Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 8
May God Open Our Hearts, in Order That We May Discern His Will and Allow God to Work Through Us to Bring His Love to One Another.
We read from today’s Responsorial Psalm, “Fill us at daybreak with your kindness, that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.” And then the psalmist writes, “…prosper the work of our hands for us! Prosper the work of our hands!”
I wonder how many of us, while we were still teenagers and attending school, thought about what our futures would be like. I imagine that most of us were thinking about what sort of road we would be traveling, where our journeys would take us – what our vocation in life would actually be like.
But no matter whether that journey took us down the road to the vocation of married life as a husband or wife, or a journey to embrace a vocation of ministry in the Church – whether it be ministry as an ordained priest or deacon, or as a religious brother or sister – we are each called by God to discipleship within the Body of Christ itself!
The questions which we find posed to us in today’s Readings are – “What does discipleship to Jesus Christ entail?” And “How are we to discern what God is asking of each one of us, both you and me?”
In our First Reading today from the Book of Wisdom, we start by reading, “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the LORD intends? For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans.”
Many years ago, back in the mid-forties and fifties (and I realize that for many of you, those years were before your birth), it seemed pretty clear-cut what someone was going to do with his or her life. By the time high school graduation came around, the decision had pretty much already been made.
You were either going to marry your high school sweetheart, or you felt called to serve God’s Church, or even serve the needs of your country. And most people followed through on their dreams.
But as time progressed, and as the world of materialism and secularistic thinking began to be promoted and embraced by more and more people, the process of discernment was no longer easy.
The idea of a couple living together out of wedlock became more and more accepted, the number of candidates to the priesthood and the religious life began to dwindle, and a general increase in embracing a lifestyle of immoral conduct and a lessening of one’s desire to embrace the teachings of Jesus Christ became the norm, rather than the exception.
Our desire to follow in the footsteps of our Christian forebears (family ancestors) was a concept which was frowned upon, even ridiculed by our peers. And over time, attendance at any kind of religious service, Catholic, Protestant or Jewish, had declined. And the numbers of men and women in religious formation also dramatically reduced.
Even some two thousand years ago, our Lord recognized the fickleness of some of His own followers. Being a true disciple of Eternal Truth meant that they had to make the hard decision of following Him and His teachings, even if it meant a disciple’s family must take second place to the absolute dedication involved in following Jesus!
And not all could accept His words. Discerning whether to follow Him and His words of eternal life, or to continue embracing that which they had known for all their life, was difficult for many who were tied to the world in which they lived.
And when we look at the world around us, and the society and the politics in which we live today, are not many faced with the same dilemma? The only difference is that, from a worldly perspective, the seductions are much more sophisticated! But, on the side of the spiritual, God’s Spirit has given us the fullness of Truth, and we are nourished and strengthened by the Sacraments made available to us through the Body of Christ, His Church.
But even in spite of the graces offered to us through the Sacraments, especially Eucharist, many people still place conditions on their discipleship. Many Christians are still struggling with placing Christ as the focal point in their lives, because there are many other demands on their time which seem to take precedence, thereby reducing their faith in Christ to the “backseat”.
Maybe we can draw a parallel from this to real-life situations – I am sure that most of us have heard, at one time or another, either on the evening news or maybe around the water cooler in the workplace, or maybe even read in the newspaper or on the internet, stories about people who either succeed or fail in some new business venture.
Or maybe it is a story about some athlete who failed to perform up to some level of expectation. Or maybe it is a story about some relationship or marriage which broke-apart due to one reason or another.
The explanation for someone’s failure in life is not always easy to discern, for there can be many different issues which causes one not to succeed. But one common thread that we can oftentimes discern in most stories of failure is under-investment, whether it be financial, physical or personal.
When someone attempts to start some new business venture, it is expected that the new entrepreneur will invest a substantial amount of his time along with financial resources in order to succeed. For an athlete to remain on “top of his or her game,” that person is expected to constantly practice and stay in shape in order that he or she may be the best that he can be in his sport of choice!
And for any personal relationship to succeed, and for any marriage to survive the difficult times in life, both the man and the woman must give of themselves selflessly 101 percent to the needs of the other in order for their love to endure over the long haul!
In each of these examples, whether it be a new business venture, an athlete’s ability to perform, or the enduring love of a personal relationship, disaster can oftentimes follow when one has not truly invested his or her entire self into this new dream which one wishes to make their own!
For one to be successful in life, the person, almost always, must invest him or herself, in no small measure, into that which he or she wishes to obtain. A personal zeal, an eagerness, an enthusiasm must drive that person to the point of making an all-out effort to achieve the desired dream.
Our Lord, in today’s Gospel, is making this same point – that half-heartedness in following Jesus is doomed to fail. And that is why Jesus is raising this same issue with such fervor in speaking to His followers.
You cannot win battles with only half an army; you cannot build a tower with half the materials or financial resources. In essence, what our Lord is telling us is that we cannot create a Christian way of life for ourselves, we cannot be Christ-like in our compassion and our heart-felt love for others, and we cannot build God’s Kingdom here on Earth – with ONLY HALF-HEARTED measures!
If Jesus were to turn and speak to you and me as He did to His followers in today’s Gospel, what would He say? Does He see within our hearts a true devotion to fulfilling God’s will in our lives, or would He recognize half-heartedness when we call ourselves Christian?
You and I may never have the real-life experience of walking side-by-side with Jesus on this side of the eternal as we know it today, asking Him questions and listening to Him speak – as did the disciples who came to know and follow Him some two thousand years ago.
But He does speak to us, nevertheless, in so many other ways. He speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures and through the teaching authority of the Church. And there are also those occasions when, in the peace and quiet of our own minds, He speaks to us through our personal conscience.
And if we are open to recognizing Christ in each other, He also reaches out to us through those whom we love, or maybe He speaks to us through an encounter with a complete stranger on the street, or someone suffering in a hospital or a lonely resident in a nursing home, maybe even in the homeless who are in our midst reaching out for a slice of bread or a cup of water!
If you and I say that we are followers of Jesus Christ, if we profess that we are Christians vocally, do we live that discipleship with our hearts? Do we love others unconditionally and selflessly as Christ loves you and me?
Do we discern what God is saying to us in our hearts, and do we live that discernment as His disciple in this world, which seems so godless at times – a world and a society which ridicules and demeans all that is holy, moral and good?
Our Lord is always asking us to open our hearts to His Love. And He also asks us for our help in reaching out to others, in becoming His disciples, carrying His message of Truth and Love to those whom He places in our pathways of life. And we do not need to be experts in theology to speak about love. Sometimes truly living the faith we profess is the best way of giving testimony!
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that to be a disciple of Christ means one is to “consent to live in the truth, that is, in the simplicity of a life in conformity with the Lord’s example, abiding in His truth.”
Let us pray together that the God who created both you and me and who loves each of us beyond all manner of human description will open our hearts – in order that we may discern His will and allow God to work through us to bring His Love to one another. For is this not what being Christian is truly all about?
For as Jesus said to His disciples in the Upper Room, “If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.”
May God bless you, God love you, and may God always keep you. †
Please Comment, Like and Share, and Suggest to your Facebook friends – to spread the message of God’s Merciful Love.
Por favor Comente, Le Gusta y Comparta, y Sugiera a tus amigos en Facebook – en difundir el mensaje del Misericordioso Amor de Dios.
Scripture for the Day
- “Fill us at daybreak with your mercy, that all our days we may sing for joy…May the favor of the Lord our God be ours. Prosper the work of our hands! Prosper the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90:14, 17)
- “For who knows God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends? For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and uncertain our plans.” (Wisdom 13:14)
- “If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27)
- “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’” (Luke 14:28-30)
- “Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.” (Luke 14:31-32)
- “In the same way, every one of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33)
- “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” (John 12:25)
- “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31b-32)
- “If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.” (John 13:17)
Prayer for the Day
help me to spread Thy fragrance everywhere I go.
“Flood my soul with Thy Spirit and Love.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly
that all my life may only be a radiance of Thine.
“Shine through me and be so in me
that every soul I come in contact with
may feel Thy Presence in my soul.
“Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus.
Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine,
so to shine as to be a light to others.”Saint Teresa of Calcutta