Redwood Journal

Writings by Harry Martin, Permanent Deacon.


23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jesus, are you serious?

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

Unidentified Catholic Church ~ Photo by Brandon Morgan

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.

This image of St. Francis is considered to be one of the oldest and possibly most realistic.

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.

Jesus is serious. Are you?

The Debt of Love

23 Sunday of Ordinary Time, 6 September 2020

Mass Readings: I: Ezekiel. 33:7-9; Responsorial: Psalm 95; II: Romans. 13:8-10; Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20

Today, Saturday, September 5th, is the 23rd anniversary of the passing into eternity of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. This little woman of immense faith has left us a witness and legacy of eternal riches. An objective study of her life would see a woman of intense, devout faith, courage and love. In recent years some have been surprised to learn she wrestled much with deep weariness and even depression. As with all the saints, with all of our family in Christ, it is imperative to recognize that St. Mother Teresa was…human. As we all are. We need to allow that with her deep and genuine faith she knew discouragement, doubts, weariness of soul. I would expect that with so much expected of her, for so long, that her humanity might well have been expressed in impatience or irritability with others. Any mother would quickly agree that it is a work of draining demand and challenges along with rich blessings and rewards. St. Mother Teresa provides us a very honest and realistic lesson on the Bible readings for this weekend, the lesson that we all, as followers of Christ are called to live our faith responding to our Debt of Love.

Storms of life happen. The basic desire of our human nature is for peace, security, a sense that all is and will be well. It is the ideal often pictured that the family, the church are to be places of such peace and safety. It is also, often the unrealistic ideal that struggles of financial needs, health, relationship conflicts or strife should not be found in our family, in our church. But…storms happen in life. Including in the life of our families and churches. Whether we are facing financial pressures, failures of health or the reality of sin struggles this is the environment of God’s Word for today and the place of our families and churches at least at times, on our journey toward eternity. It is also the setting of the work of St. Mother Teresa.

There is an immense degree of poverty in our world. Certainly of basic human needs of food, clothing, housing or water. Yet the poverty of soul is growing even greater. The loneliness and sense of isolation of so many in this hyper-cyber-connected society is of immense waves that batter human life. And we see the resulting human conditions that result. No one would knowingly, willingly seek to live and scrounge for sustenance in a garbage dump. Yet so many do. Rare would be the soul that would knowingly seek to live the life of a drug addict, or have a home filled with abuse of bodies and souls. I have never met anyone who purposefully chose to live a life. of wanton sexual promiscuity. Unless…. that is the only place they think they may find some expression of love or acceptance. It may be that is the only place they can pretend, for a few moments, that they are desirable..wanted. These great struggles are what God’s Word recognize and provide true hope with which to respond.

The Prophet Ezekiel, in our first reading, speaks of his being called to proclaim God’s Kingdom. He shares the eternal responsibility and consequences of his message. Or lack thereof. The prophet specifically addresses the difficult challenge of responding to the sins of the people. Ezekiel is called to speak honestly of sin and God’s call to repentance. Now we could easily excuse ourselves and say ‘well….that was for A Prophet!! It was for Ezekiel!! I am not Ezekiel, nor am I a prophet. So it doesn’t apply!! Does it?’ Indeed none of us are Ezekiels. None of us are prophets of the Old Testament make and model. But, the same Spirit that worked and spoke through Ezekiel is given us as followers of Christ. The same work of proclaiming God’s Kingdom is given us, the Body of Christ. We are not exempt. We all share this same debt of love.

In the Gospel for today we have a powerful message from Jesus that, in so many genuine ways was lived out by St. Mother Teresa. It is, in a way, illustrated by the tree above. The Kingdom of God, the Church, here on earth is a place and person of great beauty and strength. It is also a person and place of long and deep struggles and storms. For thousands of years now the doubters and haters have said the church is dead. They have gloated it is teetering ready to fall. What is not seen or understood, except with the graces of faith, is that those storms, the wounds, the battles are a part of the strength and beauty of God’s grace at work.

Jesus, in the Gospel talks of what we must do if a brother or sister, in Christ, has sinned against us. There are the three clear, simple steps in which the offense is stated to the person at fault with opportunity of repentance. If the individual fails to repent then they are to be considered as an outsider. Much is often focused upon the process or the punitive results if contrition is not found. And we must recognize immense, cruel abuses of these words have been twisted and applied in the name of church discipline. What is often minimized, or ignored altogether, is the purpose and intent of Jesus in these actions and His Words. We often neglect the redemptive holy healing of God seeking to be applied. It is often so easy to focus on the sin or the strife, especially if the sin or strife is not of our style as opposed to seeing the person. First. Foremost. Seeing the soul above the sin, the sickness or poverty of spirit. St. Mother Teresa saw Jesus in ALL she met. In all to whom she sought to minister. In Calcutta the number of, faithful Catholics and Christians that she might have helped would have been very small. Calcutta is a veritable populace of mostly Eastern beliefs. It did not matter to this saint. The purpose of St. Teresa was to see and care for Jesus in the poorest, sickest, the most fallen. The purpose of St. Teresa was, simply that of her Master to love redemptively. Did she preach against sin? Sometimes very powerfully and clearly. Sins such as greed, abortion, the neglect of the the poor she spoke against with courage and grace. But all sin she preached against by her actions first and then words. Always. In the Body of Christ, the Church, there are, always have been battles of sin, temptation and of the world. These battles have seen souls fall away and souls wounded. As Pope Francis has said, “the Church is a field hospital.” It is to these conditions, these realities that Jesus speaks today. Sin happens. Storms happen. but the redemptive, holy, healing love of God prevails.

St. Mother Teresa lived a life of intense simplicity. While clearly well taught and knowledgeable in her faith her life proclaimed, not a complex theology and moral system but a genuine and deeply rooted love for her Lord and Savior that grew to be expressed in her works of love for the needy, for all people. But what is often overlooked is that these works of love were intrinsically rooted in her love for God expressed in another outreach responding to her debt of love. The prayer life of St. Teresa was shared in her very works. It was also powerfully, devoutly shared in her prayer life with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, with Mary in the rosary and with her Sisters of Charity and the Church.

Jesus in the Gospel concludes this segment addressing the difficult realities of human relations with one of the most beautiful and extraordinary promises of Christ, the Living Word. He states that if two or more are gathered in His Name and agree in prayer IT SHALL BE GIVEN THEM! This consecrates, especially the prayers of the Mass the power of Christian prayer. But it also consecrates whenever two or more are gathered, in His Name. Jesus also makes another extraordinary promise. That whenever we are so gathered. He is in our midst. It is within the infinite holy confines of these promises that followers of Jesus can then gain clear direction and empowering to live out our holy legacy as God’s redeemed, to respond with St. Mother Teresa, all the saints and angels and each other in caring for our debt of love.

The message of Mother Teresa, of the Scriptures of today, of Jesus in our lives is not restricted by circumstances of pandemic, volatile ungodly politics and strife or economic upheaval. They are only affected by our willingness to see the boundless love God has given us and our responsibility and privilege to trust and share Him…to pay forward on our debt of love.

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