Bottom line: You and I can choose who we will become. The person who chooses Jesus discovers his true identity.
Recently I have been reading Reinventing Yourself by Steve Chandler. As in his other books, Chandler addresses an important issue: How to stop being a victim and start taking ownership of one's life. This is hard for us, especially today, since we live in a society which promotes the victim mentality - that my problems are all caused by other people and blind forces beyond my control. Using a variety of examples, Chandler argues that we do not have to fall into the victim mentality. By making intelligent commitments and following through, we can determine who we will become.* We do not have to feel trapped in a personality we cannot change. We can, by making the right decisions, reinvent ourselves. It is a simple and basic message, but we need to hear it over and over. I know that I do.
Jesus says something similar in today's Gospel. He talks about making a commitment and following through. In this case it is the most basic commitment - to become a disciple. Jesus compares discipleship to fighting a battle or to building a tower. Before you enter battle, be sure you have sufficient troops to engage the enemy. Before you start building the tower, count your bricks. In other words, be prepared to follow through.
Jesus tells us exactly what it costs to be a disciple. He doesn't hide it from us. He tells right up front that it will cost everything. It means putting Jesus ahead of any human relationship. To get his point across he uses a harsh word. He speaks about "hating" one's father or mother, wife or children, brothers and sisters. The word is meant to shock us out of our complacency, the idea that we can hold something back from Jesus.** Even when we recognize that the word "hate" in this context means to "love less," it is still pretty shocking. I mean, who does Jesus think he is? Is he saying he is more important than ones parent, spouse, child or sibling? The answer to that question is that Jesus not only thinks, but knows who he is: the incarnation of God. As Emmanuel, God among us, Jesus must ask for our total allegiance.
Sometimes people look at discipleship as if it was like belonging to a political party. But we do not follow Jesus because we are comfortable with his platform. I have to admit that many of the things Jesus said make me very uncomfortable. But I follow him, I want to be his disciple because I believe he is who he says he is: the Bridegroom, the Lord of the Sabbath, the one who forgives men's sins.
Jesus in a sense wants us to reinvent ourselves - to discover our true selves in relationship to him. It means making a commitment to Jesus and following though - taking up one's cross and following Jesus. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta illustrates this commitment to Jesus. On September 5 we observed the tenth anniversary of her death - and in those ten years we have learned amazing things about Blessed Mother Teresa. We knew her as a woman of great hope and joy – and so she was – but in the final decades of her life she experienced feelings of doubt, loneliness and abandonment. God seemed absent, heaven empty and worst of all her own suffering seemed to count for nothing. In a letter to her spiritual director, she confided, "just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing." ***
Now, even though I have had my ups and downs, I have never experienced intense, prolonged feelings of abandonment. And when I do have those kind of feelings, it usually means that I need to change something in my life - that my way of thinking has become worldly and self-centered. But it was different with Mother Teresa. The Lord knew her total commitment and asked even more - probably not so much for her sake but ours - so that we would learn from her example to keep going when things rough. Some people have misinterpreted Mother Teresa's experience of desolation as a "crisis of faith," but that misses the point. She had the deepest possible faith - she took up her cross every day and followed Jesus.
Blessed Mother Teresa knew something that most of us do not know: Suffering has meaning in Jesus. It is worth suffering any deprivation for his sake. Jesus came to show us the Father. He came to bring us God. He is God. That is why he must come first. If we have Jesus, we have everything. Jesus spoke about "hating" parents, spouse, child and sibling - that is, loving them less than Jesus himself. He said that because not because he literally wants us to hate them, but because he wants us to love them in the correct way. If we put Jesus first, we will do right by others. We will learn to really love that other person. My dear parishioners, let me put it to you as plainly as I can: The best thing you can do for someone - whether parent, wife, child, sibling or friend - the best thing you can for that other person is to become a disciple of Jesus.
For most of us September is the beginning of a new year. It is a time to make a new beginning - to reinvent oneself, to discover your true self in Jesus. That means: Put Jesus first. Stop being a victim. Like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, embrace your life - with all its pain and possibility. Take up your cross and become a disciple. Put Jesus ahead of every consideration - and you will find the joy you were meant to have. The bottom line is this: You and I can chose who we will become - and if you chose Jesus, you will find your true identity.
*A paragraph from Chandler's book deserves to quoted in full. After describing how his sister turned down a lucrative offer in order to honor a commitment, Chandler says:
An owner's self-talk around her relationship to commitments is powerful and simple: "I create the commitments in my life. They are mine. I can create them or destroy them." A victim has no such relationship to a commitment. To a victim, commitments are simply feelings. They come and go, like stomach gas. "I'm not feeling the same commitment to my wife as I used to," victims will say. "I don't feel the as committed to this job as I once did." But commitments are not feelings. They are decisions. And it's only by seeing that all our commitments have been decisions, that we can honor those decisions. We can refresh them each day. A commitment can become a part of our life that we are peaceful about. Reinvention occurs, not in overworked frenzy, but in peace. In the most peaceful center of our being. A silent, gentle decision is made, and a new you is create."
**Jesus mentions the relationships which are most noble - which call a person to get over himself and focus on the other. Unless one puts Jesus first, even those relation can spoil and become mutually destructive. The Godfather movies dramatically depict how putting family above God leads not only to the harm of others, but also the destruction of the very family that the Godfather had made into an idol.
***In his homily for the Beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Pope John Paul II said:
Mother Teresa shared in the Passion of the crucified Christ in a special way during long years of "inner darkness". For her that was a test, at times an agonizing one, which she accepted as a rare "gift and privilege". In the darkest hours she clung even more tenaciously to prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. This harsh spiritual trial led her to identify herself more and more closely with those whom she served each day, feeling their pain and, at times, even their rejection. She was fond of repeating that the greatest poverty is to be unwanted, to have no one to take care of you.According to St. John of the Cross the "dark night" can have three possible causes: 1) carelessness, such as falling into sin, dulling one's conscience, not setting aside time for prayer, etc. 2) physical ailments or 3) testing, which leads to deeper communion with God. Hint: If you have no major medical problem, don't assume that a depressed spirit means you are becoming a great saint. Look to cause #1.
From Archives (23rd Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (School Dads Refurbish Soccer Field, Death of Prominent Parishioners, Extraordinary Form Mass on Friday)
Preaching Schedule (Sept - Dec 2007)
St. Mary of the Valley Album
Personal Reflection on New Roman Missal English-Language Translation
My Vocation Story (23 minute video, made at Everett Serra Club on August 14, 2010)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
A big thank you to the person who sent a $200 donation. It came at a perfect moment. Thank you!
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
(new, professional website)
KRA's & SMART Goals (updated June 2013)
A Homilist's Prayer