A Lenten Reflection by Fr. Paul Kais: A Wake-Up Call to Conversion

We invite you to view CIC Assistant Chaplain Fr. Paul Kais’ video meditation, “A Wake-Up Call to Conversion: Lessons Learned from the Rich Young Man” from the Gospel of Matthew. Or bring the written transcription of Fr. Paul’s reflection into your prayer time during this Lenten season (see below). View more Lenten resources from the CIC on our Lent 2024 resources page.

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Lent always begins with this wake-up call to the metanoia—a conversion, to having a new mindset, a new heart. Then the season slows down, and we go through salvation history little by little. In Holy Week we live out those last days of Our Lord in real time. In fact, the sacred days from Holy Thursday until the Easter Vigil are one long liturgy. We slow down and we contemplate those incredible mysteries of Christ’s passion, death, and, of course, His resurrection.

I want to focus on this conversion that we all want to undergo during this beautiful time by focusing on the Gospel scene of the rich young man (Matthew 19:16-30). The young man approached our Lord with such enthusiasm, such apparent good will, and asked, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

The man asked, “Which ones?” And our Lord listed a number of them: “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The man says that he has kept all these since he was young.

Then Jesus tells him, “If you wish to be perfect—go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven. Then come, follow me.”

We know that the story ends on a sad note because the rich young man walked away without any response, sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

He had asked Jesus for what deed did he have to fulfill; what did he have to do; what did he have to possess; and what did he have to acquire. Perhaps on the highest level, the young man was looking for some kind of spiritual knowledge, some sort of special teaching that he could conform his life to.

However, it was still about possession, and our Lord answered the young man that if he wanted to be perfect, he had to enter into eternal life.” In other words, be possessed! Let yourself be taken over. Let yourself be transformed. Enter into this dynamic of Jesus’ life, and enter into this communion with Him. That is the point of conversion.

So we should ask ourselves: “Do we want to say ‘Only God is good?’ Is every aspect of my life directed towards God and fulfilling his will? Is every component and every aspect of my life doing this?”

Following his encounter with the rich young man, Jesus said to the disciples, “If you would be perfect—go, sell, fasting, abstaining from the things of this world.” Nowadays there is a lot of talk about decluttering and simplifying our lives. We acquire things so easily and create more needs for ourselves. We have to go out into the desert with our Lord. We have to become simple with Him so that we can truly see and develop our hunger for the things that really matter.

Look at the martyrs of the 20th century. Most of them were suffering under the Communists, and there were a number of priests who were put in prison or in the gulag. It was there that they all had tremendously powerful experiences. One summarized it by saying that when you are put in prison you either become a saint or you go crazy—because you’re forced to.

It’s either God or nothing. That’s the kind of spirit of going out into the desert. 

You may be wondering what is really the core of your life. We all need to be stripped of those distractions, those escapes, that somehow take our minds and our hearts away from what is truly essential. St. Josemaría Escrivá used to point to the example of kids playing with mud pies that they would eat. Today we all seem to be playing around and eating our mud pies. Don’t settle for the distraction of your mud pies, but look for the things that really last. Don’t just look down. Nowadays people are always looking down: down at their phones, down at their food, down at their drinks. Or some even have those Vision Pro goggles so they don’t even have to look down—they’ve acquired clouded vision from all these material encumbrances. We want to look up! 

Now let us consider the second verb, “Give to the poor.”

We can talk about almsgiving and having a greater concern for the people around us. Our Lord says, “If you want to be perfect….” The only other time that Jesus used the word perfect is during the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “You must be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). There Jesus emphasized the Father’s love, that He is giving Himself to us constantly, and we have to also identify ourselves with that same Spirit. We can’t just give part of ourselves. We can’t just love when it’s convenient. Rather, Jesus says to give without expecting anything in return, to love our enemies, do good to all unconditionally, and not to look for what is in it for us, but simply as a free gift. That’s really what almsgiving means. Do you really want to give during this time of Lent? And in what concrete ways are you going to do so?

Mother Teresa famously said that in the West we don’t have those diseases that are so apparent like tuberculosis or leprosy. The great disease that people suffer from here is to be unloved, to be uncared for, to be lonely—and there are so many people around us suffering like that. So in this Lenten season, we should challenge ourselves to think, “How can I express gratitude to the people around me? How can I show respect for them? How can I exhibit kindness to each one as they come to me on a daily basis?” Also it is important to recognize those people who do have apparent needs. There are many homeless people in our society. There are plenty of people who don’t have enough to eat, as well as those with spiritual and emotional sufferings, which we know are so common in our day and age.

Thirdly, Jesus said to the rich young man, “Come and follow me.”

Once we have acquired that freedom through those first two practices—the fasting and almsgiving—we are meant to awaken our minds and hearts so that we can truly become men and women of prayer so that we can put our treasure in Heaven. I ask you to ponder what will your spirit of prayer look like during this season of Lent. We can’t acquire that new mind, new spirit, or new heart unless we are craving silence so that we can enter into the dialogue of prayer.

St. Thomas Aquinas described prayer as cultivating the desire for God (Summa Theologica II-II, q. 83, a. 14). Take the time to listen to that inner voice. We need to listen for the Holy Spirit so that He can direct us. In order to do so we need to carve out time and space in our day for those moments of silence to listen to the Holy Spirit. We all have the time—it’s a question of how we use our time. What better time to show that we love God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength than to have a dedicated time to prayer each day.

At the end of his life, St. Thomas Aquinas was asked in his prayer by our Lord, “You have spoken well of me. What will you have as a reward?” St. Thomas responded, “Only Thyself, Lord.” Or as St. Francis of Assisi would often say, “My God and my all.” That’s really everything. All that we’re trying to do is come to the sense of living for God and only for God.

It’s interesting how the rich young man’s story ends in a very nebulous sense: he just walks off sorrowfully, probably upset with himself. He’s not really upset at the answer Jesus gave him. He’s upset that he did not have the freedom to say yes to our Lord. We don’t really know the end of the story for the young man. He could have come back after a few moments or a few weeks or years. He could have become a great disciple. This whole sense of not really being complete is that each one of us is there, and we have to finish the story ourselves.

It’s important that we all ask, “What’s going to happen to me?” Are you going to say yes to our Lord? Are you going to sell it, give it away, and come follow our Lord and Savior? How will you answer Him?

I pray to God for that grace for everyone of us in this holy season because I know that we cannot do any of this by ourselves. Entrust yourself to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and pray that many will come to know Her Son in this season of conversion in a more tremendous and profound way. God bless you.

About the Speaker

Posted on February 18, 2024

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