By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, October 15, 2012

Are We Asking the Right Question?

What must I do to lose weight? What must I do to get fit? What must I do to get good grades? What must I do to improve my golf swing?

Questions such as these reveal our immediate concerns. Their answers shape our behaviour: go on a diet; exercise more; improve study habits; work with a golf pro (or, in my case, seek divine intervention). Of course, if we ignore the answer, then we remain with only the question and nothing changes. This is particularly serious in the case of life's many deeper questions: what must I do to care for my family; what must I do in the face of serious illness; what must we all do to address issues of poverty, homelessness and family violence. Posing the question reveals our concern; adhering to the answer brings about change.

One question not being posed nearly enough in contemporary Western culture is that put by a man to Jesus in Sunday's Gospel: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (cf. Mark 10:17-30) If there is a more important question than that one, I cannot imagine what it would be! Our time on earth is very brief, yet the Gospels make clear that the choices we make during our earthly journey have eternal consequences. So the man in the Gospel passage has it right. His concern is both immediate and far-sighted. How must I live now so that I might live with God always?

By way of dramatic contrast, the questions of our times are rather more myopic: what must I do to gain in money, possessions, reputation; what must I do to improve my image; what must I do to conform to prevailing opinion; what must I do to change my immediate environment, even friends and social institutions, so that they cater to me and my desires? These are the concerns that predominate when God, and the question of life in and with him, is eclipsed. Their answers are entirely self-focused and, therefore, lead nowhere but ever deeper into that which robs us of life and destroys our social fabric: individualistic self-absorption and, to quote the Holy Father, the "dictatorship of relativism".

Our culture needs a Copernican revolution that re-directs our gaze away from self and toward the other and, ultimately, toward the Other, to God. This can happen when we learn both to ask the right question and adhere to the answer. The man in the Gospel articulates the question. Jesus gives the answer. In fact, Jesus is the answer. He summons us to fidelity, points out what is lacking in our response, and gives us the grace that enables us to change our behaviour in accordance with his direction. In the final analysis, the answer to the question of eternal life is to know, love, and abide in Jesus Christ, who says "Apart from me, you can do nothing." (John 15:5) May his grace give proper focus to our questioning, in order that we might so live in him as to inherit eternal life.