hat must we do to inherit eternal life? What should we desire in this world to be happy in the next? These are questions we are invited to ask ourselves this Sunday.
The first reading is from the Book of Wisdom which is attributed to King Solomon, son of David. Solomon asked God for the gift of wisdom rather than longevity or power. To be a good ruler, he desired to know the truth, to have depth and understanding. He knew this was the strongest foundation a ruler could have. Even if he were a king appointed by God, he would one day have to render an account at his own judgment.
The Roman Emperor Constantine (272-337) also learned this truth. There is a fresco in the Vatican by Giulano Romano called The Vision of the Cross and it is dedicated to a vision of Constantine’s. The historians Eusebius of Caesarea and Lactantius tell us of how — ahead of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in which Constantine would attack Maxentius to reunite the empire under himself — Constantine had a vision of a cross in the heavens and heard these words: “In this sign, you will conquer.”
Even though Constantine was not a Christian, he had this sign emblazoned on the breastplates and shields of his soldiers. They won that battle against great odds. Archeologists have uncovered shields, helmets, breastplates, and coins with this symbol, attesting to the truth of his vision.
Eventually Constantine, the most powerful figure in the world, was baptised a Catholic and built several large churches in Rome, including St Peter’s Basilica. He did this not to gain political advantage; in fact, he did so at great risks. But in promoting the faith, he showed the sincerity of his conversion. He understood the wisdom of the cross, and it was worth selling all to follow Jesus and receive the treasure of eternal life. Just as Jesus told the young man in this Sunday’s Gospel.