Bottom line: Jesus will accept the tiniest step, but he will not rest until we have given him all. We see this illustrated in the difference between celibacy and not getting married.
In today's Gospel Jesus speaks about those who are "fit" and those who are "not fit" for the kingdom of the God. The bottom line is this: Jesus will accept the tiniest step, but he will not rest until we have given him all.
The tiniest gesture of faith can save a person. A man who embraces a crucifix on his deathbed can gain the kingdom of God. Once a woman told St. John Vianney that she was devastated because her husband had committed suicide. In a moment of mystical insight that only a great saint can receive, John Vianney exclaimed, "He is saved!" The woman was incredulous so the saint repeated, stressing each word, "I tell you he is saved. He is in Purgatory, and you must pray for him. Between the parapet of the bridge and the water he had time to make an act of contrition."*
God can save a person in an instance - by a single act of faith. That is very good news. But I must advise you. Once you have made that step, he will not rest until you have given all. He will settle for nothing less. You cannot give part for Jesus and hold back a part for yourself - or even for some other person.
We see Jesus' exigency in today's Gospel. A man says he will follow Jesus anywhere. Jesus reminds the man, that while foxes have dens and birds have nests, he promises no earthly security. Another man wants to follow Jesus, but only after he has buried his father. That's not a bad thing. In fact, to care for one's father is very good, but you cannot put even that duty ahead of Jesus. Family is the greatest good here on earth, but we cannot put family ahead of Jesus.
There's an paradox in all this. If a person makes family his greatest value, he will eventually lose his family. Do you remember the Godfather movies? They showed a man who would do anything for his "family," including even theft and murder. In the end the Godfather destroys his own family. Now, you and I may not be tempted to the same corruption as the Godfather, but if we put any person ahead of Jesus, we will lose that person. On the other hand, if we put Jesus first, we will do the very best for the ones we love.
Jesus tells us that once we take the step of faith, once we decide to follow him, we cannot look back. Pope Benedict stated this forcefully at the conclusion of the Year for Priests. At an evening vigil, before the Feast of the Sacred Heart, the pope addressed thousands of priests. Of them, five priests, representing the five continents, each asked the Holy Father a question. One of the questions was about priestly celibacy.
After speaking about the priest's identification with Christ, Pope Benedict noted that many people today criticize celibacy.** "In a certain sense," he observed, "this continuous criticism against celibacy may surprise, in a time when it is becoming increasingly fashionable not to get married." The Holy Father then said that "this not-getting married is something totally, fundamentally different from celibacy." The reason for not getting married could be this: to avoid any "definitive tie." The person might fear losing their "full autonomy," that is, having no restrictions - being able to decide at any moment what one wants to do. Celibacy - and marriage - is the direct opposite of this. It is, as the Holy Father stated, "a definitive 'yes'. It is to let oneself be taken in the hand of God, to give oneself into the hands of the Lord."
That's what Jesus tells us today when he speaks about those who are "fit for the kingdom of God." The person fit for the kingdom says "yes" to God; he puts Jesus first. Once again, the bottom line is this: Jesus will accept the tiniest step, but he will not rest until we have given him our totality.
*Here is more complete account:
An extraordinary example of the "between the stirrup and the ground" phenomenon was described by the Abbe Trochu in his biography of the Cure d'Ars. A certain Abbe Guillaumet met a lady on a train who was in deep mourning and when he said that he was going to Ars she asked, "Monsieur l'Abbe, "will you allow me to accompany you to Ars? I may as well go there, as elsewhere.... I am travelling to distract my thoughts."
When they reached the village, the priest led the lady to a place near the church and suddenly, the Cure appeared. He stopped in front of the lady in black who, following the example of the crowd, had gone down on her knees. He bent over her and whispered into her ear: "He is saved!" The woman was startled and M. Vianney repeated: "He is saved!"
A gesture of incredulity was the only reply of the stranger. Whereupon the saint, stressing each word, repeated, "I tell you he is saved. He is in Purgatory" and you must pray for him. Between the parapet of the bridge and the water he had time to make an act of contrition. Though your husband professed to have no religion, he sometimes joined in your prayers; this merited for him the grace of repentance and pardon at the last moment.
The next day, the lady explained to Abbe Guillaumet that she had been in black despair because of the tragic death of her husband: "He was an unbeliever, and my one object in life was to bring him back to God. I did not get the time. He committed suicide by drowning himself. I could only think of him as lost. Oh! Were we never again to meet? Now you hear that the Cure d'Ars told me more than once: 'He is saved!' So I shall meet him again in heaven. Monsieur L'Abbe, I am cured!"
**In his homily at the conclusion of the Year for Priests, the pope made a particularly strong statement regarding the clergy abuse scandal:
And so it happened that, in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light – particularly the abuse of the little ones, in which the priesthood, whose task is to manifest God’s concern for our good, turns into its very opposite. We too insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again; and that in admitting men to priestly ministry and in their formation we will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey, so that the Lord will protect them and watch over them in troubled situations and amid life’s dangers. Had the Year for Priests been a glorification of our individual human performance, it would have been ruined by these events. But for us what happened was precisely the opposite: we grew in gratitude for God’s gift, a gift concealed in “earthen vessels” which ever anew, even amid human weakness, makes his love concretely present in this world. So let us look upon all that happened as a summons to purification, as a task which we bring to the future and which makes us acknowledge and love all the more the great gift we have received from God.
From Archives (Homilies for Thirteenth Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
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