“If anyone 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.”
Each of us experiences moments of clarity or decision that inevitably alter the course of our lives. The choice of a college or university, the decision to propose or accept a proposal of marriage, the conscious choice to be open to the possibility of children, entering seminary or a religious community… these decisions shape who we are and how we experience ourselves in relation to God and to others. The history of the Church is also filled with examples of how our spiritual ancestors lived these same moments of decision: Mary’s fiat, Saint Peter’s decision to get out of his boat to follow the wandering Rabbi, and Saint Matthew leaving his tax-collecting post. We might think of other stories, as well: Saint Lawrence presenting the poor, the Church’s true treasure, to an emperor who would kill him; Saint Patrick’s decision to return to Ireland after escaping slavery; Saint Francis stripping off his clothes and family ties to stand naked in the square of Assisi; Saint Angela Merici bringing together a group of women religious outside of the walls of a cloister; Saint Aloysius Gonzaga renouncing his titles and princely rank in order to become a Jesuit; or Saint Elizabeth Seton entering the Catholic Church, despite society’s objections, and establishing a new community of sisters, laying the foundation for Catholic education in America.
Canonized this weekend, Saint Teresa of Calcutta certainly recognized this decisive moment in her own life. In her later years, she recalled how on September 10, 1946, during the train ride from Calcutta to Darjeeling for her annual retreat, she received her “inspiration,” her “call within a call.” She had a profound experience of Jesus’ thirst for love and for souls. This sense took hold of her heart and the desire to satiate that thirst became the driving force of her life. Over the course of the next weeks and months, she came to understand that Jesus was asking her to give herself to him, becoming a “victim of love,” who would “radiate His love on souls.” “Come be My light,” He begged her. “I cannot go alone.” In time, Saint Teresa would establish a new religious community—the Missionaries of Charity—to fulfill her sense of God’s call in her life.
Regardless of when they lived or their title or state of life, all of these individuals demonstrated a willingness to make the Gospel the primary focus of their lives. Knowing the cost of discipleship, they willingly took on the burden of Faith and set out on a new way, taking the words of Christ at face value: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, 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).
In these tense days, as people around the world struggle to make sense of the terror and violence that have become such a part of daily life, we are reminded that “there is no such thing as low-cost Christianity. Following Jesus means swimming against the tide, renouncing evil and selfishness” (Pope Francis, September, 6, 2013). We are being invited to trust in Providence and to focus our attention on the common good and search for peace.
The Church’s liturgy this Sunday remind us that, if we are to be true followers of Jesus, we must be willing to accept the responsibility that comes with discipleship, and part of that responsibility is a commitment to peace and justice, a dedication to building God’s Kingdom here and now. And so, we pray, we fast, and we give to the poor. Any one of those acts is good and noble. But, the question before each one of us is, “Where is my heart? To whom, or to what, does it belong?” If we continue to hold back, any words we speak or pray, the acts of penance we perform, and the gifts we share will always fall short and will never be what they might be, unless we act out of love for God and a spirit of gratitude for all that God has done for us.
When have you experienced a moment of decision in your own life? How did it shape your future?
How does this Sunday’s Gospel challenge you? What is holding you back from dedicating your entire life to Christ?
When has your commitment to Christ placed demands upon you? How did God reward your sacrifice?
Words of Wisdom: “‘Following Jesus’ and ‘carrying the cross’ [are] two ways of expressing the same radical requirement of self-giving, even to the point of death. The disciple is not called to carry just any cross or to follow just any person; he is called to follow Jesus and to carry Jesus’ Cross… Christianity is not a philosophy but a life to be lived.”—Adrian Nocent, O.S.B., in The Liturgical Year