My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ
Grace and Peace in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit on this beautiful Sabbath Day be with you. I hope you are all having a beautiful Labor Day weekend. I love Labor Day but I also hate it. I hate the fact that I tend to use Memorial Day to work outdoors in order to start getting prepared for winter. I believe there are two types of people in this world; those who pick things up right when they notice a mess and those who wait for a designated time to clean up everything. I know this is a simplification of people’s personality but it has often helped me understand why I am different than a lot of other people. I tend to be the latter of the two; the person who designates one day a week, usually Monday, as cleaning day. This past week, my Aunt and Uncle called on Monday to tell me they’d like to visit. They wanted to see my rectory and take some time to catch up. I quickly looked around the rectory and realized that, in many ways, I’m still not entirely moved in yet. And, by the time they got to my place on Thursday, I knew it would be fairly cluttered. So, in between two masses, several appointments, and, of course, the Iowa State game, I had to also plan in a time to clean up the rectory before my Aunt and Uncle got there. It meant for a very busy Thursday!
Whenever I find myself situations like that, I think to myself that I really wish I could just keep things relatively clean all week long instead of doing it all at once. I think of several people; roommates, family members, and priests with whom I shared a rectory, who all tried to get me to pick up my clothes, put dirty dishes in the dish washer, and put my toothbrush away. I couldn’t help but think of that as I was reading the Gospel today. Our Lord has three points that he is driving home. The first is that we need to “hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and even our very lives” if we want to be a disciple. Jesus is using exaggeration to make a point. He doesn’t want us to become that angry person who hates the world and everyone in it. Remember that Jesus calls us to love one another in other places of the gospel. Most scripture scholars I read said that Jesus isn’t talking about feeling hate toward other people inasmuch as hating what they can do to us. In other words, the type of hate that Jesus is talking about is probably closer to the way Iowa and Iowa State football teams feel toward each other than the way North and South Korea feel toward each other. North and South Korea are willing to kill each other. Iowa State, on the other hand, simply wants to score more points than Iowa and vice versa. They don’t really hate each other inasmuch as having different goals in mind that cannot coexist. If your friends, family members, or your own desires get in the way of being a disciple, then do whatever you can do to isolate yourself from them. That’s what Jesus means by hate.
Secondly, Jesus calls us to renounce all our possessions. In other words, we not only need get rid of everyone who gets in the way of our relationship to God, we need to get rid of everything that does this as well. Sometimes these are vices in our life. Being an alcoholic gets in the way of a relationship to God. Looking at pornography and masturbating gets in the way of our relationship to God. Sometimes its not even a vice inasmuch as an excuse we use to avoid nourishing our relationship to God. I know of a lot of people who make excuses about only coming to church when it’s convenient. If they are out of town or if they stay out the night before with friends they think this is a good reason to skip mass. It’s actually a good way to not be a disciple.
Lastly, Jesus talks about taking up our cross to follow him. We do this when we make the decision each day to live our lives according to the way God wants us to live. This challenge was taken up at baptism either when the baptismal candidate or the parents speaking for him or her say they will live their lives in the practice of the faith by keeping God’s commandments. This same challenge is given at confirmation when the person is sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of wisdom that guides us in the way of holiness. We renew these promises each Sunday when we come before the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist and affirm that real presence, not only in the consecrated species but in the body and blood of Christ that is the church. In that Amen we are saying that we want to live our daily lives in such a way that truly makes us a part of the body of Christ on earth.
Life is messy. I think that, in the end, there are times when God calls us to keep the messiness of life picked up as we go and other times when a major flaw is pointed out to us and we have to spend some time cleaning it up. What are the messy areas of life that God is calling you to clean up?