Reflection for Sunday – October 10, 2021

Readings: Wisdom 7: 7-11; Hebrews 4: 12-13; Mark 10: 17-30
Preacher: Evelio Perez-Albuerne

Today’s readings remind us of the power of the Word of God, the “two-edged sword” that penetrates to the most intimate of our being and, if we allow it, changes us profoundly. The Book of Wisdom highlights the paradoxical consequences of choosing the “spirit of wisdom” over power and wealth, because in choosing it “all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands.”

The gospel is even more surprising and paradoxical, since wealth was taken as a sign of God’s blessing. No wonder “the disciples were amazed at his words.” As he does in other gospel passages, Jesus warns us of the dangers of seeking happiness and security in wealth, but this one is particularly relevant for “good people” in rich societies like ours. The man asking Jesus for guidance was a “good person.” He observed the commandments. His wealth was not ill-acquired. Jesus does not chastise him. Both Jesus and the man are saddened by the situation. Jesus’ words: “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!“, are more a lamentation than a condemnation. The man, after enthusiastically approaching Jesus, “went away sad, for he had many possessions.” He was a prisoner of his own wealth. 

Recognizing these dangers, Christians who sought to become disciples of Jesus identified the central role of freely chosen poverty in their quest. Since the Middle Ages poverty, together with chastity and obedience, have been the core of the spirituality of religious orders and congregations.  But, are these Evangelical Counsels directed only to those called to a “consecrated life?’”

In our time the Second Vatican Council clearly teaches the universality of the call: “… all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord – each in his or her own way—to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect” (LG 11). More recently, Pope Francis elaborates this theme in the apostolic exhortation Gaudate et Exsultate: on the call to holiness in today’s world.

My own journey of faith has been influenced by contact with a religious order where poverty is central and lay participation actively encouraged and practiced. The order is not well known in the United States, although it has been present since 1948, where it is known as the Piarist Fathers. It is noticeable that poverty is already part of its long official name: Order of Poor Clerics Regular of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools.  It is primarily a teaching order, I went to a Piarist school in my native Cuba, and this year the Order celebrates 400 years of existence. Its founder, Saint Joseph Calasanz, started the institution in Rome with the mission of educating poor children both in religion and in secular subjects that would enable them to overcome their poverty.

His schools were the first to promote access to free, universal education in Europe, a right that is now nearly universally recognized. Today’s gospel reminds me of Calasanz because he went through a process of conversion from being a “good priest,” although fairly well-off and seeking an ecclesiastical career, to a man who spent all his money in establishing his school and who refused a privileged appointment when it eventually came because, in his own words, he had “found the best way to please God, educating poor children, and I will not forsake it for anything in this world.” This is the choice that the man in the gospel was not capable of making.

Today the lay participation in the work of the Order has been enhanced and formalized. Worldwide there are over 1,000 men and women, of which 90 percent are lay people, who belong to the Fraternity of the Pious Schools. Members of the Fraternity share the charism of the Order, its life, spirituality and mission, as well as responsibility for the functioning of the various schools, parishes and cultural centers it serves.

The governing body of the Fraternity consists of four lay persons, elected by the membership, and one appointed Piarist religious. Representatives of the Fraternity participate in the General Chapter of the Orden, as well as in various positions of leadership throughout the various Provinces. Sharing the spirituality, and having poverty as a key characteristic, gives many of us lay people the opportunity and support for a more committed, deep and meaningful participation in the Church in its role as the “initial budding forth” of the kingdom of God on earth. (LG 5)  

Evelio Perez-Albuerne
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