What Must I Do?
"Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17)
This past week, I spent five days on retreat with about 40 of my brother priests from the Archdiocese of Miami. I’ve been on these retreats before with other priests and it never ceases to amaze me how serious we take these moments of solitude with God. Our retreat master was Archbishop Harry Flynn, the archbishop-emeritus of Minneapolis, who I heard speak up in the Twin Cities 6 years ago and is a truly gifted speaker. I witnessed 40 priests who preach the gospel every day, witness to Christ every day, who know what it takes to be a good Christian, approach this retreat with the same question that the man in today’s gospel posed to Jesus: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Like the man, we know the answer, but as priests, we must run to the Master to be reminded. This is why we go on retreat: to be reminded of these truths that help us inherit eternal life, to be reminded of God’s wonderful love for us, to be reminded of his endless mercy, to be reminded that we have received true richness in Christ’s gift to us of the priesthood, and to be reminded that as men of God in a secular world, we must rededicate ourselves all the more to prayer for our people.
All of us here are like this man in the gospel. We approach the Lord asking him “What must I do?” We genuinely want him to tell us what we must do to please him, to honor him, and to gain for ourselves admittance into the kingdom of heaven. We ask this question because we honestly don’t know the answer. We come before the Lord with humility and he gives us the answer, but we look back and realize that we are very much tied down to the world. This gospel is not so much about being rich in wealth, but about letting the things of this world hinder us from a life totally dedicated to God. The tragedy of this story is that the rich man could not detach himself from his possessions. Jesus looked on him and loved him. Notice that little detail that St. Mark throws in there. He looked on him and loved him. That is how he looks on every one of us as he calls us to enter into a deeper relationship with him. But what is holding us back? What is distracting us?
An entire day of our retreat was dedicated to the importance of prayer in our lives. We all expect our priests to be men of prayer. I pray every day not only in Mass but before the Blessed Sacrament as well. Yet, I always feel like I should be dedicating more time to praying for all of you and to listening to the Lord. Archbishop Flynn began his talk on prayer by telling us quite boldly, “Until you are convinced that prayer is the best use of your time, you will never have time for prayer.” I spent most of that day meditating on those words and thinking about all the time I literally waste on trivial things, which is time that I could be spending before the Lord the Blessed Sacrament. When you’re on retreat it is easy to enter into prayer, but when you’re in your room surrounded by your possessions and your gadgets and your computer and TV and other things that distract from a deeper prayer life, it’s not so easy. Detachment from the material is necessary. Each of us clings to things of this world that prevent us from entering more fully into the mystery of God’s love. “What must I do?” you ask. Spend an extra few minutes in prayer each day. Be alone with God. Disconnect yourself from this world and be one with Him. It is in prayer that we find answers because not only are we speaking to God, but more importantly, he is speaking to us.
I want to end with one last anecdote about our retreat. On that day that was dedicated to prayer, we concluded it with a reconciliation service. I sat in the back of that chapel and watched as each one of your priests humbly went before one of the Passionist Fathers who were hosting us to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is there in that confessional that we accomplish total detachment because we are no longer weighed down by our sins. Once we are not weighed down with our sins or the things of this world, we can approach the Lord and genuinely ask him with an open heart, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”