“He resolutely journeyed to Jerusalem”…Our Lord is not a hippie or a whimp. No, he was not simply some guy who encourages us to just simply float through life being nice He is perfect God and perfect man.
Our Lord is absolutely determined to go to Jerusalem, where He knows He will suffer and die in order to save us from our sins and eternal death. Nothing and nobody is able to stop Him, not even the rejection of the Samaritans. How troubling that must have been…to be traveling through the desert, and the mountains, and to not even have a place to rest. They come near a place, a Samaritan town, and they are refused entry. Not even this deters our Lord! How important it is to us to have a place we call our own, our home. Yet even this was denied our Lord and His apostles, but he continues His mission.
Nothing can or should prevent us from following Him. The Gospel He offers is not a Gospel of prosperity and comfort. Rather, He offers us something better. Life for us is not easy! Suffering, sadness, anxieties…Yet despite all this, God is with us and He calls us to keep walking. Nothing prevents Him from accomplishing the crowning triumph of His life on earth. The end goal is eternal life in Heaven.
God calls each of us to become a saint. If the final goal is Heaven, the only way there is to follow Christ, and He points out that the road that leads there is the narrow road. We walk this road by finding and living our vocation.
Saint Luke records three responses to our Lord’s call to vocation. The first person approaches our Lord and simply says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” This person demonstrates a great generosity of giving himself to our Lord entirely, regardless of where our Lord sends Him. This disciple simply wants to be close to Jesus. Another person is approached by Jesus, But he replied, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” What a contrast this is in comparison to the great generosity and trust of the first person. Finally there is the third response: “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.”
If we want to be faithful followers of Jesus, we need to have the response of the first person.
For those who are married, that means being faithful to your wedding vows and helping your spouse and children get to heaven. Obviously there is the minimal of getting to Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, and following the Church’s teaching on love and openness to life within marriage, but our Lord doesn’t call us to live the minimum. The world gives the response, “not now, but later!” We should reject this temptation to delay following Christ. He wants generous hearts willing to follow Him wherever He would go. Young men, the Lord is knocking at the hearts of many young men, asking, will you follow me after the example set by the Apostles, to set the world ablaze with my love? Look at St James and John, who in an act that is not with the best intention, but still one we men can understand, ask our Lord if they can call down fire on the town that rejected them. Hardly whimpy men! Are you willing to sacrifice your desires and to hand them over to Jesus to give you a life that is richer than you could possibly imagine? Or to the young women, perhaps the Lord is knocking at your heart asking you to become a nun. We are blessed here in Cresson to have some very good examples of sisters who are entirely dedicated to Christ and praying and working for the salvation of souls. None of these vocations, to the married life, to the priesthood, or to the religious life, are for lazy people who want to float through life. No, our Lord calls us out of our comfort zone to follow Him. To quote Fr Arnone and Saint Aloysius, we must act!
We have to discard anything in our lives that stands in the way between us and God. That’s the whole point Jesus is making when he gives us that dramatic example of saying, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” If we focus on those past experiences, our failures, the temptations we experience, we will be looking back from the plough. To seek to follow the Lord, yet to turn back toward home is a way of describing a divided heart. One does not live the Gospel half heartedly. To live with apathy or lukewarmness, like sitting in a lukewarm bath tub, is a terrible way to go through life.
I think this temptation to look back can occur in a number of ways. First, if you have struggled with some addictions. Even the smallest trigger can set you back onto your addiction. Or if you are in a marriage, you can look back to the years when you were not married and how “free” you felt, and thus a subtle temptation against your marriage forms. Or if you are a young person, you may be afraid of making the decision to answer the call to the priesthood or religious life. “What would my friends say? It isn’t cool! I’m not holy enough!” Or another temptation is to be constantly “discerning” but not to take any concrete steps forward. There may be many fears and anxieties that the devil puts into our hearts. We do not make our life decisions based on fear, but on the call of Christ! When you feel your heart heavy and full of anxieties, simply turn to our Lord and pray, “now Lord, I will begin again”. What a contrast this is to the constant delays the world proposes to us. If we give our struggles to Him, He will give us the grace to overcome them.
How are we supposed to react to those temptations that keep us from following Christ?
The response that Elisha gives to Elijah is helpful: “Elisha left him, and taking the yoke of oxen, slaughtered them; he used the plowing equipment for fuel to boil their flesh,and gave it to his people to eat.Then Elisha left and followed Elijah as his attendant.“ by his very actions, Elisha is saying, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Whatever hinders us has to be burned up in the fire of God’s love. If we are focusing on looking back at the time before we knew Christ, “it is a sign of our having regrets, and indicates that reawakening of our longings for the things of the world” (St Athanasis). We have to pray every single day of our lives, asking God to show us our vocation, and asking Him to help us live our vocation fully, without holding anything back. We have to keep coming to the Sacraments, especially Holy Mass and Confession. We have to follow the moral teachings of the Church, which are a guide to living a happy and free life. If we pray and go to confession, those things that hold us back from freely and totally follow Christ will be burned up. We will be given a new and rich life that is beyond anything the world has to offer. Slowly but surely we can be more resolute and set our faces toward the heavenly Jerusalem. Then no amount of suffering or rejection will daunt us.
Looking to the example of the Saints is very helpful. This week we celebrated Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Saint Thomas More, Saint John Fisher, and Saint John the Baptist. Each of these men lived in different times and circumstances, but each was resolute in following Christ. Each allowed their sins and failings to be burned up and gave themselves entirely to Christ. May we look to them as models for us and intercessors so that we may all one day arrive safely in the heavenly Jerusalem.