23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Francis)
I heard it said once that to know what we love, we can examine two things: our daily schedule and our bank statements. By doing this, we see how we invest two of the most important things we can “spend” in this world: time and money. In a roundabout way, this shows how we “spend” something a little less easy to see: our hearts and our love. Our Lord put it simply: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:21).
Given today’s Gospel, this is important. We heard Jesus say to the crowds gathered around Him that “anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” “Jesus enjoins his disciples to prefer him to everything and everyone, and bids them ‘renounce all that [they have]’ for his sake and that of the Gospel. Shortly before his passion he gave them the example of the poor widow of Jerusalem who, out of her poverty, gave all that she had to live on. The precept of detachment from riches is obligatory for entrance into the Kingdom of heaven” (CCC 2544).
“Okay, Jesus, that isn’t too bad, I suppose,” we might think. “I’ll donate to charity and help the poor.” But our Blessed Lord does not stop there. Not only did He say to renounce all our possessions, but He said we have to “hate” our closest family members, and even our life! Now before you run off to write a letter to your least favorite family member, let me clarify. The word that our Lord uses here does not have the same connotation that it does when He speaks of loving our enemies who hate us (cf., e.g., Lk 6:27). What it means here is rather that we cannot love anything or anyone, even family or our lives, more than Him. He and He alone must take the first place in our hearts. Remember the two great commandments? Love God and then neighbor, in that order. To turn that around would be to distort and destroy love, for “God is love” itself (1 Jn 4:16), and to love without Him is like trying to drink water from a sandpit. What is more, our love for God must be complete: heart, mind, and soul (cf. Mk 12:30–31). Nothing can be held back. “Christ [must be] the center of all Christian life. The bond with him takes precedence over all other bonds, familial or social” (CCC 1618). So, when our Lord tells us that we are to hate even father and mother, He means that we cannot love them more than we love Him. And, indeed, if our love for them or for ourselves eclipses our love for Him, we must “hate” them, that is, love them less. For in that case they have become obstacles between us and Him, and, in reality, we will not really be loving them at all if that love is not founded in God.
So where do we stand in this relation to these questions? Do we really love God and neighbor as we should? Do we hold on to our possessions to the point that we love them, perhaps even more than God? We have to ask ourselves these questions, and regularly, for if we do not, we can easily fall into idolatry — we can make things like our phones, our money, our food, whatever it might be, into gods which then take the place of the one, true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And if that happens in any way, as Jesus said today, we “cannot be His disciples.” And if we cannot be His disciples, we are doomed to be eternally destroyed . . .
All is not lost, however! Look again at the Gospel. Three times Jesus says that we cannot be His disciples. Basically, if we do not do these three things, we cannot follow Him. The first two we have mentioned: not loving God more than family or things. Unfortunately, we all do these things, and regularly to boot. The third time our Lord tells us we cannot follow Him, however, is actually our hope. Listen again: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Ah, there it is! The Cross! Our only hope!
Dear brothers and sisters, of course we do not love God as we ought. Of course, we love things more than God. For we do not love the CROSS! We do not like to suffer. To follow in the Passion of Christ. So often, all of us want the joys of Jesus without the Cross of Christ. But the Cross is central to everything. By the power of the Cross, we can be disciples of Jesus. By what He did and the Blood He shed, He gives us the power, the joy, and even the hope to love Him as we ought…and not to love other things as we ought not to. What is more, we have Him with us when we carry the Cross. He didn’t say “take up your Cross and start wandering around on your own.” He said “follow me.” So follow Him! He knows what it means to carry the Cross, and He can and will help us carry our own. And as we carry and follow, He will lead us down the right path, for He is the only true Way we can follow (cf. Jn 14:6).
As always, then, you have some homework this week. Broadly speaking, it is to strive to see things in the light of the Cross. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to go looking for suffering. The Lord will provide the right cross at the right time, which is to say, He will allow you to experience the Cross as He knows will be best for you. But, it does mean that when that cross comes we have to try to accept it, even if it just be something simple as having to wait behind someone at the ATM who is taking longer than we would like. More than this, however, I would like you to pray with the Cross this week. And to do that, you can look at what we said at the beginning: your bank statements and your daily schedule. How do you spend your time and money? Does our money go to superfluous things we don’t need, or is it used to support the Church and to help others who have less? Is our time spent in prayer, on works of charity, and with family, or wasted on too much television, or on sinful activities? Does our use of time and money “fit” with how our Lord spent His Life and Blood on the Cross? If not, “we cannot be His disciples.” But remain in hope, for we can always come back to the Cross. We can, sometime this week, sit down like the man about to build a tower or the king going to war, and take stock of where we stand in relation to the Cross. Anything that does not fit there has to go. We have to be willing to part with it for it has come between us and the Lord. Whatever remains will be a help in staying close to Jesus. So this week, dear friends, go to the Cross. Stay at the Cross. For there is Jesus. And He is the One we must follow if we hope to spend ourselves well.
Fr. A. Francis HGN