Monday, August 17, 2009

Teacher, what good deed must I do?

Returning to Philadelphia late last night after two weeks in Michigan, I began my regency in earnest today by taking part in the first of three days' worth of orientation sessions that Saint Joseph's University offers for new faculty. Before heading out the door, I followed what has become my regular weekday practice here by joining two of the priests in my community for an early-morning Mass in a tiny chapel down the hall from my room. As sometimes happens - typically when I'm least expecting it - the Gospel reading appointed for the liturgy (in this case, Matthew 19:16-22) struck me as particularly timely:
And behold, one came up to [Jesus] saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments. He said to him, "Which?" And Jesus said, "'You shall not kill,' 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and mother,' and 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" The young man said to him, "All these I have observed; what do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
The rich young man's sorrow isn't terribly surprising; after having worked very diligently to fulfill the demands of the Mosaic law, he must have been saddened to learn that the promise of eternal life still seemed to be far from his grasp. The invitation to lay aside one's possessions in order to follow Jesus can be very difficult to accept, but it still remains within reach. On Saturday, I had the great privilege of attending the Mass of Profession of First Vows of three young Jesuits of the Chicago and Detroit Provinces, Andi Hlabse, Jim Riordan and Kyle Roark. Making lifelong pledges of chastity, poverty and obedience, Andi, Jim and Kyle manifested their joyful acceptance of the invitation that Christ offered to the rich young man. All who accept this invitation must also accept the inevitability of sacrifice and struggle - and, perhaps, even a bit of sorrow - but in doing so they also receive the incomparable gifts that come with a life of service. As Andi, Jim, Kyle and other Jesuit vovendi across the United States make the transition from the novitiate to First Studies, I hope that you will join me in praying that God may grant them abundant joy and consolation in the life that they have embraced.

The rich young man's sorrow may give us pause, but his initial question to Jesus - "what good deed must I do?" - should challenge us. Whether our goal is eternal life or ordinary earthly satisfaction, we should all be concerned with doing what is good. This question gets at the heart of ethical inquiry: what, after all, does it really mean to be good? Over the next four months, I'll be pondering the implications of this question with the fifty or so students enrolled in the introductory ethics course that I've been assigned to teach. I hope that I'll be able to help these students see how questions about the good make a difference in their own lives. I hope that each student will, in his or her own way, come to a better understanding of why the answers to such questions may lead one to joy or sorrow. Please pray with me that, with God's help, I may bring the hopes of a new academic year closer to fulfillment. AMDG.


At 8/18/2009 10:30 AM, Blogger Steve said...

Best of luck starting the new academic year!


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