by Fr. Tommy Lane
“What does God want me to do with my life?” is a question we hear on this campus. “Who can know God’s counsel or who can conceive what the Lord intends?” asks the first reading (Wis 9:13). The reading concludes that God sent wisdom and “thus were the paths of those on earth made straight.” (Wis 9:18) That wisdom sent by God is Jesus. Jesus is the Wisdom of God, the Revelation of God. So now when we want to know God’s counsel or conceive what the Lord intends - to use the words of the first reading - listen to the words of Jesus. God has not left us in the dark. When we have to discern, we have the Wisdom of God in Jesus to guide us.
We see that Wisdom of God as Jesus gives three pieces of advice in the Gospel on what it means to be his disciple (Luke 14:25-33). The first advice for a would-be disciple of Jesus is to place Jesus first always, above everything, even family. Jesus uses the strong Semitic language that one cannot be his disciple without “hating” family members. Of course Jesus does not literally mean to hate others. After all, he said we are to love our enemies (Luke 6:27) and he told the rich young man to honor his father and mother (Mark 10:19). In our language now we would say that Jesus is asking us to love them less than himself. Jesus is asking for an undivided heart, purity of intention as we give ourselves to him. A spirit of detachment from everything gives us the freedom to commit ourselves to Jesus.
The second piece of advice is that whoever does not carry his cross cannot be Jesus’ disciple (Luke 14:27). Everyone who heard Jesus knew what carrying a cross meant since crucifixion was the capital punishment used by the Roman occupiers of Palestine. So some form of death to self is necessary to follow Jesus. It is another way of repeating the first advice, to be detached from everything to be able to give ourselves to Christ. Whatever the particular cross is for each of us, notice that Jesus says to carry it after him. So we are not alone, we are following Jesus with his cross. For Paul in our second reading today, his cross at that particular time was being in prison for his faith in Jesus as he wrote that letter from prison (Philemon 9).
The third piece of advice, to renounce all our possessions to follow Jesus (Luke 14:33), is lived by those who enter religious life as they literally detach themselves from everything so that their only possession is Jesus. For the rest of us it means living the spirit of detachment remembering the words of Jesus elsewhere that we cannot serve both God and mammon (Luke 16:13). So really all three pieces of advice from Jesus are asking the same, to be free from everything so that we can give ourselves fully to Jesus.
Jesus says his advice about detachment is for those who are deliberating on becoming his disciples, for those who are asking “What does God want me to do with my life?” Jesus says they must consider carefully before embarking on the life of a disciple if they are capable of making these sacrifices just like someone who builds a tower needs to work out if he can finish the tower and someone going to war needs to work out if it is worth it. For those discerning a vocation to the priesthood, these words of Jesus challenge to be diligent in discerning properly like those in the parables today who had to discern about building a tower or going to battle. While the Gospel today focuses on what we give up for Jesus, it is good to remember that what we gain is far more than what we give up. Instead of thinking only about what a priest gives up, think also of what a priest gains in Christ!
Jesus’ words have meaning for all of us and not just for those who are actively discerning a vocation now. As we hear Jesus’ words we recognize that we still have to give our hearts fully to Jesus. There is a battle we are entering, a battle against evil, as we are reminded by the prayer of St. Michael, “St. Michael the Archangel. Defend us in battle, be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil…” Often that battle is inside ourselves. Tower of David is one of the titles we give to Our Lady which is derived from a description in the Canticle of Canticles of the beloved’s purity and fidelity. Every time we win a battle against the wickedness and snares of the devil, our tower of fidelity rises higher.
For this battle and tower building obviously we need a life of prayer. Prayer is the food to give us strength to follow Jesus in the detached way he asks. Prayer is that daily companionship with Jesus when we actively put Jesus first, but not only then, it also strengthens us to put Jesus first for the rest of the day. Another strength for the battle and tower building is having friends who are also following Jesus. We see this in the second reading today in the close friendship between Paul and Onesimus. Paul brought Onesimus to believe in Jesus; Paul says he became Onesimus’ spiritual father while in prison (Philemon 10). This reminds us it is good to call a priest “Father” because a priest is his parishioners’ spiritual father. Paul describes Onesimus as a “beloved brother.” Brotherhood with others who are also detached and following Jesus helps us in our detachment and following of Jesus.
“What does God want me to do with my life?” Jesus’ words today provide some help in answering that question. But we also see a beautiful answer to that question in a person to whom we all feel close in some way, St. Teresa of Calcutta, canonized today by Our Holy Father, Pope Francis (September 4, 2016). She was detached from everything to be free to love Jesus in everyone. She carried her crosses humbly and lived evangelical poverty. She went into battle to save the lives of the unborn and her fidelity to Jesus is like a tower. She had close companions on her journey, the Missionaries of Charity whom she founded. In his homily today, Pope Francis said,
Today, I pass on this emblematic figure of womanhood and of consecrated life to the whole world of volunteers: may she be your model of holiness! I think, perhaps, we may have some difficulty in calling her “Saint Teresa”: her holiness is so near to us, so tender and so fruitful that we continue to spontaneously call her “Mother Teresa”. May this tireless worker of mercy help us increasingly to understand that our only criterion for action is gratuitous love, free from every ideology and all obligations, offered freely to everyone without distinction of language, culture, race or religion. Mother Teresa loved to say, “Perhaps I don’t speak their language, but I can smile”. Let us carry her smile in our hearts and give it to those whom we meet along our journey, especially those who suffer.
St. Teresa of Calcutta, Pray for us.
© Fr. Tommy Lane 2016
More material for the Twenty-Third Sunday Year C
Related Homilies: Taking up our Cross after Jesus
stories about our cross