Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Selling Out for the Lord
During the coming week, Bart Kovacic, Ron McIlveen, Heather Kuhlman, and I will accompany 9 of our Teens to the Life Teen Leadership Conference at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, about forty minutes from Kansas City. There will be 450 to 500 Teens there, mostly in their sophomore and junior years of high school, 15 to 17 year olds. This is retreat is not open to anyone. It is only for those chosen by their youth ministers and priests as being potential leaders in our Church. In reality, they are chosen by God.
So, here you have all these exceptional Teens, attending a large number of talks, having one prayer experience after an other; and yet, the main goal of the week will be to get them each to make a commitment to Jesus Christ and His Church. You might think that this sounds superfluous. You might think that these Teens were already committed to the Lord or they wouldn't be there. That would not be totally true. The commitment of the Leadership Conference is to take a leap of faith, to sell out for Jesus Christ. It is not a matter with being satisfied with making minor changes in life to be more Christian. It is a call to make a radical commitment to the Lord. This retreat is a life changing event which will result in others also changing their lives. The discussion leaders, prayer leaders, and those who present talks at our youth retreats, as well as the leaders of our campus ministries, and also many of our seminarians and religious sisters, are all young people who made the Leadership Retreat and sold out for the Lord for the remainder of their lives.
In many ways we are all like the Teens as they arrived at the Leadership Conference. We want The Lord in our lives, or we would not be here right now, here at Mass. But like some of the Teens, there are those areas of our lives that we hold back from The Lord. We do not totally sell out for Him. We say that we are committed to our faith, but we really don't want The Lord present when we are joining in with the world's celebration of materialism, or agreeing with the immoral aspects of our society, or simply joining in with the gossip of the neighborhood.
"When the days for Jesus' being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem" Some translations say, "He set his face like flint towards Jerusalem." Nothing was going to impede his commitment to the Kingdom of God. He knew that Jerusalem would be the place of His Passion and Death. But He also knew that He would change the world by submitting in obedience to the Father and by dying for love of us. Peter protested when Jesus announced his Passion. "God forbid, Lord." Jesus called Him Satan. Only the devil would try to thwart God's Plan. Thomas said, "Lets go with him and die with Him." The future doubter had the courage within him to sell out for The Lord. But many of the people who were captivated by Jesus’ words, who wanted to stay united with Him, could not bring themselves to sell out for Him. "Let me do this, first Lord. Let me do that." Perhaps, many of us do this too. We want The Lord, but we want Him on our terms, at the times and places we determine.
"My brothers and sisters, you are called to freedom, not slavery." St Paul writes this to the Galatians in today's Second Reading. He is also writing this to us. At least I know he is writing it to me. He is telling me, and you too, that we have the ability to be free to love with every fiber of body and with the might of our souls. But we have to commit to Him, totally, with our entire lives.
"Lord, the Samaritans will not welcome you. Should we call down fire from heaven to consume them?" Really? Really, James and John? Is that what you think this is about, this commission by the Father, publically proclaimed at the Lord's baptism, and detailed with Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration. Do you really think this is about sending fire on the ancient enemies of the Jews? "Kill all those who refuse to join us. Kill the Jews. Have an inquisition. Kill the Moslems. Call a crusade. Kill the reputations of those who would dare mock us. Refuse to recognize their dignity." Really, is that why we wage a battle for the Kingdom of Heaven? Don't you get it, James and John, and Shirley and Phil?
James and John wanted a religion that was fierce, that would hurt all who opposed it. Jesus didn't come to establish a Kingdom of pain. He knew that people would try to hide hatred under the guise of religion. He didn't want a religion that would call down fire on people. At least not physical fire. The fire He wanted to call down was the fire of the Holy Spirit. “I have come to set the world on fire, and how I wish it were aflame,” we read in Luke 12:49. His life was not about physical power. His life was about service, service through love. His religion would be all about leading others to God.
We are called to lead others to God. This includes that relative, or that neighbor who really irritates us. This includes that person has really hurt us, or, worse, has hurt someone whom we love. We can't say, "Lord, I'm not going to let go of my hate, but I still want to follow you." That is the same as saying, "Lord let me take care of this or that, and then I'll follow you." We have got to be committed to the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Love. We can't hold anything back We have got to sell out for The Lord.
I am not convinced that we recognize the battle that is taking place right here, and right now. We go to Church, we say our prayers, all as though we are doing things to keep God happy. We act like the Frozen Chosen, duty bound Catholics with our neat check lists of what we have to do to keep God happy.
We don’t practice our faith to keep God happy. He is God. He doesn't need us to be happy. Religion is about our roles in the battle of the Kingdom of God against evil. It is about fighting Satan. The devil, evil, sees the determination of committed Christians and will do everything it can to destroy us. We have got to acknowledge that we have been called to arms against a powerful spiritual foe, and we have to defeat him by realizing, making real, our own unique reflections of the Lord's love. For only love can destroy evil. This is the fire that will destroy the enemies of God.
There is a battle to be waged and a world that needs us to fight for good, fight for the Kingdom, and commit to The Lord.
Catholicism is a way of life. It is who we are. Every action of our lives must serve The Lord. We must sell out for Him. May we have the courage to let Jesus Christ set us on fire with His Love.