Bottom line: To resist worldly values requires discipline - an ordered life, religion. Jesus makes it clear that we will not be saved by comfortable, spiritual thoughts.
It is interesting being a priest in Washington State. We are the most unchurched state in the nation. According to one study, only about 29% of Washingtonians take part in a worship service in any given week. I often run into people who do not attend any church. Seeing that I am a priest, they will sometimes react defensively and say, "Father, I am not religious, but I am spiritual."
The response I would like to give is: "Well, I am the opposite - I am not spiritual, but I am trying to be religious." The truth is that I do not have many lofty spiritual thoughts. When I pray, I am beset by distractions: I start thinking about some problem or some person who troubles me or what I would like to have for dinner. I am more sensual than spiritual and I have to keep bringing my mind back.
Bishop Sheen used to tell about the saint who encountered a man that claimed he could pray with no distractions. The saint was skeptical and told the man he would give him his horse if he could say one Our Father without getting distracted. The man was overjoyed and immediately began, "Our Father, who art in heaven." Then he stopped and asked, "Does that include the include the saddle?"
Well, I admit that like that man, I get easily distracted when I pray. I am not spiritual, but I try to be religious. That brings us to today's Gospel. The root meaning of religious is not pietism, but rule or discipline that holds things together. Jesus tells us that we become his disciples not by having lofty spiritual thoughts, but by laying down one's life, taking up the cross, dying to self. It is no coincidence that disciple and discipline are almost the same word. If we are going to be disciples of Jesus, we have to accept a certain discipline in our lives. That means attending Sunday Mass and making time for prayer - whether one feels like it or not.*
Discipline is essential to achieving anything worthwhile. Someone asked the great novelist Flannery O'Connor how to become a writer. She admitted that writing is a gift - but it also requires discipline. Even though she suffered a painful disease called Lupus, she blocked out several hours each morning at her desk. Rarely did she allow anything to interrupt those hours. Sometimes she did not produce a single sentence that she later used, but over time she wrote some of the greatest short stories in American literature.
To achieve anything of value requires discipline - a rule of life. Do not be afraid of the word "religion." Even though it has a negative ring for some people, its root meaning is positive: "re - ligare," to hold or join together, to sacrifice oneself for others, to lay down ones life.
Religion, which is a rule of life or discipline, does eventually lead to true spirituality. St. Paul says it beautifully, "I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship." Sometimes the only thing one can bring to prayer is his body, but that in itself is an act of worship - and the mind and heart often follow.
After telling us to "offer your bodies as a living sacrifice," Paul goes on to say, "Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind." We are constantly being tempted to conform to this world. To resist worldly values requires discipline - an ordered life, religion. Jesus makes it clear that we will not be saved by comfortable, spiritual thoughts. "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus says to Peter. You are thinking the herd. If you want to be my disciple, "deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me."
*For forty years we have been telling young (and old) people not to go to Mass out of a sense of obligation. The results are evident - and disastrous.
General Intercessions for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A (from Priests for Life)
From Archives (for Twenty-second Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
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Fr. Brad's Homilies (well worth listening)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
(World Youth Day 2011)
Bulletin (Pier Giorgio Frassati Boys Club, Defending Abortion with Outmoded Embryology, Suicide not Answer to Suffering)
Chinese Bishop Arrested as Olympics Close
Preaching Schedule (August - December 2008)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru