Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Rich Young Man: A Spiritual Minimalist

(Twenty-eighth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on October 10, 2021 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Wisdom 7:7-11; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-13;Mark 10:17-30.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-eighth Sunday 2021]


Imagine a great baseball pitcher like Chris Sale of the Red Sox or Gerrit Cole of the Yankees saying this at the beginning of a baseball season: “I think I’ll go out this year and try to win 10 games.  I don’t need any more victories than that.  If I win 10 games, the team will definitely keep me on the roster, and I’ll get to keep my multi-million dollar contract.”

Imagine a parent saying this: “I think I’ll feed my children only one meal today.  They should be able to survive on that.”

Imagine a student saying this on his first day of medical school: “It doesn’t matter how much homework they give me during the next 4 years: I intend to study only one hour per day.  That will have to suffice.  I have too many other activities that I’m involved in.  Besides, I’m pretty smart, so I should be able to pass all the courses.”

My brothers and sisters, those are 3 examples of what might be called “minimalistic thinking.”  And they’re all hard to imagine, aren’t they?  Chris Sale or Gerrit Cole setting out to win only ten games a year; a parent thinking it’s acceptable to feed his children one meal per day; a medical student who believes an hour a day is enough for his studies.

“Fr. Ray, that would never happen!”


And that’s precisely the point I’m trying to make!  In most areas of life (such as education, family responsibilities, and even athletics), we do not advocate—nor do we tolerate—minimalism.  For example, if Chris Sale told the management of the Red Sox that his goal was to win only 10 games next year, you can be sure that he’d be put on the “trading block” immediately! If a parent intentionally fed his children only one meal per day, those children would be taken away from him by the state—and rightly so!  And I don’t know about you, but I’d never want to go to a doctor who had been so casual and irresponsible about his studies in med school!  I’d be worried that he’d kill me instead of curing me!

But I ask you this morning: If minimalism is so unacceptable when it comes to education, sports, family life, etc., why is it tolerated so often in the area of spirituality?

Let’s be honest about it, when it comes to spiritual and moral matters—i.e., to matters of the soul—many people today are quite content to be minimalists!!!  As they go through this life, the crucial questions are not: How can I be the person God wants me to be?  How can I be holier and more virtuous?  How can I be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect?

The key questions for them are: How much can I get away with and still not go to hell?  What’s the absolute minimum I need to do as a Catholic?  What are my obligations to God and others?

Cardinal John Henry Newman once put it this way: he said that the key issue for many people is not, “How can I please God in my life?”—rather it’s “How can I please myself without displeasing the Lord?”

This is the ever-present temptation to be a “spiritual minimalist!”—and we all face it, constantly (whether we realize it or not).

Which brings us to the rich young man who met Jesus in this Gospel scene from Mark 10.

Do you know what’s very interesting about this story?  It’s the fact that we don’t understand the exact nature of the young man’s question until his interaction with Jesus is over and he walks away.

The Bible tells us that he came up to our Lord one day, knelt down, and said to him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Now at first glance, it appears that this boy had the right attitude.  With his simple question, he seemed to be asking Jesus all the right things: “Good teacher, how can I be the person God wants me to be?  How can I be holier and more virtuous?  How can I be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect?”

But when our Lord challenged him to go the extra mile by selling his possessions, giving to the poor and becoming a disciple, the truth suddenly became clear: at heart, this young man was a minimalist!  Thus, when he said to the Lord, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” what he really meant was, “Jesus, have I done enough yet?  I’ve been a great guy—Moses would be proud of me—I’ve kept the rules throughout my life!  Is that sufficient for entry into your kingdom? Or do I need to jump through a few more hoops beforehand?”

He was obviously hoping that Jesus would pat him on the back and say, “No more hoops for you, my friend.  Sit back and relax.  You’re in!  Congratulations!”

That’s not the attitude that the great saints had.  They were different!  Think of someone like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, now St. Teresa of Calcutta.

Mother Teresa was who she was—and is where she is—simply because she was NOT a minimalist when it came to matters of the soul, when it came to serving Jesus Christ and living for him.  She certainly was not a minimalist when it came to prayer.  It’s said that she prayed for 3 or 4 hours a day!  And when she wasn’t praying, she was normally serving Christ in the sick and the dying on the streets of Calcutta.

Her attitude was not (to quote Cardinal Newman), “How can I please myself today without displeasing God?”  Her attitude was, “How can I please God today in my life?  How can I be the best version of myself?  How can I be the person—the disciple of Jesus Christ—that God wants me to be?”

By the grace of God, may Mother Teresa’s attitude become our attitude—and always be our attitude—so that we will someday be where she now is.