TV Mass Homily 9/8/2019

“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,” Jesus declares in the Gospel. Those are startling words. Yet, we know that Jesus loved his own family and friends, even sinners, that he healed and helped those in need, and then giving wholly of himself to his death on the cross. So what was he saying with these hard words? I think he was challenging us to get our priorities right, to recognize that half-hearted discipleship will not sustain us; that lukewarm faith will not nourish us; and that we must trust fully in him if we are to live with hope for the future and in peace in this passing chaotic world. In other words, to join a family stronger than blood, the family of faith St Paul describes.
The football season has begun. Half-hearted effort in football will result in being benched or being injured. County and state fairs are part of this time of year. Half-hearted efforts in raising animals or making crafts will result in no ribbons. Whole hearted effort will result not necessarily in perfect play or first place showings but will result in the satisfaction that comes from doing the best we are able.
Scripture instructs us to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. This requires having perspective about the things of this passing world and a moral compass to guide us as we live in it. It requires openness to God’s way and living with humility, knowing our need for and our inherent yearning for God. Jesus with these hard words is reminding us to live as best we can the very first of the commandments: “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him alone shall you serve.”
Our culture teaches the opposite, that things of this world lead to happiness and peace. Of special focus in our day is the pursuit of knowledge, technology and money. God has given us the gift of reason and we are to use that gift for good. However developments in science, technology, communication have led some to believe that if we have enough computer time we can explain and control all things by ourselves; that we can bend creation for our purposes and pleasures, that others are only pawns to be used, that God is irrelevant. When we think we know more than God, though, we get into trouble as our first reading notes, and the salvation of our souls is at risk. Consider the state of our world – violence, pornography, addictions of many kinds. Saint Mother Teresa spoke simply: “the greatest poverty in the world is loneliness, the lack of love. Gaze on Jesus” she said, “for he is always gazing on you, with eyes filled with love.”
Last year I was privileged to lead a pilgrimage to Poland in the footsteps of Saint John Paul II which included spending time the death camp at Auschwitz. It is a haunting record of godlessness. Sadly that same logic and language is alive in our own country today. For instance the wonderful technological development of ultrasounds can be used to save or heal the lives of unborn babies or as a screening device for abortions based on gender or designer preferences. God’s gift of reason and the knowledge that flows from it needs to be filtered through moral principles especially respect for all life and the laws established by our Creator for our own good.
To be a disciple of Christ requires discipline and recognition of its seriousness. Jesus’ reference to the thought process put into building a tower or fighting a war makes clear that there is more to take into account than good feelings. Half-hearted faith is exposed when times get tough and they do for us all.
“Whoever does not carry his own cross cannot be my disciples,” Jesus said. More hard words. Suffering in one form or another is a cross we all must bear. He showed us how to do so well. The Fathers of Vatican Council II wrote: “Christ by suffering for us not only gave us an example so that we might follow in his footsteps, but he also opened up a way.” If we follow that way, which is a personal relationship with him, life and death become holy and acquire new meaning and purpose.
A young man had bone cancer. To save his life his leg was amputated. He felt bitterness, anger, resentment. His life and dreams were shattered, or so he thought. In therapy he was asked to draw a picture of how he saw his body. He drew a picture of a vase and running through the vase was a deep black crack. This was how he saw himself, a vase cracked, never to be able to function as a vase again; he would never be the same again. However, he was fitted with an artificial leg. Over time with the support of family and the grace of God, he came to terms with the reality of his changed life and was healed in spirit. His life and purpose was not over but rather changed from what he had thought it would be. He decided to share his experience with others, living his faith whole-heartedly and reaching out to others facing similar life changing losses. He visited a young woman about his age who was suffering from breast cancer and was depressed. He showed up in running shorts so that his artificial leg was apparent, messaging that he was a survivor and that there is life after loss. She ignored him. The radio was playing music in the background. Desperate to get her attention he began dancing around the room. She first looked at him with bemusement, and then burst out laughing. She blurted out “if you can dance, then I can sing.” A healing moment of hope based on faith lived whole-heartedly.
Sometime later he was shown the picture he drew when he was so down and angry, the cracked vase. “Oh,” he said, “it isn’t finished.” He took a yellow crayon, “see here where it is broken; this is where the light comes through.” He drew a bright light streaming through the crack in the vase, in the picture of his body. It was the healing light of Christ, the light of hope. Half-hearted discipleship will not sustain us; lukewarm faith will not nourish. The light of Christ, even in the dark days of suffering or wonderment, will.
Someone said, ‘faith in Christ is not insurance we carry for the tough times; it is the nourishment we need for all times’. As in sports or fairs or the school of hard knocks, preparing with spiritual discipline, we can live in peace and hope, knowing that He has not only has given us example, he is the way, our way.