Given that we have returned to our regular Sunday Mass schedule, and our parish bulletin will be returning next week, this will be the last time I’ll send out a weekly e-letter such as this (I may still send out the occasional letter if circumstances call for it, but not each weekend). I will continue to post my homilies on the parish website (www.sfxarmadale.org.au) as well as on the parish Facebook page (www.facebook.com/St-Francis-Xavier-Parish-Armadale-106046631056726). Thanks for allowing me this opportunity to stay in touch with you during the enforced solitude of the past few months!
On the one hand, the life of the Apostles during Jesus’ public ministry must have been really quite amazing. Being able to accompany the Messiah for three years, witnessing his miracles, drinking in his teaching – it’s enough to make any Christian from a later era at least a little jealous.
On the other hand, being an Apostle certainly would not have been without its challenges either. I particularly think of the numerous occasions where Jesus’ teaching seems to sail right over their heads, or when he would seem to be challenging bedrock elements of their Jewish faith. It must have been draining at times.
Consider today’s Gospel, in which Jesus is addressing a group of men from a culture in which family was an absolute non-negotiable – and proceeds to tell them that if they don’t renounce everything that they have, all links with their family, and even their very life, they cannot be his disciple. Nice.
Upon hearing this, their first inclination—like ours—may well have been to object, and with good reason. Aren’t healthy families exactly what our world needs? Doesn’t the world ache for the tender love of good fathers and mothers; for the love between parents and their children; for the precious love shared between husband and wife?
Furthermore, don’t we all need the love for life, for the joy of life? And don’t we need people who invest in the good things of this world, and build up the earth we have received, so that everyone can share in its gifts? Isn’t the development of the earth and its goods a responsibility that has been given to us?
And here’s the thing – all of this is true. So what was Jesus doing?
Well I think that, in some respects, what Jesus was doing here was giving his closest disciples fair warning of what was to come. To be sure, he had come to bring the world Good News, but it was a good news that would come via the Cross.
Thanks to all the signs that Jesus had been working, many people were drawing near to him and wanting to be his followers. However, Jesus knew full well what awaited him in Jerusalem, and which path the Father was asking him to take. It was the Way of the Cross, the way of sacrificing himself for the forgiveness of our sins. In other words, Jesus knew that being his follower did not simply mean taking part in a triumphal procession!
And so in today’s Gospel, Jesus is being frank with his closest collaborators. He tells them bluntly what the conditions are for being his disciples – preferring nothing to the love of God, carrying one’s cross, and following him.
He’s not really talking about hating anyone or neglecting responsibilities. What he is talking about, is total detachment. And the specifics of what this will look like may differ, depending on the particular vocation to which we have been called.
Reading this first of all through the eyes of the twelve Apostles, we can see how literally it would apply to their life in the not-too-distant future. They would be required to overcome the scandal of the Cross, and then be prepared truly to leave everything behind – to assume the seemingly absurd task of travelling to the ends of the earth and—with their minimal education—proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a sceptical world. They needed to be prepared to suffer martyrdom in the course of this work, and thus to bear the supreme witness to the Crucified and Risen Lord.
But Jesus’ words extended beyond the Twelve, and would apply to many others down the centuries who were called to literally abandon all in response to his call. We can think of so many great saints whom the Lord asked to rely exclusively on him, to leave everything else behind, so as to be totally available for him, and hence totally available for others; to create oases of selfless love in a world where so often only power and wealth seem to count for anything.
Where would our Church—and indeed our world—be without the men and women in every century who have left all else behind for his sake, and have thus become radiant signs of his love. Think of someone like our parish patron St Francis Xavier, who left behind a promising career to share the good news of Jesus Christ in faraway lands. How amazing it would be if the Lord were to call someone from our own city—our own parish even—to such a remarkable calling.
Of course, Jesus’ words were not just meant for these precious few either, but ultimately to all those who would count themselves among his followers. We are all called—within the context of our various callings—to pursue the radical detachment that Jesus is asking for in today’s Gospel.
Now to clarify, Christian detachment is not the same thing as indifference. Unlike Buddhism or Taoism, Christianity does not consider desire to be the enemy. From a Christian perspective, the problem is disordered desire. We are not asked to undo all of our loves. What we are asked is to simply love nothing more than we love God. In essence, Christ is telling us that, in order to live healthy and fruitful lives, we must love him most of all, with everything else finding its meaning in relation to God.
And if we love other things in correct proportion, than they indeed become worthy and fruitful loves, and God can use them for his good purposes. But if we put our love of family, friends, material blessings and even life itself, before our love of He who created all these things, then these attachments become disordered and our hearts become unfree.
The purpose of Christian detachment is essentially to make space for God. It allows for a healthy ordering of our priorities, and thus allows room for all aspects of our life to be touched by the Lord’s grace. Such detachment from the things of this world is ultimately for the sake of being fully-attached to Christ. And through Christ, it is possible for us to engage the world with true freedom, and to become co-operators in God’s saving work in the world.
Only the love of Christ, who gave himself so completely for us on the Cross, makes it possible for us also to become free, to let go, and so truly to find life. And we are nourished by this love as we gather for this morning’s Mass. In the Eucharist that we are preparing to receive, we are drawn into a relationship that sustains us, that gives direction and content to our lives. We are given access to the Risen one, who sustains us through and beyond death. This encounter, which brings us together this morning, gives us space for freedom, and lets us see beyond the bustle of everyday life to God’s creative love, from which we come and towards which we are travelling.
Lord Jesus, help us to love you above all else. Help us to seek your will above all else. Give us the grace to serve you in freedom, so that your love may shine through every aspect of our life. In your most Holy Name we pray. Amen.
A few notices and links:
– Congratulations to Deacon Patrick, who tomorrow celebrates the 14th anniversary of his ordination to the diaconate. Thank you for your “yes” to the Lord!
– We had our first morning tea back following the 9:30am Mass this morning, which went well, but we’ll be holding off on the children’s liturgy group until after the coming holidays. Once Phase Five kicks in (and number limits are no more) we’ll be looking to have a big parish celebration in the hall, probably after the 9:30am Mass one Sunday – just a chance for us to gather together and enjoy each other’s company after so long in isolation. More details to come!
– As I’ve mentioned, our parish bulletin will be returning next weekend. At present we’re not allowed to reuse them (to minimise multiple people touching things), so we’ll print more than we normally do. You’re welcome to take your copy home with you, otherwise we’ll have a recycle box for used bulletins (please don’t put them back where you get them from).
– We’re finalising the upcoming rosters for the various parish ministries. Please contact your co-ordinator if there’s anything we need to know regarding your availability:
Acolytes: Brian – 9497 4111
Hospitality: Julie – 9399 2143
Readers & Commentators: Carol – 9397 5918
(NB – Extraordinary Ministers won’t be needed for the foreseeable future due to the current prohibition on offering the Precious Blood at Mass).
All ministries (except readers) require a Working with Children Card – if you have not provided a copy and given signed declaration forms 2 & 18 to the parish office you will not be placed on a roster.
– Finally, for a glimpse of the beauty of our faith, do yourself a favour and carve out some time this week to listen to Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli (Mass of Pope Marcellus). A little taste of Heaven! https://youtu.be/BRfF7W4El60