Philemon 9-10, 12-17
One of the last times I went to Confession, I wanted to make a really good Confession. Most of the time our confessions are sincere, but sometimes we’re filled with a particularly strong desire to change our lives. So, I called my friend, Fr. Anthony Ho, to hear my confession. I was looking for a good priest. I couldn’t find one so I went with him. He was very kind and dropped by here on his way back from giving a talk. I said, “Don’t even get out, I’ll come to your car and make it easy for you.” When I confessed, my state of soul was one of regret, seriousness, and determination: “I’m sorry for my sins. I’ve hurt God and other people. I don’t want these things in my life anymore.” Do you understand this state of soul? Sometimes we’re filled with resentment and anger—we’ve been carrying it around for a long time and we don’t want it anymore. We want to change our habits and lives. Think back on your last confession, or, if we’re not Catholic or haven’t been in awhile, on our last crisis or last wake-up call.
A pattern I see in our lives is compromise—that’s why we keep on falling. We have one foot in the world and one foot in God’s world. We follow Jesus but still want the other life.
Using the two images from today’s Gospel, let’s ask: 1) What kind of tower do we want to build!? Who do we want to be? What kind of Christian? 2) What battle do we want to win? Where do we want to grow?
The Gospel starts by saying, “Large crowds were travelling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them…” (Lk 14:25). Who are the large crowds? They’re people who range from being curious about Jesus, to being interested in Him, to being already a disciple (Daniel Mueggenborg, Come Follow Me, Year C, 211). But Jesus is aware of the compromise in their hearts. So He helps them with a strong challenge: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate their father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even their life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple… So therefore, whoever of you does not give up all their possessions cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:25-27,33). These three teachings all end in the same way: “cannot be my disciple.” We’ve talked about this idea many times. Most of us here are Catholic or Christian—that’s such a gift! But a question is: Are we disciples?
Here’s the definition: A disciple is someone who has made “a conscious commitment to follow Jesus in the midst of his Church as an obedient disciple and to reorder one’s life accordingly” (Sherry Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples, 30). There are five elements: commitment, following Jesus, the Church (because that’s His family), obedience, and changing our lives.
This is the diagram we always use from Faith Studies, which indicates that Jesus may be outside, a part of, or the centre of our lives. By the way, Faith Studies is starting one month from now, on Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019.
Jesus is saying, “You want to become like Me, have the fullness of life, eternal salvation, overcome those problems in your life? Then make Me the centre of your life. Stop compromising.” Here are three ways to do this:
1) Hate our family. For some of us, this might not be a problem, but that’s not the kind of hate about which we’re talking. St. Augustine points out that Jesus commands us to love our enemies, so clearly this doesn’t mean to wish our family ill (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Luke, 240).
Furthermore, did Jesus hate His mother, Mary? No. But did He leave her to fulfill His mission? Yes. Did fulfilling His mission by dying on the Cross break her heart? Yes. Why did He do it then? Because He loved His Father and obeyed Him. Because He loved her and died to redeem her, and His death on the Cross is so powerful that it went back in time, so to speak, and redeemed her at the moment of her conception (Cf. CCC 491-2).
The fundamental concept about this command, which I heard when I was 16, has never left me: If we love God more than our family, we will not love them less, but more!
The reality is that we love our family but still hurt them. We don’t listen, don’t help out, we’re impatient, get angry and shout, take each other for granted, argue in the car, do our own thing and don’t spend quality time together, etc. What’s the deal? The deal is: we don’t love them like Jesus. So Jesus is saying: the way to love them as He does is to put Him first. Try saying this week in prayer, “Jesus, I love You more than my family. So, how do You want me to love You more? How do you want me to love them more?”
Nothing can come between Jesus and us, even family. If ever someone we love tempts us to sin, by saying, for example, we don’t have to go to Sunday Mass on vacation, or we shouldn’t follow this or that official Church teaching, for instance, on sexual matters, then talk to them and love them, but Jesus comes first (Cf. CCC 1618, 2232). I love how some of you couples, when a child is sick at home, take turns coming to Mass: the father comes at one Mass then goes home, and the mother comes later. In this way, they love God and their family.
2) “Whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” There are two ideas here on which we want to focus: First, Jesus is asking us to take up our cross the way He did, because His dying on the Cross to take away our sins, together with His Resurrection which gives new life, was the most fruitful activity He ever did. Think about that: Of all the things Jesus did, what was the most fruitful? His teaching was life-giving and His miracles important, but it was His suffering, death and Resurrection that were the most fruitful (Cf. CCC 1067). Second, in St. Luke’s Gospel here, Jesus says to ‘carry’ or ‘bear’ our cross, different from St. Matthew’s Gospel (Luke Timothy Johnson, Luke, Sacra Pagina, 230). The point is that disciples have to carry their crosses continually. That’s why only in St. Luke’s Gospel does Jesus say to “take up their cross daily” (9:23).
To take up our Cross means to bear fruit and we need to do this every day. Now that we’ve begun our season Made for Mission, we’re asking the Holy Spirit: What did You create me to do? What’s my mission? Where can I bear the most fruit?
You see, sometimes we’re not bearing a lot of fruit: We’re not coming closer to Jesus, our prayer isn’t maturing, we’re not helping other people encounter Jesus. Jesus says, “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” (Jn 15:8).
In 2005, Fr. Pierre went to Ars, France, the birthplace of St. John Vianney, who was known for hearing hours and hours of confessions, and Fr. Pierre asked for the grace that St. Mary’s Parish would become a centre for confessions. And it did! I remember thinking: Those Dominicans hear so many confessions and people go, and they’re growing! Fr. Pierre has the gift of hearing confessions. It bears fruit, he can do it for a long time, and, while it’s demanding, it’s a cross that has a sweetness to it.
I’m asking everyone to start praying: “Lord, where am I called to serve?” Discerning this is a daily cross because we have to let go of things we like to do but at which we aren’t good, and be courageous and try things at which we may not feel gifted, because that may be where we’re called.
3) “Whoever of you does not give up all their possessions cannot be my disciple.” One Sunday, Fr. Francis Martin was getting ready to preach, and admitted in prayer: “Lord, most of the time we just duck this text. These people have to feed, clothe, and educate their children. What can you possibly mean renounce all their possessions?”
The Lord answered in a loving voice: “I know that these people have responsibilities to their families, especially their children. What I am telling them is that they must learn from me how and upon what I want them to spend their money. Their life is compartmentalized. They train their children in the Gospel, but when it comes to their finances they act as though I were not their Lord and did not love them. Selfishness and short-sightedness can creep in. Tell them to come to me with their plans for their money. Is this not to renounce responsibly?” (Fr. Francis Martin, Praying with Saint Luke’s Gospel, ed. Fr. Peter John Cameron, OP, 234).
Everything we have is a gift from God, meant to glorify Him, and bring other people to Him. As disciples, our money and goods belong to Him; He’s the Lord and we’re the stewards. We need to ask Him regularly: How do You want me to use my belongings and money? Am I wasting them? How can I be sacrificially generous? Am I attached to my possessions, because the Church teaches: “Detachment from riches is obligatory for entrance into the Kingdom of heaven” (CCC 2544)?
Three times Jesus says, “Cannot be my disciple.” He has very high expectations for us, and He’s put it on my heart that we have to respond to His expectations as a community. Most Catholics and priests are afraid of talking about expectations because we’re afraid of turning people off. We focus on being welcoming and loving and try to win people over.
There are four ways we exist as a church in terms of expectations, and we get to vote which kind of church we want: 1) Low welcoming and low expectations. This is a church that doesn’t care who comes and doesn’t expect them to grow or do anything. 2) Low welcoming and high expectations. This church doesn’t welcome you, care who you are, or about anyone new, but expects us to follow Jesus. It’s demanding but not loving. 3) High welcoming and low expectations. This church loves you and is concerned about people, but never challenges you. It’s a really nice church, but no one ever grows; this church makes us feel good, but doesn’t make anyone good; everyone stays mediocre. 4) High welcoming and high expectations. This church loves you and calls you to be like Jesus. They are concerned about how you receive the message, but make it clear that this is the message.
So, which church do we want? There are no in-between choices. The simplest way to answer it is by asking: Do we want a welcoming church: yes or no? Do we want a church with high or low expectations?
Jesus welcomed everyone: sinners, the sick, and the Pharisees! And He was really demanding: If we don’t love God more than our family, take up our cross and bear fruit, and don’t give Him complete control over our money, then we can’t be His disciples.
Our church needs to become more welcoming and raise the expectations! This is great news! It starts with my improving, and continues with all of you! So there will be more changes coming up! I’m not sure exactly what, but now we’re open to it.
There’s a spiritual author, Sherry Weddell, whom we’re following this season. Her books and experience in discerning different gifts and calls of God are renowned. On Nov. 3, 2019 we’re going to have Deacon Keith Strohm give us a parish retreat for a few days, and he’s worked under Sherry.
I told you before how Sherry was raised in an abusive home, was a nominal Christian, but not a disciple. In college she was searching for God, and within one year, she experienced Him and knew He was real, with the help of the Bible. In 1987 she became Catholic after walking into a Seattle church and experiencing the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Once she committed to Jesus, she’s basically lived a radical life of discipleship, without the usual compromise, and she’s borne tremendous fruit! In 1993, she helped found a group for Catholics who wanted to follow Jesus fully, and they even helped someone in New Zealand become Catholic. The same year, she also helped a priest get his parish discernment group to discern their charisms, and eight men in two years entered the priesthood (Forming Intentional Disciples, 91-92)!
In 1997, she founded the Catherine of Siena Institute to bring people to Jesus, train apostles, and help people discover their vocation. Since then, they’ve worked with over 170,000 people! When I had dinner with her, I was deeply impressed by her maturity, wisdom, and depth.
She said that she spent a long time seeking to know God’s purposes for her. And one January day, He revealed to her at Mass during the consecration: “You have the vocation to call forth the vocations of others, this is a vocation and not a career, and everything you need will be provided for you.” She then spent half an hour after Mass saying “Yes” to Him. And then she gave up all of her discretionary time and money, and amazing doors have been opening ever since (watch at 22:40)—that’s not easy! But it’s so fruitful! That’s what happens when we follow Jesus as disciples.