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Following Christ, no 'ifs', no 'buts' - Wednesday Gospel Reflection

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Things Jesus never said: ‘Finish up what you’re doing, and, when it’s more convenient for you, follow me!’ No, the time is now and nothing is to be preferred to following Christ at this very moment: neither goodbyes, nor the burying of the dead.

If we’re honest with ourselves, today’s Gospel probably makes for pretty uncomfortable reading. To our modern sensibilities, it might even seem that Jesus’ demands are draconian or un-Christian! The tasks his potential disciples wish to attend to are not bad things. In fact, they are good things. One potential follower wishes to obey the commandment to honour his mother and father, and the other to fulfil the obligation to bury the dead, which we count amongst the corporal works of mercy. No, these are certainly not bad things, but this is a gospel message about priorities and God’s call should be our priority.

This summer I’ve had the privilege of staying with two monastic communities, each following the Rule of St Benedict. Chapter 72 of this wonderful Rule contains the following exhortation:

Let them most patiently endure one another’s infirmities, whether of body or of mind. Let them vie with one another in obedience. Let no one follow what he thinketh good for himself, but rather what seemeth good for another. Let them cherish fraternal charity with chaste love, fear God, love their Abbot with sincere and humble affection, and prefer nothing whatever to Christ.

Many goods are listed, but nothing whatever is to be preferred to Christ because the truth is He is the source of all these goods. When we follow Christ, parents will be honoured. When we follow Christ, the dead will be buried.

The tendency, however, for many of us is to seek to follow Christ on OUR terms. We pray ‘thy will be done’, but do we really desire this, do we will it? Or do we, in fact, seek to ‘fit God in’. We can ask ourselves, ‘What would my life look like if I truly put Christ first?’ If we consider what we spend our time on: are we really putting ourselves fully at the service of the Lord? One more YouTube video, one more check of Facebook, and a quick check of the news and then I’ll pray: is that the proper ordering of things?

Because there’s a danger the call gets lost in the distractions; there’s a danger the call gets forgotten; and, worst of all, there’s a danger the false gods become what, in practise, we worship. But we are called to live in such a way that, as Cardinal Suhard once put it, ‘one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.’ Is that the case for us?

Most of us, I imagine, when we read of Moses coming down the mountain to find Aaron leading the Israelites in worship of the golden calf they have constructed, are inclined to wonder smugly at the stupidity of the Israelites in light of what has gone before? However, as Elizabeth Scalia notes*:

Our present-day idols are much less obvious, but they are also less distant and more ingrained within us. Idols begin with ideas. From there, we shape them in the psyche, grow them in the ego, and then engage with them intimately, throughout our lives, in our families, our culture, our entertainments, and our political discourse. We create idols out of our norms of behaviour, our material possessions, and social status. We even create them out of our faith. 

The constant struggle for me as a friar preacher is to observe the old adage ‘to practise what you preach’. The integrated Christian life is tough, particularly so, in a disintegrated society. Dying to ourselves, when so many of the best-selling products are prefaced with an ‘i’ does not come naturally, but then it never has, it requires supernatural grace, which always starts with Christ, but needs our ‘yes’. . . not, ‘yes, but’, but just plain, ‘yes!’ That, I think, is the message of today’s Gospel.

*Scalia, Elizabeth. Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life. (Ave Maria Press, Indiana, 2013), p.10 – this is a brilliant book, which I really recommend to anyone seeking to grow in self-knowledge and love of God . . . which should be all of us!

Today's Gospel is Luke 9:57-62

Toby Lees O.P.

Br Toby Lees O.P. Fr Toby Lees is assistant priest at Our Lady of the Rosary and St Dominic's, London.  |  toby.lees@english.op.org


Barbara R. Walters, PhD commented on 03-Oct-2016 01:07 AM
Thanks, Toby, and congratulations on your Solemn Profession. Our prayers to you and the brothers as we thank you for your prayers for us. Barbara

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