Sunday, September 15, 2013

Homily 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C–Freedom to be Intentional

If we pause for a moment to call to mind the things we prepare so much for, we can be embarrassed to consider how much we prepare for our spiritual lives. Teachers and parents and students put much preparation into the school year; getting supplies, arranging classrooms, organizing schedules. Other things like a new job, or a new house, or a new car require all sorts of planning and research. We do all of this readily and with conviction. Do we even think about preparing to be followers of Christ and active Catholics? Do we even think about those things as requiring preparation? So often, we just coast into who we are, especially so-called, “cradle Catholics.” If you have met recent converts to Catholicism, they are usually always filled with great zeal, and energy, and initiative. But there is no reason that cradle Catholics can’t approach their own Catholic identity with the same newness and zeal.

Like a contractor who sets forth to build a tower and plans very carefully the design, materials and placement; and like a king who plans for battle by surveying his troops and the enemy force; just so, Jesus explains, we must prepare to go about the mission of being his disciples – with intentionality, foresight, and wisdom... otherwise, we cannot be his disciples. This preparation includes examining ourselves regularly to identify the things that keep us from being more active and involved Catholics. What are the obstacles that I or others have placed that I need to overcome? What are the opportunities that I am neglecting? Where have I become complacent in my Catholic identity or taken it for granted?

Another part of this examination is surveying our priorities. When Jesus said that unless we hate our family or even our own life, we cannot be his disciples, he meant that there must be ongoing growth and conversion in order for there to be an “old man,” a “former man” to hate. We must not desire our old way of living and anything that comes before Him, even our family. In my own life, I delayed going to seminary because I was hiding behind my family. A vocation director who I met at a conference once asked me when I was going to enter seminary. I told him that I wasn’t ready because I was renting a house with my brothers at the time and paying most of the rent and bills. His answer snapped me back into reality. He said, “Oh, you’re just enabling them.” He was right, they could have, and did, get along just fine. I was using them as an excuse to not commit myself to following God’s will for my life. Not even our families should ever come before God’s will for us or be an obstacle to Him.

Another obstacle to becoming more prepared and zealous is that we have a hard time imagining ourselves living any other way than we are right now. Again, in my own life, when I was having those initial stirrings of Priesthood, I would have doubts about if God was calling me to be a priest because I was having troubling imagining myself doing the tasks I would see my pastor doing. One Sunday my whole extended family planned to go out to eat after Mass and I was so much looking forward to it – it was going to be a blast! I looked forward to it all through Mass. After Mass as I was walking out of the Church, I looked back and noticed my pastor alone, picking up papers, tidying things, getting the liturgical books together, saying a few words to different people here and there. I thought, “How boring… I don’t wanna do that… I wanna go out to eat!” But, as God drew me closer and closer to the Priesthood, I invested my heart more and more into it so that now, after the last Mass, when everyone is going out to eat, that’s not a source of loss or sorrow for me! My heart is fully invested in this now so that I care so much more about it. I like going around and tidying up everything after Mass now; its sort of meditative for me!

My point is that, while many of you are very active and intentional about your Catholic identity – which has been very inspiring for me – there also many here today, or perhaps among your family and friends, who just coast in their Catholicism because they have trouble imagining what it would be like to live a different way. If you’re not going to confession monthly when you know you could, or you’re not going to daily Mass when you know you could, or you’re not volunteering at the parish when you know you could… you don’t have to start all of this tomorrow! God is pleased to see you approaching Him! All you have to do is challenge yourself to take small steps in this direction and as your heart becomes more and more invested you’ll find it coming more and more naturally to you and part of who you are.

Besides, how well do we really know our current way of life, let alone what God is calling us to?! The first reading captured it perfectly! “And scarce do we guess the things on earth, and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?! But, like Onesimus in the second reading, freed from slavery, free to be sent to Philemon to be a part of a new family – we too have been freed by Jesus Christ to be members of the active and growing family of God: His Church. We are no longer slaves to our past lives or our current complacency, no matter how uncertain the present or the future may seem. We too can live with a newness and joy and set out to become the full, conscious, and active Catholics that Jesus is calling us to be, filled with the youthfulness of the Holy Spirit.

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