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  • Nicholas Sheehy LC

Beyond the 40%


Mk. 10:17-27


As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus answered him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother." He replied and said to him, "Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, "You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God."

Beyond the 40%

When young sailors train to be Navy SEALS, they go through something called Hell Week. It is a week of extreme physical testing. The instructors know, however, that the most important test is happening on the inside. Each man must face himself and his own fears. Especially, he has to understand why he is doing what he is doing. Coming into training, an outside observer can make guesses about who will survive the week. Who will conquer? Who will ring the bell? To make sure that they know who is still active in training when a candidate decides to quit, he must go ring the bell. When they are cold, wet, and sandy, each man has to come to terms with why he is continuing instead of giving up and ringing the bell.


Why do we do what we do? The question of motivation is life-changing. Once we understand ourselves, we begin to understand our motives and begin to have true control over ourselves. So often, we feel like we are out of control. We hate it. It seems like external forces obligate our decisions. We feel weak and powerless. We want to have control once again.


We can identify easily with the rich young man. We all have an experience of Christ that inspires us to follow him, but then we balk when we realize all the implications. Jesus leads him step by step to a plan for salvation, but he rejects the plan when he realizes how much it will cost.


Often, we can go to others about answers for our deepest questions, when really, we have to look inside and face our own demons. The encounter of the rich young man with Jesus is a model for how each one of us must grow in self-knowledge.


General knowledge of spiritual life

First, we have to have some basic general knowledge of spiritual life. When the man comes to Jesus and asks about how to inherit eternal life, Jesus puts the ball back in his court. He asks him in return, “what do the Scriptures say?” The same thing happens to us. We know most of what we have to do to be good men and women. It is no great mystery. We can also list off the commandments of the Law. We know what it means to be good. Nevertheless, we may feel that something is lacking. This brings us to the second step.


Looking for more

Second, we have to look for more. The rich young man knew that he was not doing enough. His efforts to live the Law had led him to understand that more could be given. We have to learn to give more of ourselves. We spend so much of our lives trapped by our own complacency. We live at 40% of our own capacity and feel tired and even exhausted. We have to learn to tap into deeper reserves if we are going to live life to the full. We have to push beyond our comfort zone if we are going to be happy with Christ.


Looking further

Third, we learn to live beyond the 40%. We can begin to learn this by challenging ourselves physically. Getting up every day at the same time and keeping order in our things is a physical challenge. Showing up on time for activities is a physical challenge. Exercising and pushing through physical discomfort is also a response to a physical challenge. This all begins to push us past the 40% of our capacity that is our comfort zone. Then, we have to challenge ourselves mentally as well. We look for more in our intellectual formation. We go deeper in our prayer. Soon enough, we may be living at 60% or even 80% of our personal capacity. It is important to put everything in God’s hands as well.


Now, if you want to live at 100%, you want to be a saint. This implies surrendering your will totally to God. Physical challenges can be good, but we want especially to learn to place our wills completely within the Will of God. The saints were men and women who knew how to give 100% all the time. The greatest example of 100% is Jesus dying on the cross. We can be inspired by the examples of human heroes of our times. But we should never lose sight of the great heroes of history: the saints. The saints move history and affect things far beyond their own times and circumstances. We are called to be saints. Pope John Paul II preached often about the universal call to holiness. “It is possible to say that this call to holiness is precisely the basic charge entrusted to all the sons and daughters of the Church by a Council which intended to bring a renewal of Christian life based on the gospel” (Pope John Paul II, Christifideles laici, 16). How can you give 100% this week? How can you be holy?



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