Monday, August 31, 2009


In the Gospel-story of the rich young man, we read: “And behold, a certain man came to him and said, ‘Good Master, what good work shall I do to have eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘Why dost thou ask me about what is good? One there is who is good, and he is God. But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which?’ And Jesus said, ‘Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and mother, and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ The young man said to him, ‘All these I have kept; what is yet wanting to me?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ But when the young man heard the saying, he went away sad, for he had great possessions.” (Mt 19:16-22).

At the outset, it should be good to note that the demand of selling everything to give to the poor is specific to this young man. “Actual renunciation of riches is not demanded of all; Matthew counts the ‘rich’ Joseph of Arimathea as a disciple of Jesus (Mt 27:57). But only the ‘poor in spirit’ (Mt 5:3) can enter the kingdom and, as here, such poverty may entail the sacrifice of one’s possessions.” (New American Bible, note at Mt. 19:16-30). Also: “This story does not set up a ‘two-tier’ morality, that of those who seek (only) eternal life (v.16) and that of those who wish to be perfect (v.21). It speaks rather of the obstacle that riches constitute for the following of Jesus and of the impossibility, humanly speaking, for one who has many possessions (v.22) to enter the kingdom (v.24). (Id.)

The rich young man in this episode “went away sad”—abiit tristis—because he could not let go of his many possessions to follow our Lord. He refused his vocation from God.

“Sad” does not only describe the subjective state of this rich young man: it is also objectively a sad scene, viewed from outside that character, even from our standpoint, and down the centuries. Turning away from God—which is of the essence of all sin—always involves a breakdown, a tearing apart, a failure, a wounding inside the person, since he would then be acting contrary to his authentic nature, which is to tend towards God. Sadder still would it be when this turning away from God of the human individual were made in reference to his “vocation”, to a call from God towards a lifelong “path” or lifetime project, God’s plan for each person, by which that individual were to attain his ultimate good. It is sadder because this refusal of a vocation from God is more far-reaching in its consequences.

On the surface, the turning away of the rich young man may not rank as “sin”: his choice was not patently “immoral”, since wealth is not an evil in itself. On the other hand, since it is of our authentic human nature to obey God in everything, there is in the turning away of this rich young man a radical deviation from his good. Had he known that it was God Who was telling him, in no uncertain terms, to sell everything, give to the poor, and to follow Christ, this refusal to obey would have constituted a most grievous sin. Indeed, it may be precisely the lack of “certainty” of the “vocation”—whether it is what God wants—which diminishes, in many cases, the malice and sinfulness of a vocation that is “lost” or refused.

With regard to “conventional” or common “sins”, which are obvious transgressions of the natural moral law (especially summarized in the Decalogue), the turning-away from God—the lawgiver—is clear. On the other hand, refusal of a “vocation” may not necessarily involve an obvious moral choice: to marry a specific person or not, to dedicate oneself to a specific way of life; to be lay, cleric, or religious; etc.; do not involve choosing between right and wrong, between good and evil in se. The evil would lie in picking an option other than what God wants; and since the vocation from God would not be expressed in a compelling manner nor as clearly coming from Him—God values human freedom so much! one could not be one hundred percent sure!—the refusal of a vocation could arguably be morally neutral. Still, since God’s plan for each one of us would always be the best, even assuming that there was a sincere effort to discern God’s Will, our refusal would result, at least, in losing a priceless opportunity. The rich young man of the Gospels could have become one of the Twelve; and his refusal amounted to losing that great honor forever.

St. Josemaria writes:

“Ask yourself now (I too am examining my conscience) whether you are holding firmly and unshakeably to your choice of Life. When you hear the most lovable voice of God urging you on to holiness, do you freely answer 'Yes'? Let us turn our gaze once more to Jesus, as he speaks to the people in the towns and countryside of Palestine. He doesn't want to force himself upon us. 'If you have a mind to be perfect...', he says to the rich young man. The young man refused to take the hint, and the Gospel goes on to say: abiit tristis, he went away forlorn. That is why I have sometimes called him the 'sad lad'. He lost his happiness because he refused to hand over his freedom to God.” (Friends of God, No. 24)


Sunday, August 9, 2009


Edith Stein “saw” with her intellect (after having read the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila) and converted from Judaism to Christianity. As “Teresia Benedicta ac Cruce” (Teresa Blessed of the Cross), a Discalced Carmelite nun, she died a martyr in a gas chamber of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz (Poland) on 9 August 1942. She is still remembered as the brilliant writer and teacher of philosophy who had been an assistant and collaborator of Edmund Husserl (the “father” of Phenomenology). Pope John Paul II beatified Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross on 1 May 1987, and canonized her on 11 October 1998.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross evokes the importance of the human intellect, of reason, in bringing the person to his last end, union with God. This is the theme of the Encyclical Fides et Ratio (1998) of Pope John Paul II:

“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2).” (FeR, Preamble)

X x x x

“‘All human beings desire to know’, and truth is the proper object of this desire. Everyday life shows how concerned each of us is to discover for ourselves, beyond mere opinions, how things really are. Within visible creation, man is the only creature who not only is capable of knowing but who knows that he knows, and is therefore interested in the real truth of what he perceives. People cannot be genuinely indifferent to the question of whether what they know is true or not. If they discover that it is false, they reject it; but if they can establish its truth, they feel themselves rewarded. It is this that Saint Augustine teaches when he writes: ‘I have met many who wanted to deceive, but none who wanted to be deceived’. It is rightly claimed that persons have reached adulthood when they can distinguish independently between truth and falsehood, making up their own minds about the objective reality of things. This is what has driven so many enquiries, especially in the scientific field, which in recent centuries have produced important results, leading to genuine progress for all humanity.” (No. 25)

X x x x

“Just as grace builds on nature and brings it to fulfilment, so faith builds upon and perfects reason. Illumined by faith, reason is set free from the fragility and limitations deriving from the disobedience of sin and finds the strength required to rise to the knowledge of the Triune God. Although he made much of the supernatural character of faith, the Angelic Doctor did not overlook the importance of its reasonableness; indeed he was able to plumb the depths and explain the meaning of this reasonableness. Faith is in a sense an “exercise of thought”; and human reason is neither annulled nor debased in assenting to the contents of faith, which are in any case attained by way of free and informed choice.” (No. 43)

X x x x

“Deprived of what Revelation offers, reason has taken side-tracks which expose it to the danger of losing sight of its final goal. Deprived of reason, faith has stressed feeling and experience, and so run the risk of no longer being a universal proposition. It is an illusion to think that faith, tied to weak reasoning, might be more penetrating; on the contrary, faith then runs the grave risk of withering into myth or superstition. By the same token, reason which is unrelated to an adult faith is not prompted to turn its gaze to the newness and radicality of being.” (FeR, No. 48)

It cannot be by “faith alone” that man would reach his eternal happiness. Apart from the issue of the protestant dichotomy of “faith and works”, Faith seeks “understanding”. We are, after all, men, not angels, and it is of our human nature (even our “authentic” nature, not only our “wounded” nature) to “understand” the “truth” with our human intelligence, just as it is of our authentic human nature to “love” the “good” with our human freedom.

“Faith”, the supernatural virtue of believing God’s revelation, is “infused” by grace; but the truths contained by that Faith call for an understanding that is dynamic--that is, increasing in the degree of apprehension--if they are to penetrate more and more into our human personality. The disciples would ask our Lord, “Explain to us the parable,” Dissere nobis parabolam (Mt 13:36).

St. Josemaria writes: “'Follow me, and I will make you into fishers of men'. Not without reason does our Lord use these words: men — like fish — have to be caught by the head. What evangelical depth there is in the 'intellectual apostolate'!” (The Way, No. 978)