For people of the 21st century, and especially for people born and raised in a country ruled by democracy, the very notion of nobility as a social class is quite foreign. So the fact that Aloysius was born into a noble family and was heir to the family title of nobility may not mean to us as much as the fact that he was born into a wealthy and influential family. Wealth and clout we do understand. Why, then, would a young man give up that wealth and influence? There may not be a valid answer to that question, because “Why?” is a head question, while Aloysius’ answer came from the heart, and we cannot quite address head questions with heart answers.
His answer addressed a deeper heart question: “What, then, will one gain by winning the whole world and forfeiting one’s soul?” [Mt. 16:26] He really had it made by being the heir to the title of Marquis of Castiglione. He did not even have to enter the race to come ahead. Yet the gospel question kept hounding him. A question that in contemporary and non-scriptural form was answered by author Ann Quindlen in her commencement address at Villanova University, when she recalled the words sent to her by her father on a postcard: “If you win the rat race, you are still a rat.” In that light, wealth and clout lose their tantalizing attraction.
Today’s gospel, then, is most pertinent: "How hard it is for those
who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” It sounded astonishing
to the Apostles and it still sounds hard to us. Is something wrong
with being rich? After all, the Patriarchs are portrayed as being
immensely rich and their very wealth was seen as a sign of God’s blessing.
No, there is nothing wrong with possessing riches —and riches include our
personal giftedness— but rather in being possessed by them, in allowing
the tail to wag the dog. The more wealth and influence we can count
on to sustain our sense of self-sufficiency, the harder it is for us to
recognize and own our radical self-insufficiency before God. That
is why it is so “hard for those who have riches to enter the kingdom
of God.” The Patriarchs did recognize and own before God their
self-insufficiency and, in the midst of their wealth, they remained anawim.
So did Aloysius Gonzaga, the heir to the house of Castiglione.
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