Perhaps I'll get the chance to write more about the trip later this week. Right now, I have some catching up to do :)
Homily: 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle C
Franklin Covey is a popular writer and speaker about leadership and success in business. In his works he often speaks about how prioritization is a key to success in both business and in life. To show this, he developed a demonstration that perhaps some of you are familiar with. In it he takes a jar and fills it first with small rocks and says that the small rocks are the small, mostly insignificant things that fill our daily lives. These are things like, watching TV and surfing the internet. Then he takes larger rocks and begins to place them in the jar. These, he says, are the bigger, more important things that we value: things like our relationships with family, friends, and with God, and our careers. What he shows is that with the small rocks already in the jar, the larger rocks don’t all fit. And this, he says, demonstrates that if we allow the small, insignificant things to have priority in our lives, that is, to get into our jar first, we’ll find that we don’t have room for the things that we really value; and, thus, that we will be unsuccessful and unsatisfied in our lives. He then empties the jar of all of the rocks and begins again, this time placing the large rocks in first, showing that there is plenty of room in our lives for those things that we value. Then he pours the small rocks over the large ones and they all fall in, filling in the spaces in between the large rocks, which shows that when we give priority to the things that we value there is still room for those smaller, insignificant things that we, nonetheless, enjoy. It’s a very strong image that has helped a lot of people turn around their lives to find success and fulfillment.
Recently I saw a video that applies this principle a little more radically and that uses the example that Jesus lays out for us in the Gospels to demonstrate for us how to orientate our lives in such a way so as to achieve not just what we hope for, but rather what God has promised to us. In it the man speaks of how Jesus was able to say “no” to many things in his life and ministry on earth. For example, he said “no” when the crowds, seeing him perform a miracle, wanted to make him king; he said “no” when the people of a town of Galilee pressed him to stay with them, even though he had plans to go on to another town; he said “no” when his disciples wanted to protect him from the suffering he was to endure on the cross, and he even rebuked them for attempting to do so.
The man in video goes on to say that, in order for Jesus to do this, he first had to say “yes” to something. Jesus knew what he had been sent to earth to do, which the Gospel recounts for us today. In it, Jesus said “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” Now because Jesus said “yes” to this, the will of the Father for him, he could then say “no” to all of those other things that attempted to take him from this mission: the mission to preach the Good News in preparation for his suffering, death, and resurrection that would win salvation for us all. This is the point of the video: that if Jesus had not first made that radical “yes” to the will of the Father for his life on earth, he would not have been able to say “no” so definitively to all of the other things that attempted to pull him away from it. We, too, therefore, need to discover what that “one thing” is for our lives that we must say “yes” to; for when we do, we will discover the power to say “no” to everything else that attempts to pull us away from it.
This is exactly what Jesus is demanding of us today in the Gospel. For right after he reveals to his disciples the “one thing” that he has said “yes” to in his life, he turns and tells them that they, too, must do the same. For he says: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” In other words, Jesus is telling them to say “yes” to the cross, and that this “yes” is a radical “yes” that will completely re-orientate their lives so much that their earthly lives will no longer seem to have value in the light of the life they are to gain by saying “yes” to the cross. In other words, he is telling them, “say ‘yes’ to the life that you are to gain so that you can say ‘no’ to all of the things in you life that would try to keep you from gaining it.”
My brothers and sisters, we, too, need to say “yes” to the cross that God has called us to carry—which is our vocation, that “one thing” that God has called us to do and to be in this life—and we need to do this daily, so that we, too, may say “no” to the temptations that the world offers us that would distract us from obtaining this life that God longs to give us. This “yes”, as I’ve said, is radical. For it means laying down our lives—that is, our dreams for personal success and comfort—so as to gain that “one thing”: which is nothing less than eternal life.
Yet, we don’t do this, do we? Rather, we allow ourselves to be distracted by all of the countless insignificant things that fill our days. Facebook, e-mail, Twitter, Duck Dynasty, NCIS, two-a-day soccer practices, and more all tempt us daily to turn away from what God has called us to: from the “one thing” that gives our lives direction and purpose. Yet Jesus calls us today to follow his example and, therefore, to take up our cross daily with our focus on the “one thing” that God has called us to: whether that’s the life of a spouse and parent, the chaste single life, or a religious vocation, like myself.
Perhaps at this point you’re thinking, “Ok, I get that. So how do I begin?” Well, like all things in the spiritual life, we must begin with conversion: with taking a hard look at our lives so as to find the ways that we have failed to say “yes” to God’s plan and thus have refused to say “no” to all of those things that pull us away from it. This, of course, is hard work. But God hasn’t left us to do it alone. Rather, as the prophet Zephaniah states in our first reading today, God has given us a spirit of grace and petition that will help us to recognize how we’ve failed. It is a spirit that enables us to see “him whom we have pierced” by our sins: that is, by our failure to follow his plan. And it is a spirit to repent, to ask for mercy, and then to commit to taking up our crosses daily—to saying “yes” to our vocation, that “one thing” that God has called us to—so as to obtain the eternal life that Jesus has won for us.
This past week I was with some of our youth on the mission trip to Virginia and on it we all experienced what it means to say “yes” to God’s plan first—to worshiping him and serving those around us—and, thus, how to say “no” to so many other things that try to distract us from that. Even with this experience, however, our challenge today as we return back to our “normal” lives is the same that Jesus makes to all of us today: to take up our crosses daily—that is, to say “yes” daily to God’s plan first so that we are able to say “no” to everything that would distract us from it. My brothers and sisters, we must do this if we wish to inherit eternal life. For Jesus says “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Let us, then, say “yes” to the life that God has promised us; and let us each take up our cross daily and follow him.
Given at All Saints Parish, Logansport, IN – June 23rd, 2013