What does being a disciple of Jesus cost? This is the question the rich young man poses to Our Lord in Matthew 19:16 when he asks: “Teacher what good must I do to gain eternal life?” The answer the Lord gives to him in the verses that follow is astonishing to both the young man and the disciples who are present during this discourse. The Lord tells this earnest young man that he must follow the commandments, but then He goes further, and tells the young man to give up everything—all of his earthly treasures— to follow Him. The young man walks away sad because he had many possessions. He cannot go above and beyond the commandments to give up everything for the Lord because he is attached to these earthly things.
Most of us are very familiar with this Gospel passage. Do we deeply consider what Our Lord is telling us here, though? If we are not rich, we may brush it off as not applying to us. We may think we have done enough and that He is not speaking to us. We may be like the disciples who were present and think this ideal is too much for us to follow, and it is, without the grace of God. No matter our response, this passage requires much deeper attention and prayer if we want to grow in holiness. He is not only calling us to give up our possessions. He is inviting us to give up everything to follow Him. This passage is a calling for all of us, regardless of our vocation in life.
We may not be called to live a life of poverty for the Kingdom, but we are called to be detached from the good things God gives to us. The saints repeatedly bear witness to the call to find the balance between a disinterested, but grateful use of worldly things. Enjoy them for God’s sake, but also be ready to abandon them at a moment’s notice when Christ calls. We should be able to walk away from them if the Lord asks, and He often asks, so that we can grow in holiness.
He calls us to abandon sin, but He also wants us to be free from earthly attachments, even good attachments. These created goods can often get in the way of our relationship with the Lord and others. We can become addicted to comfort and those things we enjoy the most, which can lead us to lukewarmness if we are not careful, because we choose our will over the Lord’s.
The reason for this much needed detachment is that it is directly linked with both mission and deeper conversion. All of us are undergoing a deeper metanoia (conversion) day-by-day, or at least we should be. As we walk closer and closer with the Lord, He begins to show us the greater and greater costs of discipleship. He shows us relationships, habits, attachments, sins, and other areas of our lives that need to be pruned away or purified. The light of the Holy Spirit shines in our souls to reveal to us those areas where we are not free. He wants to free us, so we can love Him above all else and love our neighbor as He loves.
He also leads us to deeper detachment because the mission He gives to each one of us will require giving things up to varying degrees. The Lord may have need of us and send us to places we do not expect for various periods of time. If we cling to earthly relationships or possessions then we may say no to His will and cling to our own will. This greatly inhibits our ability to grow in holiness and can eventually lead us to walk away from the Lord like the rich young man. Thankfully, the Lord is patient and merciful. He shows us over time what He is asking.
My family and I have been living in one of those periods of great pruning and detachment for the sake of growth in holiness and for mission. Last year, He called my family and me to give up everything: our home of 9 years, close relationships, a parish we loved, the mountains, all of our hobbies, and the plan we had for our lives. He called me to work as the Director of Faith Formation for a priest-friend across the state, which required us to leave everything behind.
During that time, we sold our home, bought a new one, put our daughter into a Catholic school, and started living in a noisy city. A far cry from the quiet mountains we had been dwelling in since we got married 13 years ago. My husband stayed with his company and spent a year commuting 5 hours one way every week or every other week while I worked 6 days per week including nights, weekends, and every thing in between in order to help this priest start the process of renewing a parish. The cost was immense for our family, but we went because we discerned it was the radical path the Lord was calling us to. Ultimately it is His will that matters, not our own.
We settled into the idea that our next 6-10 years would look this way and that we would have to find ways to embrace it for the sake of Christ and the salvation of souls. Souls were in need. Priests and seminarians needed help. The Lord asked us to answer this call even though we did not fully understand it and still don’t. Months in, my health began to take a major beating from the hours and stress. Renewal must come with a willingness to suffer or it doesn’t happen, but this was also the Lord signaling that this mission was always meant to be temporary.
Unexpectedly, the pastor I was serving under was re-assigned to a chancery position one year into our endeavor. Everything came to a grinding halt. Here was my family and I wondering what the Lord was doing with us. We left our home. We gave up everything to move across the state. It was a deeply difficult moment, but this is how radical discipleship truly is meant to be. We are called to give Him everything. This was the lesson He needed to teach us at a deeper level in order to follow Him more closely.
The Lord made it clear in prayer that His reasons for moving us were His own. He sent me to minister to specific brothers and sisters in Christ, priests, and seminarians for one year. He didn’t tell me before we gave everything up that it would only be a year. He doesn’t tend to give any of us timelines for His plans. He simply says: “Go.” So, we packed up and sold our new home and moved back to where we came from in order to be closer to my husband’s work and to return to homeschooling. This particular mission came to an end in God’s perfect time.
In order to drive home His desire for deeper conversion for us, the new house we were supposed to buy this month fell through a week before closing due to structural issues and we had to turn to others for help in finding housing. For the time being, we are renting a friend’s mom’s furnished townhome. The vast majority of our things are in storage. He’s asking us to detach from almost all of our own possessions. He’s asking if we truly will give up everything to follow Him. He’s asking if we will accept the mission from Him no matter if it is one month, a year, or decades.
From the outside, this could easily look like sheer insanity. Moving twice in 13 months across the state for a short time of serving in full-time ministry. The reality is, however, that the call to discipleship is radical. Our Lord’s love is so gratuitous that He will literally move one person or family in order to help or save one other person or family. His love is so much higher and immense than our own.
I wish that I could say that I happily accepted all of this suffering and confusion with perfect serenity and surrender. Paths into deeper metanoia are often deeply painful, as the Divine Gardener prunes more and more away. He knows the areas within me that are still willful, selfish, attached to worldly things, and how little I still love Him and others. He knows the things I need to be freed from in order to progress in holiness. He knows what I need to belong fully to Him and He knows how much all of this struggle will be worth it in the end.
The Lord promises his confused disciples—who are often you and me— the rewards will be great when He tells them in Matthew 19:29:
“And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.”
Let us begin asking the Lord each day what more we need to do to inherit the Kingdom of God.