Being Christian and Staying the Course


Our readings for this weekend have the clear and common theme of being firmly committed to God, and prioritizing the other aspects of our life in proper respect to this first priority.

Our readings for this weekend:

In our first reading, we see Elijah following God’s instructions to anoint Elisha as his successor as the chosen and anointed prophet of God. We can glean some important things about Elisha’s life from this reading: He was handling a team of twelve yoke of oxen. So this was no small guy. He was big and strong. And we see that he fed “his people”, those depending on him, and so he was a man who was a provider to others in and near his home. But in his action, we see what’s most important: he slaughters the twelve yoke of oxen, and uses the yoke to fuel the fire of a great meal for his people. He essentially burned the bridge behind him to his previous life as he went to follow Elijah.

Throughout the Old Testament books of First and Second Kings, we see the story of these two prophets, Elijah, and Elisha, the embodiment of God’s promise through Moses that God will continue to be with and guide his people. And it is through these two great prophets that we see a kind of parallel to St. John the Baptist and Jesus, whose narratives are interwoven in the beginning of the Gospel according to St. Luke. Elijah was a prophet of warning, of vengeance, of calling down thunder and lightning. Elisha was a prophet of mercy, of healing, of resurrection and restoration, and forgiveness. Although the contrast is not exact, for we heard a few weeks ago of Elijah restoring the son of the widow of Zarephath, and we know that Jesus at times played the part of giving stern warnings and displaying divine anger.

Indeed, in today’s Gospel, which can be divided into two parts, in the first part, we have Jesus showing a gentle response to being rejected by the Samaritans, while his disciples James and John earn their nickname, “the Sons of Thunder” for wanting to punish the Samaritans for their faithlessness.

Then in the second part of the Gospel, which shows three potential disciples, Jesus is stern with them, demonstrating that once a person makes a commitment to be Christian, nothing must get in the way, nothing must take a higher priority, and nothing must be chosen which is inconsistent with that primary priority. It’s not going to be easy, Jesus tells us. We’re not going to have some of the comforts that others enjoy. But what are those comforts worth, compared with eternity in the highest ranks of heaven? St. Francis de Sales teaches us that it is not enough to simply avoid sin, but we must let go even of our affection for sin. We can’t want what is sinful, even if it were permitted. We must purify our desires, our hearts, if we want to see God.

One of the stories I read recently is about a guard in charge of a lighthouse along a dangerous coast who was given enough oil for one month and told to keep the light burning every night. One day a woman asked for some oil so that her children could stay warm. Then a farmer came because his son needed oil for a lamp so he could study. Another needed some for an engine. The guard saw each as a worthy request and gave some oil to satisfy all. By the end of the month, the tank in the lighthouse was dry. That night the beacon was dark and a ship crashed on the rocks. More than one hundred lives were lost. The lighthouse guard explained what he had done and why. But the prosecutor replied, “You were given only one and very important task: to keep the light burning. Every other thing was secondary. Deviation from your responsibility has caused loss of many lives and much property. You have no excuse.”

Temptation is not necessarily a choice between good and evil. Perhaps more confusing and tempting is the conflict when one must choose between something good and a greater good. The lighthouse keeper in our story found himself in such a conflict situation. And that is what happened to the would-be disciples in today’s Gospel story. In such cases the good becomes the enemy of the best. One must say NO to a good thing in order to say YES to the one thing necessary.

Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.

Pope Benedict is often quoted as saying, “The world promises you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” That’s the choice between saying “no” to the good of comfort, to be able to say “yes” to the greater good of greatness. Another great quote, by Augusta Kantra, isDiscipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.” It’s the same principle: saying “no” to what you want now (like a big juicy steak and baked potato) so that you can say “yes” to what you want most (lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol so you can lose weight and live healthier).

If it’s true about your physical life, in this case, it’s more true for your spiritual life. We are called to make sacrifices (fasting, praying, almsgiving). We are called to do things (help the poor and vulnerable, go to Mass weekly and Confession regularly, follow the moral law). We are called to avoid things (practice chastity, refrain from gossip, don’t be judgmental). Sure, some of these are for everybody, but some of them are especially directed at Christians. Our lives should not be lived the same way as others, because we are pursuing different goals. And if the ends are different, so should the path be different. We are not seeking popularity, wealth, power, or pleasure. We are seeking holiness, humility, mercy, faith, hope, and charity. We’re seeking heaven, and the steep, narrow road to get there. And to make that journey, we have to let go of a lot of unnecessary baggage.

We have to ditch what we want now, for what we want most. We have to keep our hand to the plow, and not look back.

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