How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter into the Kingdom of God

“How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter into the Kingdom of God.”

Let me add a little something to Msgr. Pope’s Meditations on Wealth.  I had a conversation with someone I consider materially wealthy.  And she said literally – I hate this Gospel passage.  I think I know why.  Because, like the rich man, she has many possessions.  And like the rich man, she is a person who tries to  obey the law.  So, what is wrong?

Brothers and sisters, one of the main effects of Jesus’ preaching was to reorder our priorities and redirect our desires.  In the Jewish culture of the time, material wealth was seen as direct reflection of God’s favor.  Throughout the Old Testament, God seemed to reward the faithful with material goods.  In the Book of Job, God “blessed the work of his hands and his livestock spread throughout the land.” In the Book of Psalms, we read, “What your hands provide you will enjoy; you will be happy and prosper.”  The prophet Isaiah says, “Happy the just, for it will be well with them, the fruits of their works, they will eat.”

In other words, Jewish society equated the acquisition of material wealth with the promise of redemption.  And Christ said no.  That is why the disciples were so amazed because Christ was telling them that the acquisition of material wealth might in fact hinder one’s ability to enter into the Kingdom of God.

Now, brothers and sisters, this is where I have heard some homilies and reflections on this Gospel go wrong.  This is the part where I have been told that material things are bad.  This is the part where I have been made to feel guilty because I drive a car now rather than riding a bus like when I was in college.   I submit to you however, that the desire you have for fulfillment is something God built into you and I think that desire is good.  I think God made desire a part of human emotion on purpose.  I think that each and every day, we seek fulfillment in one form or another.  But, I also think that material fulfillment is sometimes good, sometimes bad but always temporary.  Let me tell you and example of that kind of fulfillment.

My mother and I are pretty huge Redskins fans.  In fact, my mother, my wife and a good number of my uncles and cousins have a veritable family reunion each Sunday the Redskins are at home.  Whether the team is good or bad, we are there.

Well, three years ago, we were playing that awful team from Texas.  Late in the game, the score was tied and that awful team from Texas was about to kick a field goal and win the game.  They kicked the ball, it was blocked, and the Redskins recovered the ball and started running the other way.  Then, right when we thought the game was going into overtime, the referee called a penalty on that awful team from Texas and within 30 seconds, the Redskins were in position to kick a field goal.  We kicked it and won the game.  The stadium erupted. We cheered as we left our seats.  We cheered as we got to the parking lot and we even cheered getting into the car.  And, here I was in my thirties but I felt ten years old again and I said to my mom, “Mom, I wish this night would never end!”

Well, it did and so did that feeling of euphoria that went with it.  And this is an example of how temporal wealth and temporal fulfillment is temporary.  And that is OK, as long as I know it.  The rich man in this gospel did not.  He was seeking fulfillment.  That is why he came to Christ in the first place.  Redskin tickets or any other earthly possession certainly will not provide me with satisfaction every Sunday.  But Christ will!  In fact, if my family and I failed to go to Mass on Saturday or first thing Sunday morning, I am quite certain that Jesus would say to us, “Go sell what you have and follow me.”  The danger of material wealth does not lie in the possessions themselves.  Rather, it lies in the fact that material wealth, temporal power and earthly merit all tend to generate false security.  Wealth tends to make us think that we have somehow earned these things on our own without God’s providence.  Temporal power tempts us to ignore God and not rely on his goodness.  Earthly merit tends to make us forget the true source of our sustainable joy in Christ.  That is why Jesus rejects wealth, power and merit as a claim to his Kingdom.

Look carefully at the scripture;  the Evangelist Mark tell us that Jesus, looking at the rich man, loved him – loved him and said to him, “You are lacking one thing.  Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.”  Treasure in heaven is the same thing as everlasting fulfillment.  Jesus did not reject the man because of his wealth no more than he would have accepted him because of his wealth.  Jesus indentified one thing that was hindering his relationship with God; God built in us a desire for fulfillment and perhaps the rich man was literally looking for love in all the wrong places.  That is why some people I consider rich don’t seem to have enough.

For me, if you have a million dollars, I wonder ‘why are you out there trying to make more?’  A million dollars would seem to be enough for me.  But, for those whose eyes are not on Christ, for those who are seeking fulfillment from wealth rather than from Christ, a million dollars is not enough.  For those type of people, 10 million dollars would not be enough.  I think that this is at the heart of some addictions; the ultimate seeking of eternal fulfillment in temporary things.  And in our attempt to make that fulfillment eternal, it ends up being damaging.

Again, it may not be money or possessions. There are plenty of materially wealthy people whose wealth is not a hindrance to their salvation.  I suspect that those people are well grounded in the satisfaction of a growing relationship with God.     In fact, I suspect that for most of us, it is not money or possessions. The football example I gave had very little to do with the material possession of Redskins season tickets.  But, if my investment of emotion is in the time spent with my family, then the possibility of sustained fulfillment increases.  It is still temporary but, it makes God smile too.

Nonetheless, the everlasting fulfillment, the kind of fulfillment that made me say to my mother, “I wish this night could last forever” can only be found Christ.

Brothers and sisters, it is indeed difficult for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of heaven, especially if the rich man thinks he has already gained entry.  We have not.  But, for those of us who have chosen to faithfully follow Christ, and to shed not all material things, just those material things that are in our way, Jesus promised, “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.”  This is so cool because, Jesus is not really saying that you have to wait for fulfillment.  We have to wait for eternal everlasting fulfillment but, genuine fulfillment, though temporary, is possible now.  And by following Christ, even when he tells us to do something difficult, fulfillment can increase every day until one day, it becomes eternal.

Every day is a holiday

A uniquely Catholic greeting

One of the teachers at my school and I have an amusing manner of greeting one another. Rather than a simple “hello” or “good morning” we always recall the feast day the Church is celebrating. For example, this morning, we said, “Happy St. Wenceslaus Day.” Tomorrow, it will be “Happy Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael!” Even on days when, in the United States, no feast or solemnity is designated, we challenge each other by researching a feast day in another country. Some days, we come up with the most obscure of Catholic feasts but, in 2 years, we have never had to do a simple “Hello.” Last week, I discovered St. Finbar of Ireland – Who knew?

It is a Catholic thing

One of our non-Catholic colleagues asked about this tradition one day. She confessed that beyond Easter and Christmas, she did not realize there were other “holidays” celebrated by the Church. Once we broke out the Catholic calendar and showed her the various feasts, she commented, “It seems like the calendar we follow is based on the Church’s calendar.” How true that is!

Christmas is really “The Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord.”

Easter is really “The Solemnity of the Resurrection of Our Lord.”

Even Saint Patrick’s Day is listed in the Divine Office as, “The Commemoration of Patrick, Bishop.”

Governments and societies celebrate these events on days designated by the Church, not the other way around.

What is today’s date?

Brothers and sisters, go beyond the ordinary when starting your day. A great way to center yourself in Christ is to refer to the Catholic calendar. Trust me, there is something affirming about knowing that somewhere else in God’s creation, a fellow Christian is reflecting upon the exact same feast or solemnity as you. And, if you are unsure about who else in the world is sharing that prayer with you, rest assured, there are at least two people at a small Catholic high school joining you.

This is a great guide to the Catholic liturgical calendar:

Done the old-fashioned way

During a homily a few weeks ago, I took the example of Christ chastising Peter by saying, “Get behind me, Satan” and applied it to the rearing and teaching children. In the Gospel according to Mark, Peter did not want Christ to be crucified. So, when Jesus told Peter that his death would be necessary, Peter reacted emotionally by rebuking Christ to avoid suffering and death on a cross.(Mark 8:27-35) At that point, Christ reacted strongly by saying to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” Now, I imagine that Peter’s feelings may have been hurt at that moment. But, if things had been done Peter’s way, salvation would not have happened and Peter’s own redemption would have been impossible. So, in order to get Peter back on track, Christ had to be firm.  And in the process, said something that may have hurt many peoples’ feelings.

Surrender nothing

During the homily, I suggested that as a teacher or parent, occasionally we had to hurt the feelings of our students and children in order to keep them on track. I went further and suggested that unwillingness to hurt our kids’ feelings would hinder us in fulfilling our responsibilities as Christian parents and teachers. I gave an example of me issuing one of my own students a detention for what may have seemed like a petty rule. I knew that his feelings would be hurt but, I also knew that in the long run, setting an extremely high standard for behavior was good for him and for the school. To ignore the rule and let it pass would have been a cowardly form of surrender.

Parents! Be parents, not friends!

The reaction of some to my homily was perplexing and perhaps even disappointing. Many congregants agreed and related some of the moments they had to hurt the child’s feelings. They mostly agreed that it is a hard thing to do but, to do anything less is damaging. My pastor once told me that his elementary school teacher used to say, “I love you too much to let you get away with that!” However, a few congregants were offended that I would say punishment and discipline sometimes requires a bit of discomfort and pain. I was surprised at their reaction. I wondered if they misunderstood my message or if they really thought you could raise a child without making them upset every now and then. I hope and pray it is the former and not the latter.

Certain things need to be done the old-fashioned way

The Book of Proverbs says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Pvb 22. The Bible does not tell us to raise and teach our children in such a way that they will always be happy with us. However, training up a child in the way he should go, that is, in the way of Christ, will bring us and them joy, even if on occasion, that involves hurting their feelings.

Some of my best friends are Sisters.

Seriously, some of my best friends where called to religious life. One in particular, Sister Marcia Hall, OSP, helped me to discern my call to the diaconate. She is truly gifted at walking with those who have a desire to follow Christ. Fittingly, she is helping several people in discerning God’s call as the director of vocations for her community.

I just wanted to share her story:



The Oblate Sisters of Providence taught me in elementary school at Our Lady of the Divine Shepherd School in Trenton, New Jersey. However, I did not feel called to the community until I was in my late 20s and in graduate school. One day I had a vision of myself in an Oblate habit. At the time I wasn’t interested, so I finished my PhD in sociology and went on to work at the college level, as a teacher and administrator.

Feeling unsatisfied and realizing the “Hound of Heaven” had never let go, I started to visit Baltimore, to see what it really meant to be a sister. My discernment took eleven years – if you look up “stubborn” in the dictionary, you’ll see my picture! I finally entered the community on my 42nd birthday. In December 2008 I celebrated 10 years as an Oblate Sister of Providence.

As a sister still young in religious life I have only been missioned a few places. As a junior sister I was interim principal at St. Benedict the Moor School in Washington, DC for a year. The next three years I spent as assistant principal at The Seton Keough High School, an Archdiocesan school where Oblates had never served. Next, I was principal of our high school, St. Frances Academy, also for three years. During my time at Saint Frances I made my final vows to God and the community. Now I happily serve as US vocation director.

There are certainly ups and downs in this life, as there are in any other way of life. But I stay because I have never been more satisfied. I know God called me, and I am glad I answered the call. Can my life get any more exciting? I’ve been photographed for a national magazine {December 2008 EBONY} and interviewed for a national radio program (Tell Me More, NPR, December 26, 2008). I can’t wait to see what else God has in store for me!

Sr. Marcia L. Hall, OSP


Please pray for Sister Marcia and for all who are discerning a call to religious life.

Here is a very nice Video on the History of the Oblate Sisters of Providence. The woman pictured below is Sharon Knecht who is the archivist for the Order. This video interiviews her and many of the Sisters at the Motherhouse in Baltimore:      Video on the Oblate Sisters of Providence

God’s providence – “I am concerned – not worried”

Providentia – Providebit (God has provided – God will provide)Mother_Lange

I work at a school that is run by the oldest religious order for women of color in the world – The Oblate Sisters of Providence.   Founded in 1829 by Mother Mary Lange, OSP (pictured right), the Oblate Sisters are guided by the spiritual precept that God has provided and that God will provide.

Those of us who work with them in their ministries have learned to embrace Providential spirituality as well. At times, I still do not trust God to provide for my needs and thus, I worry. I worry about my school, its students, its teachers and even some of my parents. I frequently walk the hallways wanting everything to go perfect. And I worry.

Be concerned – not worried

Before I knew the Oblates, I thought that being worried about a school was the job of a principal. A few months ago, one of the sisters saw that I was clearly worried. This sister asked, “What’s wrong?” When I told her the problem she laughed. And in her wisdom, she said, “It is God’s school, not yours. If you are CONCERNED, that is OK. But, if you are WORRIED, you are praying all wrong, if at all.”

Divine Providence

Brothers and sisters, as a new school year begins, I know that there are many parents, teachers and principals who are concerned for the spiritual and academic development of the children God has entrusted to our care. But, whatever challenges await, don’t worry – God will provide.

To find out more about the Oblate Sisters of Providence, visit their vocations page at:

You call that a prayer?

images-4Last year I was teaching a math class at Saint Frances Academy and, as usual, we began the class in prayer. One of my seniors was anxious as she was awaiting word of admission to a fairly competitive college. Her prayer was simple – “Dear God, please get me into this school and get me a scholarship too!” The class erupted into laughter and debate. One of her classmates said, “You call that a prayer?”

Some of the best things that NEVER happened to me.

My student got into the school in question but the scholarship was not as big as she hoped.  Nonetheless, she was determined to enroll.  When she visited the campus shortly thereafter she decided that she actually hated the place.  In her disappointment, she concluded that God wanted her to go elsewhere. When she informed me of her decision I told her, “I am convinced that I will spend half of eternity thanking God for everything he gave me; The other half thanking God for everything he didn’t.” She smiled and agreed.

How to pray.

We spend a great deal of time asking God for what we want. However, the spiritually mature Christian has learned to only hope for what we what.  We should pray for what is best.

When reflecting on some of the greatest disappointments in my life, I realize now that had the decisions gone my way, I would not be nearly as happy as I am now.  Had I gotten the job I wanted out of college, I would have never discovered how much I enjoy teaching at a Catholic high school.  Had I gotten the house that I prayed for, I would not be living in a home that I love with neighbors whom I genuinely like.  Any number of the decisions that I thought were setbacks in my life would have steered me away from a career that I enjoy and a wife that I love very much. In fact, those events were not setbacks at all but rather, course corrections.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom – 1 Cor 1:25

Brothers and sisters, approach God humbly and pray for wisdom above all other things. In other words, try not to tell God how you want something done. Instead, try asking God – “Is this what I really want?”

You CANNOT do everything, if you set your mind to it.

To the right is an unusual image of Christ and completely opposite of the more serious Christ we see far more often.  I love this image of the laughing Christ for one reason. The woman who gave me this picture knows me well and in recalling my first call to the diaconate, I told her, “I never in my life thought I would be a deacon.” This picture was a gift as I began formation. When I asked her why, she said, “I want you to know what Christ does when you tell him your plans.”

Does Christ have a plan for me?

In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul says, “For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”

What are my gifts and how does God want me to use them?

In the previous post entitled “Marriage, the real vocation crisis” Laura rightfully expands the idea of vocation beyond the vernacular to include marriage. In all my years of working with youth, well-intended people often say one thing to young people that makes me cringe. Let me be clear – They mean well and they are actually trying to motivate a young person when they say it. Nonetheless, it makes me cringe because, it is simply not true.  Here it is:  “You can do anything you set your mind to” or, “You can be anything in life as long as you work hard enough.”

Brothers and sisters, for the Christian faithful, these cliches of motivation need some modification. For the Christian faithful, the first quote should read – “You can do anything God has called you to do, if you set your mind to it.” For the Christian faithful, the second quote should read, “You can be anything in life God wants you to be, as long as you work hard enough.” That is what we should tell young people and that is what we should be telling one another.

Peter’s calling and vocation

For example, Peter, the first Pope, tried to do what he wanted to do. Christ called him to possess the keys to heaven and earth and what did he do? He tried to be a fisherman again. And he wasn’t too successful, I might add. I am sure he set his mind to it and I am sure Peter tried hard enough. But, it did not work out because it wasn’t what God had called him to do. The Church was not built on the Rock of Peter because of his fishing prowess. The Church was built on the Rock of Peter because Peter followed Christ’s call.

“We only seek to do the will of God” – Mother Mary Lange, OSP

Brothers and sisters our life is not our own –It was given to us by Christ and it belongs to Christ. We have the free will to ignore that reality but, it is a reality nonetheless. In the Gospel according to John, Christ says, “It is not you who chose me but I who chose you.” Brothers and sisters, this is one of the most powerful statements of Christ. Christ has called all of us to a vocation. It is through this vocation that we can build up the Kingdom of God, we can spread the Gospel and we draw ourselves and others closer to Christ – Of course, we still have to work hard enough and put our minds to it.

Is this the Body of Christ? – Absolutely!


In the previous post, Msgr. Pope gives us insight into a question that many Catholics fail to ponder.  As evidenced by his brilliant answer to a young Catholic, our Holy Father certainly does not fall into that category.  However, I fear that some of us who have been Catholic for a while may lose an appreciation for the gift of the Eucharist.

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

A few years ago, one of my high school students was in the process of coming into full communion with the Catholic Church. We would dialogue often during her journey and like most converts, she had many questions. By the grace of God, I usually had the answers.

Is this really the Body of Christ?

I recall one issue that she had a hard time understanding and I had a hard time explaining – Transubstantiation. The concept that a simple piece of unleavened bread and wine can become the actual Body and Blood of our Lord was hard to explain and hard for her to fully understand.

Break through

During a break though conversation I said, “Listen. When the minister of Holy Communion says, ‘The Body of Christ’, they are really saying, “This is the actual body of our Savior. It is not a symbol. It is not a representation. It is the actual body of Christ.  This is true because this is how Jesus instituted it.” I went on to say, “When you say ‘amen’, what you are really saying is that you agree with that proclamation. With all of your heart, mind and soul, you believe that you have come into the presence of Jesus is a very tangible way!” After months of dialogue, my student finally seemed satisfied with the conversation.  She was finally able to accurately reflect back to me her own understanding of the Eucharist.


At the first school Mass following her reception into the Church, I was distributing Holy Communion. In the distance, I could see this young women maneuver herself so that she would end up in my line. When she approached, I raised the Eucharist and said, ” The Body of Christ.” Her response was remarkable. Instead of the expected ‘amen’, she smiled and in all of her excitement replied, “Absolutely!!!”

Now, I knew that the proper response is ‘amen’ but theologically, that was probably one of the most correct responses I have ever heard.

Say and think what you believe.

If you have lost an appreciation for the incredible gift of the Holy Eucharist, the next time you are in line for communion and receive God, please say “amen.” But think to yourself, “Absolutely!”