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09/08/19 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Reggie

G.K. Chesterton is supposed to have said that Christianity is a faith that comforts the afflicted… And afflicts the comfortable.

There’s deep truth in those words. They’re true because the Church must be faithful to her founder, Jesus Christ. Christ wants us to become saints. He wants us to have the infinite joy of really loving, and then of being with him forever in heaven. Any parent knows that sometimes true love is tough love. Christ isn’t afraid to shake us out of our comfort zone to call us into a deeper relationship with him.

And his words in today’s gospel are unequivocal. Luke tells us that “Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them.” What did Jesus say to the great crowds? “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.”

But about the great commandment to love? Is Christ telling us to hate the very people we should love the most? No. In ancient Palestine, figures of speech were often vivid. The more important the point, the more vivid the image. For example, when Christ says: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off,” he’s not saying that every person who’s ever stolen a cookie from the cookie jar should start amputating body parts. He is saying that we need to be radical in our fight against sin. If a certain situation or place or person is always leading us away from God, he wants us to have the courage to renounce that situation or place and put healthy boundaries with that person.

In the same way, today’s gospel is not a divine license to hate our brother and sisters. Christ means that unless we love him more than we love our families, we can’t really follow him. And if we value our own life and our own comfort more than we love Him, we’re not going to be able to experience the joy of a deep friendship with him.

This means that we’re called to love others more. So often we love others for what they can do for us, or we love them in a possessive way. But the more we put Christ in first place in our lives, the more we truly love others. Anyone who’s seen a picture of Mother Teresa of Calcutta holding a sick baby or a dying person knows this is true. The saints are those who love God above all things; and they love others with that same love.

Christ gives us to key to loving him above all else: it means letting go of our possessive love. The first reading from the Book of Wisdom today exclaims: “For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans… and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.”

Clinging to our own plans, to our own possessions, or to other people weighs down our hearts. Christ makes this abundantly clear at the end of today’s gospel when he says: “Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

He’s not saying that everyone should run off and sell their homes and cars right after Mass. We have a responsibility to others, and we need to use the gifts of God wisely. He is, however, calling us to give up our possessive, hoarding attitude towards material possessions and towards others.

He’s inviting us to carry our crosses by renouncing our possessions for the infinite gain of loving him above all things. 

An African priest tells a story about how hunters in his country trap monkeys. They cut a coconut in half and hollow out the contents. In one half of the shell they bore out a hole large enough for a monkey’s unclenched hand to pass through. In the other half they place an orange. Then they tie the two pieces together and hang the coconut from a tree. When a monkey comes along it smells the orange and draws near the coconut. It stuffs its hand through the hole and seizes the orange, but it can’t withdraw its clenched fist. However, it refuses to let go of the orange, so it remains trapped until the hunters spring from their hiding places and catch it. All the monkey has to do is let go of the orange in order to escape, but its greed traps it there and, in the end, it loses both its orange and its freedom.  

Sometimes we just have to let go.

Christ invites us to examine our lives and see what’s holding us back. What are we trying to possess?

One very practical way to renounce in order to have the surpassing greatness of a deeper friendship with Christ is in material possessions. Maybe we live terrified of what might happen if we lose our job or our house. The antidote to that is to start giving to others. Decide as a family how you’re going to help the less fortunate. Christ says, “Give and you shall receive,” and the more we’re generous with others the more free we become to receive God’s love.

We come to the Mass each Sunday to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, who renounced everything in order to die for us and bring us back into a relationship with God.

We ask him for the courage to love him so much that we renounce our selfishness and are able to joyfully repeat the words of today’s psalm: “In every age, O God, you have been our refuge.”

 

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