Called with love to serve!

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Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde at the Eighth Grade Vocations Mass at Holy Spirit Church in Annandale.

I invite you to relive the scene which was just projected before us in today's Gospel reading. Who is the other main actor, along with Jesus? The rich young man. This man recognized Jesus as a man of God, and in a moment of inspiration went to ask Him the most important question there is: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus told him what all the Jewish people knew: Follow the commandments, especially those related to how we treat others. We cannot say we love God if we treat our neighbors poorly, so Jesus made a point of mentioning the commandments that have to do with our relationship with others. The young man told Jesus that he had observed these laws from his youth. No doubt, doing that was difficult at times, and he may have failed to keep the commandments on occasion, but we ourselves do the same. That is why we have confession!

Next, we hear, "Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said, 'You are lacking one thing.'" While this look of love seems like a small detail, it should not be ignored, for in that moment, that young man was able to see how pleased God was with him. God looks at each one of us in the same way, but too often we doubt this. We think that we are not good enough or smart enough or pretty enough or handsome enough or we fall short in one of the many other ways the evil one wants us to think we do. But God, Who created us in love, is always looking at us with love. When we know this, it is easier to love God back. When we know this, it is easier to love ourselves.

However, despite this intense look of love by Jesus, the young man is taken aback by the final command of Jesus, Who says, "Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." We hear that the young man's "face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions." We must be careful not to misinterpret what is being said. The young man was not evil because he was rich. There is nothing evil about having money. However, Jesus warns against an attachment to money, or an attachment to things money can buy. God wants us to be willing to put aside the things of this world in order to do His will. At your age, I am assuming none of you is independently wealthy, so it may not be money that has a hold on you, but perhaps it is things, that is, technical gadgets or clothes or a social media presence - something that, when compared to the promise of eternal life, falls short. When we reach the gates of heaven, we will not be saying, "If only I had more things before I died." Instead, we will be sorrowful that, like the rich young man, we allowed ourselves to be distracted from doing the will of God. Let us pray that we are able to have that perspective when it comes to the good things of the world. Let us always know that they are not the ultimate goal. Our home in heaven is where we will live with Jesus forever.

We can also look at the Lord's call to the rich young man from another angle, that is, to see it as a special call to live a life consecrated to God. Yes, each of us is called to follow the commandments, to love God and neighbor, to do good and avoid evil, to imitate Jesus Christ. That is a part of every Christian's life. However, some people, like the rich young man, God sets apart to serve Him and His Church in a unique and blessed way, that is, to serve as a priest or as a consecrated man or woman. These men and women are called to set aside the things of the world, to offer their will to the Lord and His Church through obedience to their superiors, and to put aside the good of marriage and family in order to imitate Jesus and give themselves entirely to Him. The rich young man, when faced with the challenge of Jesus' invitation: "sell everything and come follow me," doubted that he could do it. Yet we know, when we give our wills over to God, when we act sacrificially to serve Him and our neighbors, we can often be surprised in discovering that we are truly happy within ourselves, truly fulfilled, as a result of our obedience to God's call.

I do not know which of you whom God is calling to be a priest, a deacon or a religious brother or sister. Most of you will be called to the vocation of marriage, which is itself a life of sacrifice, but also a life of great joy and fulfillment. Yet, some of you are being set apart, like the rich young man, to put aside the things of this world and to serve God with an undivided heart. Whatever your vocation may be, I ask that you be like Isaiah in the first reading, ready to respond generously to the call of God by saying, "Here I am, Lord! Send me!" The Lord may be sending you into the world as a husband or wife, father or mother, priest, deacon or religious brother or sister, but in each case, He is asking you to act heroically in your service to Him and His Church. May we have the strength not to be saddened by the Lord's request to serve, but instead to say, joyfully and generously, "Here I am! Send me!" After all, He is looking at each one of us with such love! How can we not love Him back in return?

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016