This Sunday’s Gospel was a challenging one. The story about the rich young man who loved God and followed the Commandments, but who was too attached to his belongings is one that most people in the Western world should be able to relate to. When our family discussed the Gospel reading during the week (hello, Year of Faith!), we talked about the things we struggle to give proper place in our lives: TV, movies, internet, games, even drawing (as our 11 year old admitted).
But the last portion of the Gospel really flummoxed me. And it did until I heard Father read it at Sunday Mass.
Peter began to say to him,
“We have given up everything and followed you.”
Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you,
there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters
or mother or father or children or lands
for my sake and for the sake of the gospel
who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:
houses and brothers and sisters
and mothers and children and lands,
with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.”
Mind you, I’m 42 years old, so this is roughly the 14th time or so that I’ve heard this Gospel, if you account for the years I hadn’t a clue what was going on. But it struck me that this was a Gospel about vocation to the priesthood, even while still calling us all to be careful of disordered attachments.
All the years I have heard or read this Gospel, and it only just occurred to me what these paradoxes might mean. But it fits perfectly into the priesthood (and other consecrated states of religious life).
Priests give up the usual kind of family that most of us have: wife, children, grandchildren; they give up owning a home or having a permanent residence, even. And in exchange for this, they get entire parishes of spiritual children (both the young and the old) who call him “Father,” women who dote on them like a mother might, a place to lay his head (though not to call his own), the beautiful church in which he offers the Sacrifice of the Mass. These are beautiful riches, to be surrounded with these things.
And yet, he also gets the persecutions of his age. Distrust from those hurt by the sexual abuse scandals, hatred from those who hate Holy Mother Church, oppression from governments who are opposed to the Church teaching her children the Truth. In some places, jail or even execution simply for wearing that collar. And always – always – the spiritual attacks from Satan himself, who hates our priests more than he hates the rest of us. That tiny white patch on a priest’s collar is like a target at times.
But if he perseveres, if he runs the good race, he will attain what St. Paul awaited:
As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day: and not only to me, but to them also that love his coming.
Pray for our priests!