Sunday, September 8, 2013

Followers and Disciples

Readings for Sunday, September 8/ 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Wisdom 9:13-18
Psalm 90:3-6, 12-17
Philemon 9-10, 12-17
Luke 14:25-33

The Gospel begins tonight with Our Lord being followed by a great crowd. To them He turns and gives the jolting conditions for becoming a disciple. With that announcement He implicitly makes a distinction between followers and disciples; followers being those who know the teachings, see the miracles, and yet fail to submit completely to the Lord’s will and disciples being those who are willing to set their will aside to follow after that of God.

To be a disciple though is a bit intimidating. After all, we heard the expectations just now: willingness to give up all possessions, setting aside family and friends, and picking up a cross to follow the Lord – all of these pointing to the simple fact that disciples must love nothing more than Christ and His will. That’s scary for us because, let’s be honest, we don’t like crosses! And if we’re going to be disciples we have to daily carry our cross. This makes us tend to shy away from discipleship, to try to cut out our own path to Heaven that goes around the crosses that Jesus would ask us to pick up. The truth, though is that if we pick up the cross Christ invites us to pick up, He will be there to help us carry it and make it light. But if we avoid that cross and try to pick out a more pleasing one for ourselves, choosing our will over His, then we only complicate things. Where we think we will come out ahead, 100 out of 100 times we will only make things works and increase the weight of the cross we were asked to carry before.

We hear this call to follow the path of the Lord in our first reading from the Book of Wisdom. The reading, characteristic of the whole book, sounds so poetic and beautiful and yet at the end we miss the meaning it tries to convey. It takes us 2, 3, or 4 time over to catch what is actually being spoken. And what it says today is this: we struggle to understand the things of the world around us, those things within our reach, and how much more to understand the things of God. The latter part is possible, though, with the help of the Holy Spirit and His gift of Wisdom. With the Spirit’s help we can have a straight path to walk, a clear road. That’s what the teachings of the Church are: the clear road for us to walk along to find our eternal reward. When we choose to go against Church teachings, whether knowingly or unknowingly, our pattern quickly moves from straight line to zigzag-circle-squiggly-all over the place lines. Case in point: the people of Israel.

The Jewish people, the nation of Israel, were in slavery in Egypt and spent years crying out for God’s help to free them from their bondage. He heard their cry and came to them to announce that He would bring them to the Promised Land, a land of great wealth and prosperity, and freedom. They trusted a bit and began the journey but soon began to distrust God’s ways. Several times in the Exodus story we hear of God’s plan for the people and how they chose against it out of fear and pride. If you look online, you search and find that from Cairo, Egypt to Jerusalem, Israel – roughly the distance they had to walk – you will find that it is 265 miles. That’s shorter than it is from here (Gramercy) to Houston, which a hardy walk could accomplish in a couple of weeks. And yet because they chose their own will they wandered hungry, thirsty, and homeless in the desert for 40 years. Imagine it taking you forty years to get to Houston from here! And all of that suffering, wandering, and wasted time because they chose their own will.

Bringing things a bit closer to home… we’ve been looking for PSR teachings for a couple of months now, asking at each Mass for people to pray about it and consider it. A few weeks ago we began to look at the list of kids and their parents to see if some of the parents might be able to help us. What we found was shocking and saddening. Nearly half of the parents for our youth were unable to be teachers for PSR because they couldn’t meet the requirements; many were unmarried and cohabitating or married outside the Church. They can’t be teachers for our youth, they can’t be godparents for babies of their friends and family members, and according to Church teaching they shouldn’t be receiving Holy Communion. Sin complicates things! If we all chose the straight path then so many problems would simply go away, but our fear and pride often get the best of us and we let ourselves become followers rather than disciples. It’s frustrating because the things we intended to avoid in the beginning, which we thought were so bad, turn out to be as nothing compared to what we have to endure for avoiding them.

In saying all of this I intend in no way to point fingers, make judgments, or push anyone away from the Church, as I know well the feeling of having sand between my toes from walking too often in the desert myself. My point in saying all of this is to say that there is a way out, that God doesn’t want us to endure these sufferings we bring upon ourselves. He came to give us life, but we have to choose to receive it. He wants to give us His grace, but we have to be willing to cooperate with it and allow it to change our hearts and lives. And to help us in that journey He gives to us one of the greatest gifts we could ask for: a heavenly mother, Mary.

Mary, Untier of Knots
There’s a story of a couple in the 1700’s who were having some difficulty in their marriage. The husband went to a priest and for 28 straight days they prayed before an image of Our Lady. At that time and in that region it was common in the wedding ceremony to have the bride and groom’s arms tied together by a cord to symbolize their union in marriage and this cord was often kept in their homes as a reminder. The husband brought this cord for the prayers and at the end of the 28 days the priest stood before the image of Mary and began to untie the cord. It became radiantly white, and perfectly smooth. The man took this as Mary’s intercessory power winning the grace for the renewal of his marriage. This soon became a great devotion to Mary under the title of Undoer of Knots or Untier of Knots. The fact is that our life is like that cord at the beginning. But with each sin we tie a knot. And the more we sin the more knots, and the worse the sin the worse the knot. It is God’s grace alone that can help us to untie all of those knots in our lives, and that can happen in miraculous ways through Mary under this title. As her beloved children she wants nothing more than to help us find peace through the difficulties of this life. No matter the sin, no matter the situation of difficulty that we may be experiencing, Mary is there to help make our lives radiant as well. Let us come before her today with hearts longing to be healed and ask her, ‘Mary, untier of knots, untie the knots of my heart and help me to walk the straight path that leads to salvation. Amen.