I am often intrigued by the adventures and misadventures young people forever seem to get caught up in, adventures in living and loving that consume a tremendous portion of their energy and attention. When a young person falls in love, they feel the pull of forces so overwhelming as to redefine their existence. Life has meaning only in light of love. All other concerns fade away. Forget climate change, or the rise of religious extremism, or partisan government gridlock. Love is now their reason for getting up in the morning, for eating, for speaking, and even breathing – love. Caught up in love, not much else matters. Whatever love requires is no inconvenience. Any pain or suffering or misfortune meets with such heroism for the sake of love, it is a sublime offering of self upon a most glorious altar. Take away food, water, chocolate, music, cell phone, iPod, TV. Nothing is as devastating as being deprived of the object of love, never mind that you haven’t actually said a word to that person, much less that they know you exist.
Experts on love abound, but a scarce few can speak about loving God. Have you ever been so in love with God that you are so full of life and energy you could explode if you didn’t tell about it? Does loving God bring you such an overwhelming desire to be with God constantly, as to do something truly heroic like finding the cure for cancer, or the meaning of life, and you won’t stop till the task is done? To some people loving God is an intellectual experience. Love is born of knowledge, whether it’s knowledge of chocolate, or rock and roll, or college football, or the latest technology, or God. And better knowledge means a superior love. But some choices yet remain — whether or not to invest myself, my energy, my emotions, my loyalty. And despite this level of intimacy, an unbridgeable gap still separates the idea of love and the reality of love; and rejecting God can still be an option.
Love is a choice for God, a choice which spans the spectrum from a reluctant “okay, I guess so” to a sincere, wholehearted “yes, I will follow you wherever you go.” And some more than others will extend themselves to prove that love, to strengthen that love, or to convince themselves that it exists. The rich young man in today’s gospel wanted more, and confronts a choice he did not want to make. When love is tested like never before, some will choose quickly, some will hesitate, and some will walk away. But does the young man revisit the question? Does he eventually surrender to Jesus’ request? Does he give up observing the law entirely? We will never know. Jesus just wants to point out that discipleship can be hard. A half-hearted responses just won’t do.
In baptism we pledge to follow Christ by welcoming the gospel and living its values. However some will hear Jesus’ teaching about loving our enemies, for instance, but will go on hating in spite of the gospel they have heard, like it was optional. We are called without exception, to holiness, to perfection, to detachment, maybe not to the extent the young man was called to sell everything he owned, to give to the poor, and to come follow Jesus. It is not everybody’s calling. He asked Jesus; that was Jesus’ answer for him. We are all called to some level of commitment — to place God ahead of and above all else. We need to ask, “What must I let go of in my life so that God would be my top priority?” God has little use for the things we give up. But our neighbors might benefit from our sacrifices; their existence might be just a little less painful or inconvenient because we take the time to reach out, now that we are less obsessed and concerned about our toys and our selfish ways.
King Solomon in the first reading prayed for the gift of Wisdom, something our ancestors in the faith ultimately identify as the desire for God. Young people will do extensive research on who or what captivates their fancy. That cute hottie becomes the object of much study, to find out what their class schedule is like, where they sit, who they talk to, what they like, what they think, what music or books or hobbies they enjoy, where they live … anything, everything! Every little bit of information is excavated, digested, analyzed, and cross-referenced for future obsession. A more extensive and genuine knowledge of the other translates to a more superior love.
This weekend, we are invited to consider a response in love (Diocesan Appeal instructions follow after the homily). Our knowledge of God demands of us a comparable expression of love. The mission of the church spans the gamut of responses from prayer, to working in the foreign missions, and everything in between. So we take time to explore some of these opportunities to know God better and to serve God’s people in service and compassion.