Bottom line: This Sunday Jesus tells us what the key to heaven's door costs.
I begin by tying this Gospel to the preceding two Sundays. They form a trilogy. Two weeks ago Jesus told us we can enter heaven only by the narrow gate. Last Sunday Jesus offered us the key to that gate: humily - "every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." Self-exaltation leads to hell, but humility opens the gate to heaven. Today Jesus tells us what the key costs: "Any of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple."
It should not surprise us that the key to heaven has a price. Jesus tells us to "calculate the cost." If you want to build a tower, says Jesus, make sure you have the resources to complete it. We know that well. If you are going to buy a house or a car, figure out first whether you can make the monthly payments. If you want to be a disciple of Jesus - which is the only path to heaven - know in advance what it will cost: everything. In the end you must be prepared to turn over all that you possess. If you want the key to a car, it will cost quite a bit. If you want the key to a home, be prepared to make an even greater expense. If you want the key to heaven, you will have to make the greatest sacrifice - everything, all you possess.*
This year our parish youth will learn about a man who made that sacrifice in a dramatic way. He was a young man with a wealthy father. He had a great singing voice and was the life of the party. Other young men gathered around him - and the girls adored him. He hoped to win fame by a military career. One day he fell ill and in a state of delirium, he had a strange dream. According to one version, death came to him, not carrying a scythe but tongs like they used to catch a rabid dog.** As the tongs extended to him, he begged for a few more years of life. When death laughed at him, he asked for a month, then for a day, then for one more hour. As death closed in, he awoke. He realized all the things he pursued had little value. He wanted a treasure that he could keep forever. He made a dramatic decision - to give up everything in order to purchase something that would last. You may have heard of this young man. His baptismal name was John, but he became better known by his nickname - Francesco ("Frenchy") or as we say, "Francis."
When we go to World Youth Day next August, our young people will be visiting Francis' tomb in the town of Assisi. St. Francis of Assisi show us what we all must do in order to purchase the key to heaven. We have to renounce all possession - give up everything - to be a disciple of Jesus.
As we prepare for the World Youth Day pilgrimage, we will discuss what it means for us to give up everything. The example of St. Francis will help. We also have someone closer to our time: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. By a nice coincidence today is her feast day. She died on September 5, 1997. Blessed Teresa shows us how we can obtain the key to heaven today. We can do it, she says, by serving the poorest of the poor. I would like to conclude this homily with a quote from Mother Teresa:
"We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty."
Start right where you are: in your own family, your own neighborhood, your own community. Sell your possessions - all those things we think will make us happy - and purchase the key to heaven. This Sunday Jesus tells us what the key to heaven's door costs - everything.
*Possessions, of course, are not bad in themselves. We are not Manicheans. The problem with possessions is that they so easily lead to self-exaltation. Sure, I want a car that gets me there and back, but I also take a certain delight in comparing it to others. Two or three times a year I wash my car. Driving back to the parish, I notice how shiny my car is in comparison with other guys' cars...
**Nikos Kazantzakis. His retelling of the life of Francis, often powerfully captures the inner struggles of the saint.
From Archives (23rd Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
My bulletin column
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)
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Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
(new, professional website)
KRA's & SMART Goals (updated June 2013)
A Homilist's Prayer