Message: There's a big difference between placing Jesus first and placing him second.
Last week I began a homily series on Spiritual Warfare. Full title: Strengthening Marriages and Families for Spiritual Warfare. You know, even though our children have summer vacation, the devil takes no vacation. Rather than letting summer become an opportunity for the enemy, Jesus wants us to use summer to get in fighting form.
Jesus presents himself like a general who requires total loyalty: "Whoever loves father or mother - son or daughter - more than me is not worthy of me." When you think about it, Jesus asks more than any sane general. Is Jesus insane? I don't think so. You and I might be missing something. Over the past two months - since the death of my Peruvian godson - I've asked about my priorities. Do I really put Jesus first - above any human consideration?
It can seem harsh to put friends and family in second place. I ask you, however, to think what happens when a person puts family above any other consideration. We can see it dramatically in a classic movie - The Godfather. It tells about a man willing to cheat, lie, intimidate - even murder - for his family. He commits his crimes with such finesse that people come out of the theater speaking fondly about him because "he really loves his family."
All this changes in part II. The Godfather not only destroys enemies; he destroys what he claims to value most - his very family. In the end he becomes isolated and embittered. The lesson is clear: the person who places his family first will lose his family. To save ones family requires loving something more than one's family.
Once a young lady shares with me that she is praying for her future husband. So I ask her what he is like. "I haven't met him yet," she says, "but I don't care what he looks like, whether he's skinny or hefty, rich or poor. I want a man who loves Jesus more than he loves me."
I remember her coming into church with a guy who for sure would get no starring role in a movie and would not make a bundle of money. Still they get married and he works hard. When he finishes work, he comes right home. He adores his children and loves his wife, but even more he loves Jesus.
If a man places Jesus first, all good things will come - not without trials and tribulations - but they will come.
As we celebrate Fourth of July, it's good to remember this paradox. Patriotism is a good thing. It can inspire self sacrifice for others. Still patriotism has limits. G.K. Chesterton observed "'My country, right or wrong,' is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, 'My mother, drunk or sober.'"
I love America and am grateful to belong to this county. I feel good pledging allegiance. Yet I cannot give America total allegiance. If I did it would not be good for me or for the country. President Trump has said things I disagree with, but I do agree with what he said at a Christian gathering: "In America, we don't worship government - we worship God."
By placing Jesus first we may find ourselves at odds with the government. Religious liberty has become a key issue in our nation. I pray that you and I never have to make a choice between God and loyalty to our country. Still, that time could come.
In other parts of the world, Christians face persecution, intimidation and death for their faith. In Egypt a few weeks ago a busload of Christians made their way on a pilgrimage to a monastery. Gunmen stopped the bus and separated the men from the women and children. They ordered the men to recite the shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith. When the men refused, the gunmen opened fire, killing at least 28 people.
While we pray this demonic violence will stop, we ask God to give us valiant hearts like those Coptic Christians. We may not be called to such heroism, yet Jesus says the same to us: "Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
Next week we have a change of pace as Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who...are burdened, and I will give you rest." In this spiritual war we need time for rest and retooling. That will be for next week.
The message this week is: There's a big difference between placing Jesus first and placing him second: place him second and you will lose everything; place Jesus first and you will gain all good things. This week we have a day or two for remembrance and relaxation. Why not set aside the first hour for Jesus - or at least the first twenty minutes? Everything else will go better. Enjoy a hot dog and your favorite brew, but remember Jesus words, "Whoever loves beer and burgers better than me..." (smile) Not exactly, but you get the idea: "Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Amen.
Last year when we went to Poland for World Youth Day it was inspiring to hear about people who put God above country by resisting the Nazis. I think of Franz Jagerstatter, an Austrian layman arrested for resisting the Nazi regime. Visiting him in jail he wife told him she wanted him to stay with her and their three little daughters, but she respected his conscience. On August 9, 1943 the Nazis executed him using a guillotine to behead him. In 2007 Pope Benedict declared him a martyr and beatified him. Famous director Terrence Malik has made major movie about Blessed Franz which will be released this year.
Blessed Franz Jagerstatter placed Jesus first - above every human consideration.
From Archives (Thirteenth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources)
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