10/15/2015 9:00:00 AM BISHOP'S COLUMN Our wit's end
Bishop Scharfenberger testified Oct. 13 before the New York State Court of Appeals on civil legal services for the poor. Citing Catholic Charities' work with the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York in serving the homeless, he said that, "given the cost-effectiveness of an investment in civil legal services -- a $6 return to New Yorkers for every $1 invested -- it makes great sense to work together to meet the unmet need for civil legal services." The hearing's findings will be submitted to the State Legislature along with recommendations for funding.
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER
It happens to everyone: We come to the end of certain stage in our life -- graduation, the last day of the last year in a school; retirement, the end of a career or a long-time job or ministry; health, the day it dawns on us (which others may have noticed long before) that our body and or mind may possibly have passed peak performance; faith, when everything we believed in does not seem to be enough anymore.
This end point is also a time of decision, a crisis: Where do I go from here?
It may not be that, looking back, we would have done anything markedly different. The end of any stage in life can be an occasion to celebrate with gratitude and a sense of achievement.
The wealthy young man who cast himself down at the feet of Jesus in last Sunday's Gospel seems to have been genuinely -- and perhaps commendably -- proud of his spiritual progress. He'd kept all of the commandments. He'd followed all the rules. Yet, somehow, he knew there had to be more.
Following his heart (and, no doubt, the lure of God's grace), he was drawn to Jesus. He felt he needed to do more, because whatever he was doing was not doing it for him anymore.
He wanted more than the life he had known and probably worked hard at up till now, even though he was still young. He wanted "eternal life" -- something he realized he did not have.
The spontaneous response of Jesus is to give him exactly what he is asking for: Jesus Himself! As the Gospel says, "Jesus, looking at him, loved him" (Mk 10:21). Jesus is eternal life itself, and, to receive it, all we have to do is let go of everything else that is not eternal life.
As it happens, the young man finds this too much for him, and goes away crestfallen. Jesus has just asked of him the impossible -- and that is the point! As Jesus explains to His disciples, salvation -- the attainment of the eternal -- is impossible for us, but not for God.
Often, we are not confronted with this truth unless and until we are at our wit's end. It has been noted that there are no atheists on a sinking ship. When the persons and things we relied upon so much either let us down or are just no longer there, we become more aware (often, traumatically) of our vulnerability, our spiritual helplessness.
The wealthy young man in the Gospel approached Jesus with a sense of his own fullness, not his emptiness. Was his bowing before Jesus an act of true humility, or was it pride? Did he expect Jesus to compliment him for all of his good work and efforts at self-improvement? Was he really seeking another challenge, another mountain to climb, a new program to follow?
He had come to ask the right question and had come to the right person -- but he was not ready to accept the answer that his soul was hungering for. Like an addict who craves just one more fix, the young seeker was not ready for the reset that Jesus wanted to give him: a brand-new foundation for the rest of his life that would satisfy his thirst for eternity.
Like the "living water" that Jesus offered the woman at the well, most of us at some point come to realize that what we really need and want is impossible to attain on our own. It sounds too good to be true.
But, as St. Augustine -- perhaps our greatest theologian -- deduced from his own experience, the very desire we have for real life that does not end is evidence of whom we're made for. God has created our hearts in such a way that we long for Him who is eternal life itself!
The man who approached Jesus was already being drawn to Him by His love. The young man's works and acquisitions were signs of his willingness to spend his time and talents on seeking the good. But none of these things, alone or together, were the "good" that he was seeking. They could only whet his appetite for the one from whom all good comes.
As Jesus said to him, "No one is good but God alone" (Mk 10:18). There was just one more step that was necessary: to accept the good Himself -- impossible to earn, because love is always a gift. It is always more than we could possibly deserve, but nothing less than what God wants us to possess forever: Jesus, our life!