28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

     The last conversation I had with my grandmother before she passed away was a simple one. My grandmother, who at this point in her life had very severe dementia, kept asking my brother and I “what do you want to be when you grow up.” Since I was only in 7th grade I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, so my brother and I would politely tell here we did not know: to which responded by encouraging us that “you can be whatever you want to be when you grown up.” Due to her dementia, we must have had that conversation 50 times in a row, and while I’m sure it wasn’t her intention, that conversation forever drilled into my mind, the important lesson of the American dream; the belief that this great country affords anyone who works hard enough the opportunity to succeed. While the American dream is one of the things that makes our country great, as with anything if it is abused, it can lead to the deadly conclusion that each of us has the power to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and succeed simply on our own. The problem with taking the American dream and making it a spiritual principle is the American dream promises worldly success, but we were not made for earthly success but for eternal success. When we fall into the trap of making the American dream a spiritual principle do we not say that we don’t need a savior? Do we not then say I can get to heaven on my own, I don’t need Jesus?

     I think it is safe to assume that all of us want to go to heaven when we die, which is why I assume most of us probably squirmed a little when we heard Jesus tell the man in the Gospel that it is not enough to simply obey all of the commandments, but to truly inherit the kingdom of heaven we must go sell what we own, and give the money to the poor and only then will we have treasure in heaven.” If you are anything like me, when you hear today’s Gospel you find yourself tempted to just throw your hands in the air in defeat and disgustedly ask yourself, what am I supposed to do? From today’s Gospel it seems that unless I become like a St. Francis or a Mother Theresa I have no hope of eternal life. All of us are good people, we try our best to follow God’s will and we give what we can to those in need, but doesn’t it seem like, in today’s Gospel Jesus is asking too much for the normal person, like you and I, to obtain eternal life. Well He is, because heaven isn’t a prize that nice people win, it is living in perfect union with God, a union that requires both God and us.

     The simple reality is that we cannot earn heaven. While God desires that you and I spend eternity with Him, and we certainly must cooperate with His graces to achieve eternal life, we cannot buy our way into heaven by fulfilling our end of a contract. After all “heaven means that man has a place in God,”[1] and only God Himself can give us that place. We must remember that what is impossible for us, is possible for God. It is Jesus Himself, God, who sacrificed Himself so totally on the cross— giving everything He has, even His life. It is His death on the cross that opens the floodgate of grace making salvation possible. Jesus’s passion, death and resurrection, accomplished for us what is not possible for us to accomplish on our own: He opened the gates of Heaven to those who truly desire to live with Him for eternity.

     We must remember that we do not make ourselves holy we only cooperate with God’s grace to achieve the plan He has for us. If holiness, is becoming like God, we must strive to remove all of those things that prevent God, from entering into our lives. “Holiness does not stem so much from the effort of man’s will, as from the effort to never restrict the action of grace in one’s own soul.”[2] Holiness is not about following a simple set of rules and checking things off this get to heaven list, but rather about entering into so deep a union with Jesus, who alone can save us. “Christian holiness is simply the obedience that makes us available where God calls us to be, the obedience that does not rely on our own greatness, but allows our God to bestow His greatness upon us and know that only in service and self-surrender can we truly find ourselves.”[3] My friends, “Jesus always has victory when He has your abandonment He needs nothing more than that to bring about the Divine wonders that His Heart has prepared for you from all eternity.”[4] “Our first step to sanctity is realizing that nothing in life is worth so much as our becoming saints,” [5] and then working to remove whatever distracts us from Jesus Christ, who alone can bring us to eternal life.

[1] Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal.Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. pg. 313

[2] Karol Wojtyla. The Meaning of Vocation. United States: Scepter Publishers, 1997. pg. 10

[3] Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal.Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. pg. 367

[4] Fr. Jean CJ D’Elbee. I Believe in Love. Manchester: Sophia Institute Press. (2001.) pg. 89.

[5] Three Steps to Sanctity pg.1.

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