Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time; readings: Wisdom 9:13-18b; Philemon 9-10,12-17; Luke 14:25-33
Roman Catholicism seemed like something that happened to me: I was born into it. Luckily I became an adolescent during the Second Vatican Council. Like most teens, I didn’t like things just happening to me; but all of a sudden, the Gospels were put in our hands and today’s Gospel told me that being a disciple isn’t something that just happens to me. It’s a deliberate choice and it was up to me, which certainly appealed to my vanity and craving for self-determination!
But I also grasped from today’s Gospel that there were strings attached: could I see the commitment through? When I reached the verge of adulthood, I wondered whether I could! That impasse was an important crossroad, a question requiring more patience and reflection than most of us (myself included) care to give at that point in life. It did me no harm to question myself.
The longer I live, the more I learn from this Gospel. I’ve learned that this isn’t a choice like those I face in the supermarket: which brand do I buy? Do I want to save money? Do I demand certain ingredients in the product? Am I looking for the flavor that suits my taste? That’s all about preference and comfort, pandering to my budget or my delight. To choose to be a disciple is more vital that that, like laying the right foundation or surviving a battle. The stakes are high. At this moment in my life, I’d describe it as the choice between truth and delusion.
Two questions from this Gospel now seem crucial to me. Which cross do I take up? And whom do I follow?
Jesus says, take up your cross. Not someone else’s. Not the substitutes I make for myself but the cross that arises from my actual life. Do you remember the kind of spirituality that invented all sorts of penances to keep us occupied? Be sociable with the unpleasant person; don’t go to the movies during Lent; give up comfort food. But those penances weren’t my cross, the cross that emerges from who I am. To act responsibly in our times and society: that is truly a cross for me, juggling so many factors beyond my control. The endless wars and political strife, the polarization, the incapacity of our society to seek the common ground or learn from experience; the exercise of coercion, wealth and power all constitute my cross. Then there’s my personality, my limitations, my blind spots and my fears.
Equally important here is what Jesus doesn’t say: all these factors are more than just burdens or problems or challenges. They could be gateways to discovery, gateways I would otherwise evade. They could be gateways to greater strength and vulnerability, responsiveness, humility; gateways to freedom and peace–even to joy and hope. That too is my cross and a cause to rejoice.
Whom do I follow? I know as well as you that we are trying to follow Jesus. Do I let myself know him better? Do I become more and more familiar with him through the Gospel? Do I meet his mercy in sacramental reconciliation or his self-giving in the Eucharist? Am I truly a member of his body, baptized into his death? Do I recognize him in the people who enter my life or in their needs? Have I grown more intimate with him in prayer? Am I following the living Christ?