MCNEILLIE: Trusting in God during the hardest of times

October 23, 2018

The “Rich Young Man” (Mk 10:17-30) is one of my favorite parables about vocations.

In it, Jesus calls this young, righteous, Jewish man to follow Him, but the young man agonizes over Jesus’ additional request: “go, sell what you have, and give to the poor.” While most of us, who are reading Jesus’ challenging words, recognize the young man’s struggle with attachment to possessions, we miss his struggle with faith.

In the Old Testament, the Jewish people enter into a covenant with God: that if someone keeps the commandments, God will bless and enrich them; and if someone disobeys God’s commandments, God will punish them. The rich young man embodies this Jewish covenant; his riches are proof that he has been faithful to God’s commandments. For him to give up his possessions and live in poverty means that he would appear like a sinner, like someone who has been rejected by God.

Jesus invites this rich young man to be like Him. Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God… emptied Himself… becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). This death on a cross, which we refer to as Jesus’ paschal mystery, is revolutionary to the Jewish Covenant. Jesus takes the place of sinners and dies in public disgrace.

As Christians, we understand that Jesus leaves behind everything — His glory, the appearance of righteousness, even His life — to show us the Father’s love. But this kind of self-emptying love is not something that the rich young Jewish man readily understood.

In order to follow Jesus, the young man must let go of his former understanding of God for a new and deeper one. This requires trust. Unable to do so, the young man “went away sad.”

We certainly remember and pray for all the young men and women who are facing a similar difficulty as they discern their vocations. Yet every follower of Christ will eventually face this same dilemma: to leave their former, limited, understanding of God for a new and deeper one; or to leave God’s offer, confused and sad.

Indeed, during this scandalous time in our Church, many of us are confronted with this very same choice.
While some have openly expressed their doubts in priests and bishops to care for the faithful, there is often an underlying question about God in times like this: How could God allow this sort of thing to happen? Can I trust God to take care of my family and me? Can I trust God to lead the Church?

Although people usually don’t ask these questions publicly, these are questions that surface in every human heart when encountering evil. These questions require trust.

To be clear, trust doesn’t eliminate the need for work. The Church, especially the clergy, has some work to do to protect our most vulnerable members and repair trust.

Yet work does not eliminate the need for trust. All the human action in the world won’t fix our problems, answer those questions or solve our dilemma.

Just like the rich young man, we all have an invitation to follow Jesus in his self-emptying love: to abandon our life to the Father and to carry our cross so that others will be enriched.

Mysteriously, this following Jesus doesn’t eliminate suffering, but it does bring with it the promise of glorious restoration. Consequently, choosing to follow Jesus requires trust. 

Father Richard McNeillie is the director of the Archdiocesan Office of Vocations.