“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus answers: You lack one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then, come, follow me.” Mark 17-30.
Many long years ago, I read “The Informed Heart,” a most profound book by psychologist Bruno Bettelheim.
In this work, the author demonstrates how to change lives for the better, and children who have faced the most challenging life situations such as war and intolerance.
That’s no easy task for anyone and at any time. In the past few weeks, Pope Francis, at a gathering in Rome, is considering contemporary issues facing youth and the church.
In his book, Bettelheim writes about his passionate devotion to the education of the “next generation” of young people and asks:
“What changes in the environment are needed to bring up children so that their chance to lead the good life is greater, and what methods of bringing up children are necessary to help them live the good life whatever their environment maybe.”
Indeed, when you are growing up — this is a tight balancing act. This not unlike the scene in today’s gospel.
Here we read of Jesus’s concern for the “rich young man.” He was a “seeker,” a person attempting to find his place among Jesus’s disciples.
The young man may have been attracted to Jesus and the disciples. The story contains a dramatic turning point where both Jesus and the seeker became unsettled over different plans of life.
Mostly, this is a story about the many difficult choices we make. What you choose now may have consequences for a lifetime.
As high school students, life plans and academic goals are items you are only beginning to consider. But there are some goalposts for you in your present lives – and for a few in this chapel today, the very idea of leaving your home country to study at Santa Catalina was a significant and defining moment for you and your parents.
As a former college teacher, a portion of my time was devoted to assisting my group of undergraduate advisees about their life plan and, more specifically, their personal, academic, and career goals.
Each semester at the time of pre-registration for courses, I scheduled an individual conversation with each of my twenty-five or more advisees. Also, there was a reason for our meeting — each needed my signature or approval of their upcoming academic program.
So throughout a three or four years period, these students were well known to me, and here I helped solve problems like a work/school scheduling conflict, or the emotional fall out of an unexpected grade in Organic Chemistry, or how to apply for a study abroad program.
For a college advisor, these are the day-to-day tasks, and best of all — you get to know the individual students and person’s capacity for learning and sports and, ultimately, the individual’s own life choices. I much enjoyed this aspect of college teaching.
Several years ago, among my advisees was one student, Paul — an okay guy, but a weak student. Throughout the three years, he was always at the line of not making the required 2.0 averages for graduation.
However, Paul was most astute at the delicate balancing act of how to offset a D grade in one course — with a B grade in another to keep his rank in equipoise.
Today’s gospel, with that perceptive question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” has another application. It corresponds to questions I’ve heard from him: “Good teacher, what must I do to pass College Calculus?”
I could never figure out Paul, and frankly, I remained ineffective even after hours of personal conversation. He was tight as a clam in revealing his real interests and how his academic program of study might, in some way, forward his personal or career goals.
That situation lasted until graduation when he came in for what was our very final meeting. I ask him directly, “So Paul, what will you be doing after college?”
“Oh,” he told me, “I guess that I never mentioned that I’ve been accepted into Johnson & Wales Cooking School, and I’m going to train to become a chef!”
“How did you come by this?” I asked. He told me that he has been fond of cooking, and mostly he took to these creative chores for his friends and family, and the idea of a cooking school had been on his mind. Naturally, I was delighted for him.
For all these past talks about course selection and grades, I forgot that one all-important item central to a person’s goals in life. I should have been more precise about connecting the dots of one’s abilities and long-time enjoyment and which of those academic courses might assist him along the way. These, I believe, are the paths to “eternal life!”
Like Jesus, and the young man in today’s gospel, at graduation, our paths will diverge, but I want to leave that person with a better sense of self, one that is deeply spiritual, and how to best advance one’s skills and move forward on this life adventure.
I believe this encounter of Jesus, like most of the individuals found in the gospel, we left better, more aware of the inner spiritual work they needed to accomplish over time.
Like Bruno Bettelheim, we might call this an “informed heart.”
Not all of Jesus’s disciples left everything to follow him. I would dare say only a few took that costly apostolic journey.
Many of Jesus’s closest friends, like Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived in Bethany, at a home that was a “welcoming place” for the Lord.
As far as we know, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus never moved out of their village. They played a vitally important role in Jesus’s life – in sharing meals, telling stories about the journey of faith, and most supporting one another in friendship.
This is the ministry of hospitality and a vitally important one at that!
So with us, many of us may never go into the active ministry, or preach the gospel, heal sick souls in hospitals, or serve as a Jesuit volunteer in Africa.
None the less your firm conviction in support of the Lord’s work — in service to local community groups, or coaching youth or merely providing guidance one on one or heart to heart that may bring credit to your faith in Christ and one another.
Your “informed heart” will notice what changes are needed to bring up children, so their chance to lead the good life is higher, and you may enjoy the opportunity of bringing up children and helping them live the good life whatever their environment may be.
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.