The Preference for Jesus Above All, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), September 7, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Patrick’s Church, Natick, MA
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Vigil of the Entrance of Karla Gonçalves to the Cistercian Nuns in Wrentham, MA
September 7, 2013
Wis 9:13-18, Philemon 9-10.12-17, Lk 14:25-33

This homily was preached in Portuguese. Here are some English notes of what was said: 

Tonight as we come together to pray for Karla on the vigil of her entering Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey, we are mindful that one of the three main activities in which she will be engaged in the Cistercian life is what is called lectio divina, a sacred reading of the text, one that seeks to understand what God is saying, how it applies to us, what we need from him in prayer to live it, to contemplate what our life would be like if we were to live that word, and then, with God’s help, to resolve to put that word into practice. Today, in order to help her as she prepares to enter, as well as to guide us all in our own lives, God speaks to us in his word.

In today’s first reading, he asks in the Book of Wisdom who can know the mind of God, who can conceive what he intends? He replies that as human beings we often do not even know our own thoughts, because we’re weighed down by so many worries, sufferings, and weaknesses. If that’s true about our own thoughts, how, he asks, can we know the things of heaven?

Well, in response to our weakness, Wisdom himself became Incarnate. God became one of us in order to give us his counsel in straight-talk and tell us very plainly what we have to do to please him, what we need to do to follow him, what we need to do in order to open ourselves to receive the happiness that he died in order to win for us.

It’s tempting for us to try to soften what Jesus says to us in the Gospel today, to pretend as if Jesus didn’t really mean them literally. He speaks to us about the cost of discipleship, that we cannot be his disciple unless we are willing to pick up our Cross every day and follow him, unless we detach ourselves from all our possessions, unless we are willing to “hate” — a Biblical expression that means to put in second place — our father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, even our own life. Many of us are tempted to treat Jesus’ words as if we were at a Yard Sale, trying to bargain with Jesus to see if he will reduce the cost, so that we don’t have to make any big sacrifices to obtain the pearl of great price he is offering us, so that we can avoid the Cross, maintain all our possessions, and keep our life just as it is.

Jesus compares trying to be his disciple without being willing to pay the cost of putting him first in life trying to build a tower without adequate materials or fighting a battle without sufficient soldiers. We could use a modern example that might be even clearer. To try to follow Jesus without being willing to make the sacrifices for him necessary to treat him truly as God would be like trying to fly a plane over the Atlantic Ocean without enough gas to make it the journey.

Tonight, Karla, on the vigil of your entrance into the Monastery, we are here in order to pray to God for you, but we are also here to thank you. By your choice to enter the Monastery, you are giving us all a beautiful example of the wisdom contained in Jesus’ words. Out of love for Jesus Christ, you’re willing to renounce your possessions and live a life of poverty. You’re willing to give up the good of marriage and biological children of your own in order to receive Jesus’ marriage proposal and hundreds more spiritual children. You’re willing to pick up your Cross and follow Christ because you know that the Cross is not so much an instrument of pain and torture but rather a sign of the love that makes one capable of suffering for a beloved. In the eyes of the world, you’re willing in short to “lose your life” in order to find it anew with Jesus.

What you are giving up is nothing in comparison to what you are gaining. What you’re giving to God is small in comparison to what God will give you in return. The great love you have for Jesus is only a small reflection of the love he has for you and for all of us. You are teaching us all of this by your choice to say yes with all your mind, heart, soul and strength to the call of the Lord to follow him up close. We thank you for the witness you’re giving us all, the witness of putting into practice the true wisdom Jesus came to give us to help us find true happiness. And we pray that you will continue to receive all the help God knows you’ll need in order to live by this holy wisdom every day of your life as a Cistercian.

But as we pray for you, today, we also pray for ourselves who love you. As beautiful as today is and tomorrow will be, it’s also hard. We know that in the monastery you’ll never stop loving us, you’ll never stop praying for us, you’ll never stop sacrificing for us and helping us, but we know that our life with you is going to change. As hard as it is for us who are your friends, we know it’s even harder for your family, as it is for almost every family.

But 26 years, 3 months and 8 days ago, when you’re parents brought you as a nine month old girl to the Parish of Our Lady of Aparecida in São Paulo, they consecrated you to God, they set you a part as one of his own. Consecration is like an act of changing ownership. In baptism, parents give back to God the gift God had given them. At the same time, God gives himself to the baptized baby and in a sense becomes our portion and our cup. Our entire life is meant to develop in accordance with the covenant that begins in baptism.

Little did your parents know 9,597 days ago when they brought you to be baptized what great plans God had for you as that consecration would develop in you.

Little did anyone recognize when you received Jesus for the first time at St. Tarcisius Parish in Framingham on June 17, 2000, that you would decide as a young person to give your whole life to Jesus in the Eucharist, as St. Tarcisius became a martyr because he accounted Jesus in the Eucharist more valuable than his own life.

Little did your classmates realize when you were you received the Sacrament of Confirmation on June 27, 2004 that the Holy Spirit would set you so much on fire with his love that you would become a living flame.

All of this started with the momentous decision your parents on the day of your baptism, to present you to the Lord, and have you made a Christian. They set you off on a life of grace that has brought you to where you are, so that in freedom, in response to God’s call and his love, you’re willing to give your whole life to God. And so, on behalf of the whole Church, I would like to thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Goncalves.

I have had the privilege in my life of being the spiritual director of many religious sisters and other consecrated women. I have helped them to discern their vocations and have accompanied many after they were sisters. I remember one woman several years back. She came from a family of three girls and she was the youngest. The oldest sister went on for her Master’s degree in Business Administration and immediately afterward got a lucrative job offer to go to Japan to work for a multinational company. Her family, especially her parents, were upset that she was going to be going thousands of miles away, but they were happy for her, because she was going to be doing something she loved to do and was going to be making a lot of money doing it.

When the middle sister graduated from college, she married her college sweetheart who was in the Air Force and they immediately moved thousands of miles away to a base in South Dakota. The parents were likewise very sad to see her go, but they were really happy for her, because she had found a really good husband who loved her, they were going to be able to have a good life in the military and she was really happy.

When the youngest announced, however, that she was going to be entering into the convent and moving a few hours away from where she grew up, her parents had a very difficult time accepting it. They told her that they didn’t want to lose her. She replied that they were not going to be losing her any more than they lost her two older sisters. She also said that she remembered that even though it was difficult to see her sisters more away, she and her parents were all happy for them because they were happy and doing something that they loved to do. She said it was nothing different with her. She said she had received a spiritual marriage proposal from Jesus himself and she was going to be going to another state to share his life and she was really happy about it and hoped that they would be just as happy for her as they were for her sister who went to Japan for money and for her other sister who went to South Dakota to marriage.

It was then that the parents knew that their little girl had grown up! They also hadn’t seen it from the perspective she was describing, and it helped them to understand that they wouldn’t be losing their daughter, but gaining a divine son-in-law! And so I would like to congratulate you, Mr. and Mrs. Gonçalves. You’ll never be able to find a better in-law! Yes, what you’re “losing” is significant, but what you’re gaining is even more significant!

Jesus reminds us today that to be a faithful Christian we must put him first, live sacrificially out of love, and place everything we have at his service. This is the path toward heaven. This is the path to receiving the fullness of Jesus’ love. This is the path to real human happiness and fulfillment.

The world says that we need to be rich to be happy; Jesus says that we need to be poor in spirit and detach ourselves from all our possessions.

The world says that we need to be in charge and in control to be happy, but Jesus says that we need to follow him obedient, even along the Way of the Cross.

The world says you can only be happy if you have all your sexual fantasies fulfilled and eventually find the human loves of marriage and family. Jesus says that we are called to be pure of heart and to love him above all their beloved family members, promising us what he promised St. Peter after Peter asked, “Lord, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus responded, “Truly I tell you, … everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life” (Mt 19:29).

That’s what we pray you receive, Karla. There’s no greater promise! Like a man building a tower or a king heading into battle, with you, we, too, must count the cost of discipleship and with God’s help, pay the price, knowing that Christ whom we are about to welcome onto this altar is the pearl of great value, the treasure buried in the field, worth sacrificing all we are and have to obtain!