Becoming a Disciple Week 5: Pursuit of Happiness

(Homily for Fourteenth Ordinary Sunday Year C)

Message: Real happiness can only come from by becoming a disciple.

This weekend I wish you a Happy Fourth of July! Since the beginning of June I have been giving a series of homilies on discipleship. In our parish vision we see discipleship as flowing from the our priorities: Lift up Jesus. Love One Another. Therefore, Make Disciples. I received confirmation that we made the right discernment of priorities. Our spiritual leader, Archbishop Sartain is also asking us to focus on forming missionary disciples. Let me explain:

The presentations at our Priest Days underscore that we cannot continue business as usual. Baptisms are down. Ordinations are down. (Although in Seattle Archbishop Sartain recently ordained five new priests!) Still overall ordinations are down. Marriages are way down. Confirmations are falling - and of those confirmed statistics say 85% will not practice their faith by their 21st birthday.

In light of all this Archbishop Sartain is asking us to let go of a maintenance mentality and concentrate on forming missionary disciples. I want more than 15% of our newly confirmed become disciples of Jesus. I'm counting on the Adult Intercessors to continue praying for their candidate. And all - to make our parish vision your vision: Lift up Jesus. Love one another. Make disciples.

In this homily I will tie discipleship with the pursuit of happiness. This might surprise you. We think of the pursuit of happiness as making a lot of money and indulging oneself. Our Founders did not see it that way. For sure they had nothing against making money and having a good time. But when they spoke about inalienable rights to "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness," they had a deeper understanding of happiness - one that goes back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Happiness, for the classical thinkers, meant to realize one's potential: to flourish. As they understood it a person can undergo physical pain, deprivation, even humiliation - and still possess happiness if he knows he's on the right track. I'll give a dramatic example at the end of the homily.

First let's look at the relationship of discipleship and happiness. A couple weeks ago Jesus told us to let go of that false self, take up your cross - daily - and follow him. Lose yourself for my sake, Jesus says, and you will find real happiness. That is, you will find your true self.

Now, I am not saying that when our Founders said, "pursuit of happiness" they meant "become disciples." They did however envision a society where people could enjoy maximum freedom. And they knew that such a society could only exist if people practice self-restraint. They envisioned a "republic of virtue." In his Farewell Address George Washington said, "reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

America does not exist to make disciples, but America can only continue to exist if we have missionary disciples. Now let's be clear: Although the future of our country depends on the work of disciple makers, we do not make disciples to save America. We do it save souls. Someday the United States will cease to exist, but when that day comes your soul and mine will have barely begun its existence - and it will be experiencing either eternal happiness or eternal regret.

In today's Gospel Jesus tells us not to rejoice because of some great accomplishment or even because of overthrowing evil. No, Jesus says, "rejoice because your names are written in heaven."

The stakes are high. If I really love my fellow Americans, if I love my neighbor in this Valley, I will want the best for them - their salvation: that they will turn from sin, let go of destructive behavior and follow Jesus, become his disciple.

The harvest is great, Jesus says, and laborers are few. Pray to the harvest master to send out laborers. We need priests and thanks be to God Archbishop Sartain ordained five fine young men. Along with them we need other workers: missionary disciples.

We can learn a lot from missionary disciples in other circumstance. You may have heard of the first Native American to be canonized: St. Kateri (rhymes with "battery") Tekakwitha. When she was four years old a smallpox epidemic killed her parents and left her disfigured. As a teenager Kateri accepted Jesus. This led to rejection by her family causing her to flee to Canada. At this point does she say, "Poor me. Nobody like me."? No, she goes to daily Mass, spends time in prayer and pretty soon another young lady sees her inner happiness. They begin visiting the sick and other homes in difficulties. Their deep spirituality resonates with native people. When Kateri dies at age 24, people start coming to her grave to pray. Miracles follow, including the healing of boy from the Lummi Indian Reservation near Bellingham. The Church eventually recognizes this lady of sorrows as someone with deep inner happiness. On October 21, 2012, Pope Benedict canonizes her. St. Kateri Tekakwitha shows us the fount of happiness; she shows us how to become missionary disciples of Jesus.

Next week we will hear the famous parable about double compassion - and we will see a twentieth century disciple of Jesus who gives a powerful testimony to that two-fold compassion. For today let's remember as we hear about the pursuit of happiness that real happiness can only come by becoming a disciple. "Rejoice because your names are written in heaven." Amen.


Spanish Version

From Archives (Homilies for Fourteenth Sunday, Year C):

2013: Focus on Mission - Part One
2010: Healing the Family Tree
2007: Stepping Out
2004: The Wealth of Nations
2001: What We Need
1998: Political Involvement and Discipleship

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Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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