July 1, 2007
Readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
|Reading 1: 1 Kings 19:16b, 19–21|
|Responsorial Psalm: Ps. 16:1–2, 5, 7–8, 9–10, 11|
|Reading 2: Gal. 5:1, 13–18|
|Gospel: Lk. 9:51–62|
|Link to Readings|
By Father Nicholas L. Gregoris
A sense of urgency comes across in today’s first reading and Gospel passage. Jesus instructs would-be disciples to forego rather legitimate concerns in order to follow the Master. What is wrong with bidding farewell to one’s parents or burying the dead before embarking on a life-long mission of serving God?
Nothing, of course, and we would have to admit that both readings indulge in some exaggeration to achieve dramatic effect. However, the point behind it all is eminently clear and valid: Our God is a jealous God who wants all our love or none of it. Therefore, anyone or anything that stands in the way of our giving all to the Lord is to be considered an idol, a false god.
The First Commandment says this clearly: “I am the Lord your God, you shall not have strange gods before me.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church (nos. 2084–2141) discusses the First Commandment, which serves as a sure foundation for the rest of the commandments. In so doing, the Church identifies both positive attitudes (good habits) and bad attitudes (bad habits) that relate to this primary commandment.
For example, a bad attitude or habit that falls within the scope of the First Commandment is recourse to horoscopes, astrology, and palm reading, rather than to God’s will through daily prayer. On the other hand, a good attitude or habit to develop in relationship to the First Commandment is to observe the virtue of religion, the homage due to God alone, by keeping all the promises or vows we have made to Him. The prophet Elisha, mentioned in our first reading, is an example of someone who kept the First Commandment in an exemplary fashion.
Radical Commitment to God
In the first reading, notice the response of the prophet Elisha. Having received the prophetic mantle from Elijah, he abandons his twelve pairs of oxen (a sign of his wealth), has the oxen killed and given as food to his men, and then even builds a fire in which he burns his plough. All of Elisha’s actions clearly show the radical nature of his commitment to the Lord. He considered all else an idol, a false god.
Absolute commitment is the name of the game for a true follower of Christ; both words are equally important. Commitment is the surrendering to another of one’s entire being with the intention of forming a permanent relationship. Commitment has never been easy, but in our world today it is especially difficult because our culture is geared to the temporary. Immediate self-gratification without any inconvenience or sacrifice is one of the few “moral” norms left in our society. Panned obsolescence is the cornerstone of our economy. Is it any wonder that people then wonder what commitment could mean and
if it is even possible?
Procrastination—the inability to make a commitment—is a plague in our society. It is a great trick of the devil, who uses it to keep us from achieving true happiness. And where is true happiness found? Through our union with God’s will and its realization in our lives. Notice how Jesus is always on the go, leaving one village and going to another. Jesus is on a mission from God; He is no procrastinator.
In the Christian scheme of things, commitment is not only possible (with God’s grace), but necessary. The answer to Christ’s call must be prompt, cheerful, and unconditional—that is, free of any undue attachments. Therefore, much prayer and reflection are required before entering into a commitment. We all make commitments, but the truly important ones are rare and have life-long significance; in fact, their importance extends into eternity. The commitment of Baptism and Confirmation is the most basic, for in those two sacraments we said we wished to attain salvation by serving Jesus Christ in His Holy Catholic Church.
“I Will Follow You Wherever You Go”
As a result, every other decision we have ever made has been colored by that first decision. Baptism and Confirmation have allowed us to say to the Lord, not only with our lips but with our lives, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And unlike the would-be disciples in the Gospel, we realize that the way of authentic discipleship is the way of the Cross, dying to our sinful selves, so as to live for God alone.
As Catholics, we might also commit ourselves through our vocation. For example, the commitment of marriage is not simply a romantic, sentimental notion whereby I say I love someone. It is the total giving of oneself to another for life, in imitation of Our Lord Who gave Himself for the Church His Bride whom He loved. The commitment of marriage means sacrificial love whereby spouses say to each other, “I will follow you wherever you go,” “till death do us part.”
The commitment of priesthood or religious life is a dramatic statement about how the love of Christ can be so strong in a human being that every other love pales into insignificance. This commitment is meant to be both a sign of the life to come when and an example to the rest of the Church of the meaning of fidelity to the end. Once again, the priest and religious make vows and promises to the Lord by which they too declare their willingness to love, serve, and follow the Lord unreservedly wherever He would lead them.
Such commitments, then, must be absolute. One is a Catholic forever, and not only if it is socially acceptable or financially enhancing. One remains faithful to a spouse forever, and not only as long as the glow of romantic love remains. One continues as a priest or religious until one’s dying breath, and not only if prestige and honors are on the horizon or when one has nothing better to do. Pope John Paul II never tired of saying that God, who gives the impulse to say “yes,” does not expect to hear “no.” Jesus was never anything but a firm, resounding “yes,” the “Great Amen,” to His Heavenly Father.
Running the Race
Once the hand is put to the plough, once a commitment is made, there can be no turning back, no regrets. Regret is a sick form of nostalgia, a tool of the devil used to keep us from God and from fulfillment.
Once a race starts, the runners do not look back but forward, fixing their eyes on the finish line. For us, the finish line is Christ and the glory of heaven. We cannot allow self-doubt, anxiety, and fear to keep us from putting our hand to the plough. So many harvests are lost, though they are ready and plentiful, because we are reluctant to be laborers for the Lord.
Our society is full of perpetual malcontents, individuals who always think that the grass is greener on the other side. Such individuals always want to be somewhere else. They cannot accept the fact that God has called them to serve Him in the very concrete, specific circumstances of their lives.
As fallible human beings, we need strength to persevere in our commitments. Christ the Lord has not left us alone to work out this situation; He has given us the gift of Himself in the Eucharist to be our strength as we make our pilgrim way back to Him. And for the times that we fail to follow Him unreservedly, He offers us His merciful forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance.
We turn now to our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, to intercede for us so that we can echo her words to the Archangel Gabriel: “Let it be done to me according to your Word.” As we proceed in this Mass, within a few short minutes, we shall receive the living proof of God’s unswerving commitment to us in Christ—a commitment so great that He died for us, the people He loves. May our resolve always be to live for Him and to respond to His call promptly, unconditionally, wholeheartedly, so that we may be true disciples.
Let us keep our focus on Jesus and, having eyes for Him alone, keep our hand on the plough, despite every temptation to procrastination and regret. Thus, with the Psalmist we can say: “O Lord, my allotted portion and my cup, you it is who hold fast my lot.”
Father Nicholas L. Gregoris, a member of the Priestly Society of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, holds a doctorate in Sacred Theology from
the Pontifical Theological Faculty
Marianum in Rome and serves as the managing editor of The Catholic Response. He is the author of The Daughter of Eve Unfallen: Mary in the Theology and Spirituality of John Henry Newman, published by Newman House Press. He is likewise the translator and editor of Father Giovanni Velocci’s book Prayer in Newman , just released by Newman House Press.