sanity will prevail and that all those suffering on account of the terrible conflict in Ukraine will find the comfort and resources they need.
A POCKETFUL OF SUNDAYS
What are we looking for? How tragic if we were to respond "Nothing!" Sadly, there are many Christians for whom faith is a matter of habit, offering a predictable set of rules, duties and obligations, a sense of respectability and a comfortable social life built around church and community. Threatened by anything and anyone who might challenge them, such Christians would have little use for either John the Baptist or Jesus Himself though they would be unlikely to admit this.
Then there are those who are actively seeking Christ in every aspect of their lives, investing time and money in books, seminars, retreats, spiritual direction, therapy, support groups, pilgrimages and more; such Christians are passionately committed to the quest but perhaps rely too much on their own efforts and not enough on God. Ironically, they may end up knowing a great deal about Jesus without knowing Him intimately.
And then there are those whose greatest desire is to become the Christ for others -- to be so at one with Him that they act like Him in all ways, in all circumstances, bringing His peace and love to the suffering world.
What are we looking for? Are we followers of a "convenient Jesus" or of a "Packaged Jesus" or of the Jesus who calls each of us into full, active, conscious discipleship?
- What do you believe Jesus expected of His disciples?
- What do you believe Jesus expects of YOU?
- Why is "looking back" so detrimental to the spiritual life?
- Why is the moment of "NOW" so important for spiritual seekers?
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It has been a week of stark contrasts promoting the Right to Life and the Right to Kill, with no shades of grey in between. If the Right to Life is an absolute, then what provisions are being made to provide for the care of children whose parents are incapable of providing for them? If it is desperation that typically brings a woman to terminate the life within her womb, what can be done to relieve those desperate circumstances? In the rare cases where embryonic life is unviable and the mother's life is in danger, how will the mother's life be safeguarded? And for victims of rape and incest, what psychological and legal support can be given, especially if the rapist claims custody of the child? And one more thought: if a woman suffers a miscarriage, what laws might protect her from being blamed for the tragedy? I am not providing any answers here, but simply raising questions; the under-lined links will provided material for further reflection.
As for the Right to Kill, how can those who supposedly stand for the Right to Life expand access to guns in New York City? Because of the Supreme Court's landmark decision, millions of Americans who previously had to prove that they needed to carry a gun for self-protection are no longer obliged to do so. Surely, the Right to Life should include the Right to Grow Up and the Right to a Safe and Happy Future? Life is sacred from the moment of conception to the moment a toddler takes first steps; or a child starts school; or a teenager attends a concert; or a young adult goes to college, gets a first job, gets married.... Sadly, guns often claim young lives, or maim futures.
The Right to Kill is inconsistent with the Right to Life. When it comes to being "Pro Life," a "seamless garment" approach saves us from clinging to single issues. All life is sacred but as Pope Francis points out, "Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection."
As they were continuing on their journey someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
“Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests,
but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”
And to another he said, “Follow me.”
But the man replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”
Jesus answered, “Let the dead bury their dead.
But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
And another person said, “I will follow you, Lord,
but first let me say farewell to my family at home."
Jesus replied, “No one who sets a hand to the plow
and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” Lk 9:51-62
Today's Gospel presents three deterrents to discipleship: the desire to have one's basic needs met; attachment to prior responsibilities; and the need for closure. Each of the would-be disciples meets with a rebuke. To the first, Jesus presents homelessness as a prerequisite for following him. From the second, he requires an immediate response --even procrastinating to bury a parent or to see a parent through his or her final days is unacceptable. And from the third, he expects a complete letting go of the past, including familial relationships.
All this is pretty radical, especially for contemporary Christians. After all, we know from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and other such studies that it is difficult to be truly spiritual if you lack basics such as shelter and food. Someone who is chronically cold, hungry and sleep-deprived is less likely to work on their "soul needs" than someone whose basic physical needs have been taken care of. Now, I'm not speaking of fasting or scheduled wilderness experiences, but rather of conditions of dire poverty, malnutrition, and homelessness which usually work against self-actualization. In addition, many of us have experienced the burden and blessing of accompanying our parents through their final days and even years. Far from deserting our parents or leaving them "unburied," we have devoted ourselves to their care, often going to heroic lengths and self-sacrifice to ensure their well-being. And, lastly, everything we know about "emotional intelligence" informs us that it is healthy to have conversations with our loved ones about our decisions instead of simply disappearing. Barring toxic family relationships, staying "connected" is desirable on every level.
So how can we interpret Jesus' comments about discipleship in the context of our own lives? In the first place, it is possible that he was using hyperbole -- exaggeration-- as a tool for deterring the half-committed disciple. In plain language, he might have been saying, "Can you put up with hardship? Are you willing to commit now and not in some future time? Are you able to let go of the past and focus upon a new world that is coming into being?" Given his concern for hungry crowds, his sympathy towards the bereaved (including his own mother) and his emphasis on love and forgiveness (e.g. The Parable of the Prodigal Son), it is unlikely that he expected his disciples to leave their loved ones unburied and unmourned.
But what does Jesus expect? I believe He is calling each of us to be fully committed (as opposed to "lukewarm"), to make God our Number One priority (instead of offering the "leftovers"), and to focus on the moment of "now" rather than on what happened yesterday:
is the time
of the Garden
the hour of holiness,
the time to redeem
the time of waiting
EAS, Nazareth Sequences