There is a priest by the name of Benedict Groeschel from New York, he died in 2014. He founded the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, a reformed branch of the Franciscans. Fr. Groeschel is an excellent speaker and in one of his talks he was saying that there is a man he knows in New York who is a multi millionaire, with more money than he could ever spend, or knows what to do with. Benedict goes on to say that he was talking to this man at a particular conference and he—let us call him John Goldman—was saying to Benedict that he would like to put his money to good use, but he didn’t know what to do with it. He admitted straight out that he had more money than he could ever spend. Benedict said that if he wanted he could give a donation to one of the orphanages that they run in the Bronx, as it would make a big difference to them. In spite of the fact that it was John Goldman himself who brought up the subject and admitted that he didn’t know what to do with all his money and wanted to put it to good use, by the end of the conference he still hadn’t agreed to part with one cent of his money. Benedict was saying that it was as if he was possessed by his wealth. He had no freedom. His wealth controlled him.
Most of us don’t have that kind of problem. In fact, most people have the opposite problem, but it is still very easy to become consumed even with the desire for money, or riches, or indeed anything. The problem is not the riches themselves, but our attachment to them.
In the Gospel which we have just heard, see how Jesus responds to the rich young man who is keen to live the right way. When he asks what he should be doing to get to heaven, Jesus doesn’t say ‘You should sell all your possessions’. First he just says, ‘You know the commandments; live them.’ It is only when he is pushed that Jesus then says ‘Go and sell all you own...’ What is he doing? Jesus is showing the young man that he is not as free as he thinks he is. In spite of the fact that he could probably buy anything he desires and do anything he wants because of his wealth, he is in fact a slave to his riches. Jesus is not just trying to make the young man feel bad, or guilty, rather, since he did ask, Jesus is pointing out where the problem is for him. The problem is not in having riches, but that we get so attached to them that we are no longer free. No doubt the young man felt he was living a good life, and he probably was, but the Lord wanted him to see that he was not half as free as he thought. You don’t have to be very wealthy for that to happen.
St. John of the Cross says that if you become too attached to your rosary beads, get rid of them. He also says there is no point in taking a vow of poverty if you are still consumed with the desire for the things that you have given up. The freedom from them is what is really important.
There is a story of two monks out walking on a journey. They come across a creek and they meet a young lady who is trying to get across, but she is afraid. So one of the monks offers to carry her across. She accepts and he carries her across the creek and then they part ways. After some time the other monk says, ‘You shouldn’t have carried that lady across the creek. You are a monk!’ The first monk says, ‘When I carried her across, I left her down and walked away, but you are still carrying her in your mind.’ We can become obsessed with anything.
Thank God for what we do have, but ask yourself are you free from it, or a slave to it? Because if you are a slave to it—thinking that you could not do without it—then it is the master. Think of your cell-phone. Most of us would find it pretty hard to do without it.
Why did Jesus point this out to the young man? Because he wanted him, just as he wants us, to be free to open ourselves up to God. God is the only thing that is really important. Everything else is going to be left behind when we die, even our bodies. That is why Jesus is telling us not to get caught up in what is ultimately trivial. Enjoy what you have of course, but don’t let it become the master.
Most of us are probably much more attached to the things we have than we would like to be. I know I am. But perhaps the most important part of this Gospel is the last part. First of all Jesus says ‘How hard it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God’ and the apostles are astonished, just as most of us probably find this hard to understand too, since the general thinking is that if we had enough money it would resolve most of our problems. But when the Apostles ask, ‘Then who can be saved?’, or in modern English ‘Who can get to heaven?’ then Jesus says ‘for people [by their own strength] it is impossible, but not for God. Everything is possible for God.’ That is the really important thing to remember. Everything is possible for God. By our own strength we are very limited in what we can do, in spite of our best efforts, because we are weak and we easily get distracted by wealth, or work, or relationships or whatever. God knows well that we get caught up in all the wrong things, just like the rich young man in the story, but God is bigger than all of this. God is bigger than the mistakes we make, bigger than our mixed motivations for what we do. That is why we just keep coming back to him and asking him to help us, to forgive us, to guide us: and he does.
The disciples said: ‘If that is the case, then who can be saved?’
Jesus said: ‘For people it is impossible, but not for God;
because everything is possible for God.’