for a lot of people.

A friend of mine from the Diocese of Savannah was here visiting this past week. We had studied together for the priesthood and he had never really seen New England before, so I gave him a small tour of the great State of Rhode Island (it took about 15 minutes to get to each place we visited!).

Eventually we went over to Newport and traversed the Cliff Walk, checking out the various mansions all along Bellevue Avenue. At one point we were able to take a tour of Marble House, one of the first mansions built there.

William K. Vanderbilt commissioned Marble House in the late 19th century as a gift for his wife’s 39th birthday. He wanted to give her something special, so he decided to have this “cottage” built on the shoreline in Newport. It just so happens that the “cottage” was made entirely of marble, it was enormous, and cost about $11 million.

That is the image we often have of the Good Life; those who have unlimited means to do almost anything they want. And unfortunately, in our world today, many of those who are living the Good Life—celebrities or famous people who have inherited vast family estates—those who are living the Good Life are not necessarily living the Moral Life.

Now, to be clear, those two things are by no means mutually exclusive. There are many people—in Hollywood and elsewhere—who are living the Good Life but are also very moral and upright. It’s just that we do not often hear much about them.

That is what makes our rich young man in the Gospel this morning so compelling. We know already that he is living the Good Life. St. Mark tells us “he had many possessions” (Mark 10:22). So great was his wealth, in fact, that he was unable to let go of it when Jesus called him. But more than being a man of wealth and possessions, he was also a man who lived the Moral Life.

Jesus lists a series of 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 (Mark 10:19).

We soon find out that this young man has been following all of them from childhood! He was that good, that moral. Yet, remarkably, even after all his wealth and possessions, and after living such a moral and upright life, he is still able to see that something is wanting. He is not complete. There is still something missing in his life. He approaches Jesus and asks Him what he must do to find it:

“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
—Mark 10:17

The Good Life and the Moral Life are simply not enough; what he is missing and what he longs for is Eternal Life. All of us—no matter how well off or how moral we are—all of us, in the very core of our being, long for Eternal Life.

In the Gospel this morning, Jesus Christ offers the rich young man, and all of us, the key to Eternal Life. That key is found in the final two words of Jesus’ response: “Follow me.”

Follow me, Jesus says, and put nothing else before that command; not wealth and possessions (as the rich young man soon finds out); not power or prestige; not even morality and your own good works and accomplishments. Follow me, and let that command define everything else in your life.

Because with Christ, there is no distinction between the Good Life, the Moral Life, and Eternal Life; when we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Good Life, the Moral Life, and Eternal Life are all the same thing. He summarizes all three of them with those two words: Follow me.

When we follow Christ, it doesn’t matter whether we are wealthy or poor; we truly live the Good Life. We are content with what we have—whether we live in Marble House with the Vanderbilt’s or in a tiny apartment on the outskirts of town—we live the Good Life because we live with Christ.

When we follow Christ, we also live the Moral Life. Following the commandments and the precepts of the Church can be difficult in the world we live in. It is not easy to live a life of sacrifice and practice self-denial. Yet when we have a real and growing personal relationship with Christ, then following the commandments of God is easy.

When we know and love Christ, and understand the depths of His love for us, obedience to the laws of God are no longer difficult because we know Who it is that has given us those commandments, and we also know why He has given them to us: so that we can be happy here in this life, and live forever with Him in Eternal Life.

To follow Christ is to have The Good Life, the Moral Life and Eternal Life.

In the year1904, as William K. Vanderbilt and many of his contemporaries were building “cottages” on the shores of Newport, a young man named William Borden had just graduated from a high school in Chicago. As one of the heirs to the Borden Family Dairy estate, he was already a millionaire, truly a rich young man.

For his graduation present his parents gave him a trip around the world. It was then, as he traveled throughout Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, that he saw human suffering and misery on a scale that he had never before imagined. He came back a changed man, and told his family:

“I am going to give my life to God as a missionary.”

Many of his friends and loved ones tried to talk him out of it; they told him he was wasting his life. William wouldn’t listen. Instead, he took out a cherished Bible, and on the inside cover he wrote two words:

No Reserves.

Years later, he graduated with honors from Yale University. Although many things in his life had changed, his determination to be a missionary for Christ had not. To the surprise of many, he entered the seminary just as focused as ever. This time he wrote two more words in the front cover of that Bible. Under the words No Reserves, he wrote:

No Retreat.

After completing his studies at Princeton Seminary he was finally on his way to China to become a missionary. But he had to make one stop in Egypt first, for some last minute preparations. It was there in Egypt, tragically, that William Borden contracted Spiral Meningitis. He died within a month.

At the young age of 25, a life filled with promise, filled with possibilities, and filled with hope, was over. But it was far from wasted. In the final days before he died, he had written two final words on the inside front cover of his Bible. Under the words No Reserves and No Retreat, he had written:

No Regrets.

This morning Christ comes to each one of us and offers us the same invitation that He offered to the rich young man in the Gospel, to William Borden, and to everyone who has ever heard the Gospel message: Follow Me.

Follow Me, Jesus says, and put nothing before that command, nothing before that invitation; not power and possessions, not your good works or accomplishments. Follow Me.

Might we do that this day, and discover that in following Christ, we gain the Good Life, the Moral Life, and Eternal Life . . . with no regrets.