Sunday Sermon for September 8, 2013, the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary time, Year C
Readings: Wis 9:13-18b; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Lk 14:25-33
In the Gospel reading today we have one of the most difficult challenges that our Lord gives to His followers. If anyone comes to Him without hating his mother, father, wife, brothers, or sisters, that person cannot be His disciple. Unless one is willing to carry his cross and follow Jesus, that one cannot be His disciple. We are told that He spoke these words, not to His Apostles, but to the great crowd that followed Him. This means that they are not address to a select few, but to everyone.
Considering that spouses make vows to love one another, and by nature we love our parents and children, how is it that our Lord, Who created us to love and has even commanded us to do so, would require us to hate these people? I think the point is that we have to love God first and foremost and be willing to do anything that He asks. Sometimes what He asks is very difficult, seems to make no sense to us, or simply cuts deeply into the wounds within our hearts.
The writer of the Book of Wisdom understood this several hundred years before our Lord came to earth and spoke these difficult words. He wonders who can know the counsel of God or who can conceive His plans? He points out that even the things within our grasp we know only with difficulty, but when we are speaking of the things of Heaven we can only know them by being given the gift of the Spirit from on high. But, he says, that it is in this way, i.e., through the Holy Spirit, that the paths of those on earth we made straight.
God’s ways, of course, are perfect and He only wants the very best for us. As we noted above, sometimes we do not think that what He is asking is the best. In fact, sometimes we would consider it just the opposite. How can asking something painful or something we cannot understand be the best? Some people begin to think that maybe God enjoys watching people suffer.
To use a human example, surgeons may find great fulfillment in performing surgical procedures, but they do not find fulfillment in making people suffer or in the idea of cutting human beings. I do not assume that most dentists who do root canals enjoy watching the anguish of their patients who have to undergo that dreaded procedure. While we can all be grateful that there are people who can do surgery or root canals when they are necessary, none of us would want to patronize them if we did not have to do so. Unless these people are sadists, they do not enjoy causing pain to others, but they do enjoy helping others, even though that assistance will be painful.
Neither does God enjoy putting us in painful situations or witnessing the pain we are in because of something He is asking of us. He wants us to heal from the internal woundedness that afflicts so many people and He wants to have our priorities right which requires dying to self and seeking to do the will of God, even when it chaffs.
Think of what St. Paul is doing in the second reading. First he sends a runaway slave back to his master, then he writes a letter to the master asking him to receive the slave back, but to see him and treat him as a brother. The slave would probably have returned in fear and trembling and the owner was probably pretty upset when he read St. Paul’s letter. In each case, St. Paul is forcing these people to “face their demons” as people like to say. I think we can assume that the slave owner did not treat his slaves very well or they would not want to run away. The owner needed charity and the grace to see the dignity of another human being. The slave needed to forgive and strive to serve out of love rather than out of compulsion. Given the obvious situation, this would be difficult for both, but it is also apparent that they are the areas these men needed to develop to grow in virtue.
WE need to pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit to be given to us in order to help us discern God’s will. Chances are that we will not understand His will until we are able to look back for a distance, but if we can at least grasp that this or that thing is God’s will for us at this moment, or that He is asking me to do this thing which I find most difficult or distasteful, then we will be able to accept His will and, with time, even come to embrace it and love it.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.