That said, I really struggled to come up with something to write about our readings and Gospel for this Sunday, the 23rd in Ordinary Time. I have made an effort lately, to cooperate with grace and write some sort of homiletic reflection for every Sunday. This Sunday has been the greatest challenge recently; this morning I realized just why that is the case.
It is because on this Sunday we are challenged to consider just how we live our faith. To use language that Father Pat frequently employs, "it is much easier to be an admirer of Jesus than a real follower."
How true is that!
The first reading, from the Book of Wisdom reminds us of this:
Who can know God's counsel,
or who can conceive what the LORD intends?
We would all like to think that we know, but honestly, we do not. That, in and of itself is reason enough for many to walk away from a life of faith. Just forget about it, if you can't know, why try?
Then we hear this:
For the deliberations of mortals are timid,
and unsure are our plans.
For the corruptible body burdens the soul
and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.
Timid - check. Unsure - check. And the corruptible body burdens the soul; that rings pretty true to me after a summer vacation that was spent in Ellis Hospital. And earthen shelter weighing down the mind, without a doubt. I can think of a million things that this old house of ours needs but that we can't really afford to do.
So who has the time and the will to follow this seemingly confusing and ambiguous God? It is exhausting and why bother?
However, what is the alternative?
In the second reading, we hear from St. Paul in his Letter to Philemon. St. Paul, by now an older man and in prison is writing to Philemon and making the point that we should be acting out of something far beyond a sense of obligation and just following along. Note the last line shown and underlined please.
I should have liked to retain him for myself,
so that he might serve me on your behalf
in my imprisonment for the gospel,
but I did not want to do anything without your consent,
so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.
Finally, our Gospel, from Luke...
"If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple."
OK, this is tough, Jesus is not kidding around. This brings my mind right back to the first Wisdom reading and the words "who can conceive what the Lord intends?" It is so comforting to think of God's will and Jesus' presence in ways that make us feel good, but what about when we encounter all the challenges of what does not "feel good?"
Which brings me back to the Letter to Philemon and the reminder that what we do not be forced, but voluntary.
This is why this work of being a Christian is so hard. It is not about obligation as it is about obedience. And obedience is more about listening and about freeing yourself to be in the moment, unlike obligation which is a duty and often a painful one, done without a free and open heart.
So no wonder I did not want to write about this, who can really do this? I know I usually can't. Most of the time I actually do want to do what is required to follow Christ and I do so freely and with an open heart. Then the reality of our shared human condition kicks in. This means malaise, reluctance, an "everything but" mentality, or worse yet, me imagining I can truly understand what Jesus' asks of me. Hah!
Reset. Start over.
The only way to "do" this, I think, is to stay with it and to admit my weaknesses, my failures and to constant cleave myself to Christ, which I do in community. And I must do it over and over again... that is the "path" spoke of in the Wisdom reading, I believe and the community which St. Paul reminds us of always and of the sacrifice, the jarring sacrifice that Jesus speaks of in Luke's Gospel.
Easier said than done.