Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Obedience Is Not Enough

Ask most people who will get to heaven, and they will give you a succinct answer:  "Good people".  And ask most people if they are "good", and they will answer with little hesitation that, of course, they are good.  They don't kill, steal or do other terrible things.  Oh, sure, they're not perfect, but that doesn't mean they are bad.  They basically do all the right things.  So why shouldn't they go to heaven?

Yesterday's gospel reading was all about getting to the "Good Place." A rich young man came up to Jesus and asked him, What must I do to gain eternal life? As everyone who is familiar with this story knows, Christ told the young man to sell everything he has and follow Him. This is a pretty radical response on the part of Our Lord. True, Jesus did warn us that we have to love Him more than anyone or anything else in our lives, and that we must be willing to literally and spiritually die for him.

But nowhere else is there a record of Christ actually commanding a person to give up all worldly possessions to become His follower. Why did he say this to the young man?

First, take into account that we are specifically told that this young man was not only rich (Luke 18:23), but also a ruler (Luke 18:18). That means he had a good place in society. He lived a good life compared to most others. This is not a man who was looking for great change in his comfortable, secure life. More than likely, he approached Jesus Christ because he felt threatened by the Gospel message. Jesus Christ was calling people to a different way of life, to a life of spiritual poverty, humility, lowliness. Jesus preached a radical, anti-establishment message which said the first will be last, the meek shall inherit the earth, our life does not consist in material riches. This is a very threatening message to the elite of society.

But this young man was not able to just turn away from the Gospel. The radical message of Jesus Christ had pricked his heart. So he approached Jesus not to learn from Our Lord, but to challenge Him on what was required for salvation. The young man came to Jesus Christ with a "dubia", i.e., doubt, as it were.

The first thing the young man does is try to smooth talk Jesus by calling him "Good teacher." The young man knew enough about human nature that if you want to get someone on your side, tell him that he is a great person. Jesus would have none of it. Jesus threw it right back at the young man by saying "Why call me good? No one is good except God."

Wham! This set our young man back on his heels a bit. Notice that Jesus did not deny that He was good. He was God, after all. But Our Lord made it quite clear that He was not falling for any tricks. On top of that, Jesus completely took the wind out of the young man's sails by implying that whatever confidence he had in himself was entirely misplaced because no human being can claim the title of "goodness." That belongs only to God.

Jesus then tells the young man he already knows what he must do: obey the commandments. With this answer from Jesus, the young ruler now thinks he is justified and can continue living as he always has because, as he readily tells Our Lord, he has obeyed the commandments since he was a boy. So what more could he possibly do?

That is when Jesus tells him, and all the rest of us, that obedience is not enough. Just going through the motions and *doing* all the right things will not lead us to eternal life. We have to invest every part of our being into following Jesus.

This is when we see the true character of this rich young man.  All of his *reverence* and *piety* were nothing more than a show.  Everything he did was just for his own benefit.  It gave him the life he was seeking, and he did not want to give it up.  Jesus had called his bluff, and the young man folded, walking away from true life to pursue his own way which results only in death.

How many of us who call ourselves Christian, claiming to be followers of Jesus Christ, are in it only for our own benefit?  If we are true followers of Jesus Christ, we will never feel threatened by others. We know without a doubt there is no goodness in us apart from Christ.  We will never look down on others and condemn them because we know the only thing separating us from other sinners is the grace given to us by Our Lord.  We will never stand on soap boxes and call out the sins of others.

In other words, the *wealth* each and every one of us needs to abandon is our self righteousness.  We can't depend on our obedience and show of reverence.  That is not what makes us good.  The only thing that makes us good is our total surrender to and trust in Jesus Christ.  It is Christ within us that will save us, and not anything we can claim on our own.

Certainly physical riches can be an impediment to salvation, but anyone who has a responsibility to other people is not free to just divest of all his or her physical riches. Families need homes, they need access to money for daily survival. Kids need money for food, clothing, education. It is actually possible to have physical riches and yet still totally devoted to Our Lord.

But no one who holds onto his own righteousness will ever enter the Kingdom of God.  We must let go of ourselves, and this can only be done through Jesus Christ.

Just being good on the outside is not enough.  In fact, our *goodness* can often be the source of our downfall.  In order to see ourselves as we really are, we need to be as close to Jesus Christ as we can. We need to realize that no matter how good we may appear to be, we are sinners in need of grace.  St. Therese of Lisieux, who never committed even one mortal sin, always proclaimed her total dependence on God:

From our readings on the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Romans 11: "For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all." The more truthful you are about the state of your soul and your inability to overcome your sin, the more love and mercy God will pour upon you. He will rush to you and shower you with His Love. Humility is not having a low opinion of yourself. Humility means being truthful about yourself. As the Little Flower said, she was actually happy to see herself imperfect and in need of God's mercy. Like St. Therese, we should lose ourselves in the arms of Jesus and allow Him to bring us to heaven like an elevator.  

Let Our Lord infuse Himself into you.  Give Him your sin, and He will give you His Mercy, Compassion and Forgiveness.  With God, all things are possible.


  1. I used to be a traditionalist. I thought I was walking the narrow way, but I wasn't. When I tried to see the world through God's eyes I saw that those who I hung out with couldn't see. For example, they would talk about how God loves all men, but then they would consider Muslims or infidels as contemptuous subhumans. If God loves Muslims, how can I hate them? If God wants me to love my neighbor, how can I leave him in a war zone? And yet many would try to justify a clear violation of the words of Christ!

    I eventually realized that many do not give themselves entirely to God. "Oh God, please let me become holy," they may say. They will do all the good religious things. "But not too holy." When it comes to self-sacrifice or loss of comfort or even physical danger they don't want to follow Jesus.

    "Lord, teach me to love; but keep me from loving too much. I want to be good enough, not too good."

    1. Thank you for your comment. I know exactly what you are talking about. Please pray for them. Self righteousness is the most dangerous sin of all as we see this story of the rich young ruler.

    2. I do not say this lightly or to condemn them (I went all the way to sedevacantism and committed similar faults), but there is a good chance that they're not in the Church despite believing themselves to be. I studied these things before coming back to the Church. Either Catholicism is false or the people stirring up against Pope Francis are schismatics or heretics. This is because the Church teaches that it is indefectable, and anyone who says to the contrary or tries to qualify it are schismatics or heretics. If Francis is the Pope, whoever challenges his authority is challenging God's, because He is the Vicar of Christ, and what he binds and looses on earth is bound and loosened in heaven:


      I found it surprising that they would quote from doctors, old catechisms and saints, but they can't see that their position is fundamentally incompatible with Catholicism.

      They need to come back to the Church before they die. I think Mother Mary interceded for me so I saw my errors.

    3. The most deadly sin of all is self righteousness. Those who are convinced of their own righteousness are immune to God's mercy and forgiveness because they don't feel any need for it. The only antidote to self righteousness is humility - seeing yourself as you really are. Those who stand on their soap boxes and condemn everyone who isn't like them put themselves out of God's reach.

      And yes, absolutely, I also give our Blesssed Mother all the credit for pulling me out of my own self righteousness. I pray that she will be able to do the same for others.

  2. Catholic in Brooklyn, hold your nose and check out the following link:


    1. This is totally sour grapes on Voris's part. Weigel is praising the archbishop of Detroit, who is the same one who forbids Voris from using the word Catholic to describe his organization. Therefore, like a kid with a temper tantrum, Voris has to try to discredit any success Archbishop Vigneron has had in his diocese.

      Voris is completely irrelevant.

    2. Catholic in Brooklyn, I can't say I haven't been bothered by the fact that George Weigel has thought invading Iraq in 2003 was the right thing to do.

    3. At that time, I also thought invading Iraq was a good thing. I have been wrong about most things in my past, including once admiring and respecting Michael Voris.

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