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Can you say that you have kept the Ten Commandments all your life? Can you say that a bad word never came out our your mouth; you never stretched the truth; never looked at someone and had lust in your heart. Can you say you have kept the commandments since your youth? Do you have a perfect track record? Can we all agree, then, that the rich man in the Gospel is extraordinary, a rare person who merits distinction? Yet, the Lord says it is easier for a “camel’—if a camel walks into your kitchen, its head will crash through the ceiling and it will be looking around in the upstairs bedroom—to pass through the eye of a needle. You can’t even get a fruit fly in the eye of a needle! Yet, it is still easier for a camel to waltz right through that tiny hole than for this extraordinary and rare person to enter heaven. Are you a little worried? I know the disciples appeared worried. Maybe we should talk about this.
Let’s say you are a student going to college for the first time. You are pretty happy to have your independence. No longer do you have to hear your mother telling you to put on a sweater because it is cold. Your father will no longer tell you to be home at a certain hour. Yes, you enjoy your freedom, but you are also in debt. That means that your first million is not yours to keep. You have tuition, which means that you belong. You belong to the college family.
Let me offer another example. Let’s say that I go out and buy a lotto ticket. You can’t win if you don’t play after all. Let’s say, incredibly, I am the sole winner, millions. You would think that I would be happy. Think of all the fishing trips I could take. Think of the friends I would have, wherever I go I will encounter happy people. But that will not happen because my superior, that is, my boss, will appear before me to take my winning ticket away from me. He will say something like this: “Give me that million dollar ticket, and no more gambling for you.” The reason I hand over the million dollar ticket is because I belong. I belong to a religious order called the Oblates of the Virgin Mary.
My father is eighty-six years old, and he still works full time. Last winter there was extreme weather with heavy wind that blew off roof shingles. Someone called my father to repair the damage. He took a forty-foot ladder and put it against the house. The forty-year-old guy who also works in the company was there to assist, but he couldn’t go up on the roof because he pinched his back when he got out of bed. So my eighty-six-year old father said, “Fine, I’ll go up.” If you ask him why he hasn’t put away his first million dollars in the bank after working for so many years, he will tell you he has not reached his financial milestone because he was spending his money retiring two dentists. Colleges can pull down old buildings and put up new ones because of my father putting the kids through college. The reason my father has not made his millions is that he belongs. He belongs to a family. The reason why most of us do not have more money in the bank is that we belong.
Let’s go back to the rich man in the Gospel. We can now see what went wrong with the rich man: he didn’t belong. He chose not to follow. The Gospel reports that he went away sad, so let’s give the story a happy ending.
Let’s say you are the rich man in the story, and the Lord asked you to follow him. You say to him, “Fine, I will follow you, I guess.” So you sell all your stuff because you will not need it and the first thing you do is you get in a boat to cross the sea of Galilee and behold, you see Jesus walking on water. After you catch your breath, after that shock, you follow a synagogue leader to his house, and you witness Jesus telling a dead girl to get up, and she does. After wiping away a few tears of joy, you then go to an upper room and have your feet washed by the son of God. Three days later, Jesus, who died horribly on the cross, walks in the room. You are there and witness the most celebrated day in history. After the Lord ascends into heaven, the Holy Spirit descends on you and can speak different languages, you heal people with the touch of your hand, and you change the world. Churches are then named after you and for the next two thousand years, everyone ever born will know of your legacy: all because you decided to belong to Christ.
The day before I said my first mass at St. Catherine Parish in Norwood, I went to the church to practice. The pastor of the parish assisted me and gave me valuable suggestions. When we were done, he told me that he had been a priest for over thirty years. He told me there are a lot of downs and he gave me this advice, “Never forget why you are doing this. You belong to God.” If you remember this, you will always be happy.” That was twenty-seven years ago, and I can confidently say that he was right.Back to All Homilies