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A few weeks ago, a remarkable story popped up, about fashion
photographer Michael Belk. His
work has appeared in Vogue and GQ, but after many years of success, he felt
compelled to do something more meaningful. Belk is a devout Christian, who had been deeply affected by
the events of 9/11. He decided to embark on an unusual photo project: to
interpret the life of Jesus for the world today.
And what he created is really
extraordinary. It’s called
“Journeys with the Messiah.” It features photographs of Jesus, and he’s depicted
as most of us would imagine him, with his beard and long hair and flowing
robes. But the photographer has
placed him in surprising contemporary settings.
of the pictures depicts the incident in today’s gospel.
is shown talking to a young man.
But the man he’s speaking to is standing by a Ferrari, with a beautiful
woman in the passenger seat.
see that and realize: no wonder the rich man went away sad.
think this story is one of the challenging encounters in the gospels. Christ is doing nothing less than
telling his followers – and us – that it is almost impossible to get to heaven
if you are rich.
this morning, I’d like you to think about this episode a little bit
not necessarily about money, or wealth.
It’s not necessarily about the material things that clutter up our lives
– though I think that is an important part of this lesson.
there is another level here, one
that strikes at all of us, no matter what our economic class.
Mark tells us: “The man went away sad, for he had many
bottom, I think, this is a story about what we possess – and what possesses us.
not all of us drive Ferrari’s or wear Armani, a lot of us cling to other things. Things we possess that may be keeping
us from the Kingdom.
may possess envy. Or Pride. Or
Cynicism. Or Anger.
might be possessed by ambition. Or
addiction. Or prejudice.
things might make us feel comfortable, for a little while. They may even make us feel rich and
they are useless. They are
baggage. They are just empty
There are many ways to be attached
to the world – and to be possessed by it.
The challenge facing all of us as Catholic Christians is to detach, to separate
requires surrender. In fact, it
demands the kind of sacrifice that makes saints. And isn’t that what all of us are called to be?
weekend, Pope Benedict is canonizing two people who serve as powerful examples
of what it means to detach from the world. They gave away everything
they possessed, including their lives.
Consider Jeanne Jugan. She was a French peasant woman who was
deeply moved by the plight of the poor.
She started a new religious order to care for them, the Little Sisters
of the Poor. That, in and of
itself, was heroic. But so was
what happened after.
Just a couple years after Jeanne
Jugan founded the order, a priest was assigned to oversee it as chaplain. He knew a good thing when he saw
it. He had Jeanne Jugan
transferred to another convent, where she spent the rest of her life training
and working with the novices. She
lived in utter obscurity, almost anonymity.
chaplain was eventually removed from his post. Yet when Jeanne Jugan died, many of the sisters who lived
with her had no idea that the woman who emptied bedpans and swept floors was
actually the foundress of their order. It wasn’t until an inquiry 11 years after her death that the
truth came out.
Jugan never told anyone. She never
complained, never fought back, never pounded her fist and demanded credit. She accepted a life of relative
unimportance and obscurity – and did it with humility and obedience and
told my wife: that’s one reason I’ll never be a saint.
then there’s Fr. Damien of Molokai.
Born in Belgium, he felt called to be a missionary, began studying for
the priesthood, and before he was ordained was sent to Hawaii. After much
prayer, he made a choice that would change his life. He volunteered to go live among the lepers of Molokai. He knew that it would probably be a
death sentence. But he did it
of course, he too contracted leprosy, and spent years of suffering until he
died from it. A century later,
no less a figure than Gandhi would declare that this Catholic priest had
inspired him in his own work among the poor of India.
“Sell all you have,” Jesus said in the
gospel, “and give to the poor and come follow me.”
St. Jeanne Jugan and St. Damien did
exactly that – and followed Christ all the way to the cross.
They stand before us today as
martyrs – for, indeed, such selflessness and sacrifice are a kind of
martyrdom. They gave away their
lives. But they also gave away what
many might consider to be the riches of this world, some of the most precious
possessions. Status and
honor. Security and health.
surrendered everything, for those who had nothing.
of the beautiful details of this gospel is the way in which Jesus spoke to the
rich young man. Mark put it so
simply: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.”
didn’t judge the rich young man, didn’t view him with contempt or scorn.
No. He loved him.
so he loves us. And so he speaks
to each of us now, no matter how rich or how poor we might be.
up whatever is holding you back, he says.
Do the hardest thing you can imagine. And follow me.
so we are left to ask: what are those things that are holding us back?
do I possess? Or what possesses
I willing to give it away – surrender it — and follow Christ?
may be a Ferrari. But maybe not.
Maybe it’s not something you keep in your garage.
just maybe, it’s something you possess in your heart.