Father Christopher Heanue
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Beautiful and the Damned” is the story of a young socialite couple that lives recklessly in pursuit of happiness. Their story turns tragic as their marriage disintegrates under the weight of their expectations, jealousy, and aimlessness.
As the couple begins their descent into confusion and havoc, Anthony, the protagonist, speaking to his lover, Dot, finally recognizes that, when he obtained what he so desperately desired, it turned to dust in his hands. “And that taught me you can’t have anything, you can’t have anything at all. Because desire just cheats you. It’s like a sunbeam skipping here and there about a room. It stops and gilds some inconsequential object, and we poor fools try to grasp it — but when we do the sunbeam moves on to something else, and you’ve got the inconsequential part, but the glitter that made you want it is gone.”
Anthony begins to realize that he has been searching endlessly for something to make him happy, and each time he obtains that which he desires, it does not bring him the happiness he thought it would bring.
Saint Augustine of Hippo, in his “Confessions,” wrote, “You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” He realized that he had been searching for happiness in the wrong places and that true happiness comes only from Christ.
Everyone wants to be happy. Sadly, most people in our modern society do not know where to find true happiness. People search for happiness through power, pleasure, and profit. Ultimately, they realize that these things have not brought them happiness. They realize that their riches and their earthly treasures have not filled the void in their hearts.
In the first reading this Sunday, we see King Solomon choose wisdom over kingdoms because he recognizes wisdom’s surpassing value. For as he says, “beyond health and comeliness I loved her, and I chose to have her rather than the light, because the splendor of her never yields to sleep.” (Wisdom 7:10)
Through prayer and trust in God, Solomon receives prudence and the spirit of wisdom to prioritize that which truly matters, that which will bring him happiness and peace.
In today’s Gospel, the rich young man is not ready to commit himself fully to Christ. This is often true of us as well. The rich young man desired happiness; he implicitly desired eternal life. However, he had not yet realized that the only way to achieve his goal was through full submission to Christ.
At the conclusion of his encounter with Christ, the young man “went away sad” for he had many possessions. However, some Church Fathers argue the same young man is the one that St. Mark tells us was in the Garden of Gethsemane, “a young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind” (Mark 14:51-52).
This is important to note, because, if it is true, we can find consolation in the fact that this young man finally acted as Jesus had commanded him: to sell what he had, give to the poor, and follow Him.
It can take a long time for us to prioritize Christ in our lives. Unfortunately, some never come to realize that God is the fulfillment and that the happiness they desire can be found in God alone. Let us pray this Sunday that we may have the courage to pray for wisdom, as Solomon did, and to have the courage to respond to Christ’s challenging invitation to follow Him completely.
Readings for Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark: 10:17-30 or 10:17-27
Father Heanue is the Rector-Pastor of the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, Prospect Heights.