23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time ~ 4 September 2022 ~ Bible Readings for Mass: I. Wisdom 9:13-18; Responsorial: Psalm 90; II: Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Gospel: Luke 14: 25-33
In Scripture, and often in the Gospels, we may read something and, wonder, if not ask, Jesus are you serious? This vividly is encountered when Jesus speaks of His cross or when Jesus speaks to us of taking up our cross and living as true disciples. It is so easy to respond as Peter did to Jesus as he foretold his upcoming passion and crucifixion. Now 2000 years plus after the death and resurrection of Christ, we still struggle. There is a sincere and holy desire to make the cross a matter of deepest reverence, awe, and love. But, if we are honest there is also something in our humanity that desires, with the beauty, the majesty, the gilded fretwork. to camoflage the reality of the cross, of being crucified. And in our relationship with Scripture, with the Gospels we often do the same. We rationalize and seek to explain away what Jesus is saying, what Jesus would be asking of us.
One of the blessings of Vatican II was to bring the worship of God to be more accessible, and more relatable to all the faithful. The old altar rails, while often beautiful, made for a very real physical, psychological, and spiritual barrier between the disciple and the specific presence of God. It was seen and understood that to follow Jesus closely one must have a vocation and prepare to be able to pass that altar rail. The concepts of vocation, valid preparation, of deep and specific discipleship, are very true and worthy. But that does not minimize or excuse the call of Jesus to each of us, to all the faithful to follow Him. Fully.
Jesus in our Gospels speaks what may seem an absurd and cruel contradiction. To say we cannot follow Him without hating our parents, wife, children, family, and even our own life seems a contradiction to all the rest of God’s Word. We are commanded to honor our parents. The love and care of husband and wife, of their children is a sacred duty and grace shown throughout Scripture. Why is Jesus saying this? Was he serious?
After following these words with the lesson of understanding the costs of a building project, or going into battle we cannot escape the truth. Our Lord is saying… Count the costs! Know what you are getting into! Jesus then states with great clarity: “anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” Jesus is serious. He wants us to follow Him, without reservation or excuse. He wants us to say and live as did his mother when she told the angel: “Be it done unto me according to your word.”
Taking up our cross, following the Crucified is NOT easy. We may try all we want to beautify, gild, and drape with efforts to shield the naked truth. But following Jesus will cost us. Salvation is a free gift of grace. God’s mercy and forgiveness, in Christ, is fully unmerited. But what occurs with true salvation changes everything. We can no longer live for ourselves, or for the things and promises of the world. The eternal-life-changing graces of salvation are an encounter with God who is love. And true love calls for responses. True love calls us to follow… Love who is God.
When Jesus says we must hate our loved ones, even our lives, and that we must renounce all our possessions he was speaking fully, truthfully compared to our love for God. Anyone, anything that hinders, that comes between us and our cross, that comes between us and our way with and to God is not to be. This is a profound but clear lesson that as good, as holy as blessed as our relationships are meant to be, by God, or as good, as needed as our possessions maybe they are nothing compared to God and the love God calls us to know. Many saints grew to relate and grow in this difficult but joyous truth. But of the many St. Francis of Assisi perhaps lived this relationship most faithfully.
The story of St. Francis, his on-growing conversions, his sufferings, his joy with God, and his commitment to his journey with Christ is a powerful witness of a simple man with some education who took the words of Jesus seriously. The Gospels in particular spoke to Francis with razor-sharp power and love. His relationship with the Living Word incarnate, with Jesus caused him to renounce his very considerable wealth and status, to painfully love God above his parents, and to accept the wooing of Lady Poverty. This relationship of Yes! to His Lord would bring him to experience the painful graces of the stigmata in the year 1224, two years before he died. He is accepted as the first saint to receive this extraordinary grace.
Francis, of course, would be used by God to establish the Franciscan Orders. The vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience were integral to these orders from the beginning. But Francis would teach us an essential aspect of living out the journey of discipleship. Early on he came to know people who wanted to share and follow this radical but simple call to follow Christ. Some would become brothers and monks. Some would join his dear friend Clare in the women’s order of Franciscans. But some might try and realize they were called to have a family or work in a trade. Some came to Francis already married yet wanting to become fellow Franciscan followers of their Crucified Jesus.
In the wisdom of God spoken of in our first reading from Mass today, the Holy Spirit, through Francis taught that indeed God was calling each of His faithful to follow Him, without reservation, with Christ as fully Lord, God, and Savior. But God was calling each of the faithful within and according to their walk, their place, and their station in life. For some, it might be in celibate chastity and total poverty with obedience to God in their holy order. And for some their way of the cross may be the challenges of caring for a family, making a home and caring for the needs of those in their care. Francis was very clear the specific aspects of their call were no more or less holy than someone elses. What mattered was their simple, heartful yes to God.
As it was for the first disciples of Jesus, as it has been for all the saints, as it was for Francis of Assisi and as it is for each of us, regardless of our status, age, health, or wealth Jesus would be calling us to follow Him, without reservation or excuses to, very simply take our Lord and His Word seriously and faithfully, to know Jesus is totally serous.