The 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
I Kings 19:16,19-21  +  Galatians 5:1,13-18  +  Luke 9:51-62
June 26, 2016

“He resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem….”

All over the Wichita Diocese, many priests this past week were “on the road again”, to use the words of Willie Nelson, moving to new residences and taking up new assignments within the diocese.  However, while Mr. Nelson just couldn’t wait to get on the road again, most of our priests had mixed feelings about uprooting themselves and beginning again in a new part of the diocese.  Those mixed feelings come from, on the one hand, wanting to be faithful to the bishop’s plan for the diocese, and knowing from experience that change brings blessings eventually.  On the other hand, change is difficult, and the longer a priest had been in his previous assignment, the harder it is to leave.

We priests should count our blessings, though.  In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus explains to a would-be disciple that “‘Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest His head.’”  Most rectories, by contrast, have not only very fine mattresses, but pretty good recliners, as well (for mid-afternoon meditation)!

The reason that Jesus has nowhere to rest His head is that He’s constantly on the road again.  He’s not making music with His friends.  He’s preaching the Kingdom to His enemies.  He’s preaching to those who have wandered from the path that leads to His Father in Heaven.  He wants everyone to get on the track that leads there.  Unfortunately, this track has a major speedbump, and there’s no detour around it.

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Last week in the Gospel, Jesus challenged us to imitate Him.  He asked you to do three things:  to deny your self, and to take up your cross each day, and to follow HimThis week, we hear where following Him will lead us.

Jesus sets out for Jerusalem.  The name “Jerusalem” literally means “city of peace”.  It’s there that Jesus will be condemned to death for your sins, and from there led to Calvary, a hill just outside the city limits.  Calvary is that speedbump that there’s no detour around.  This is the only way that leads to our destination:  the Father’s city of eternal peace, the heavenly Jerusalem.

Here in 2016, we will be celebrating the season of Ordinary Time for the next twenty weeks, until the end of the Church year in November.  Over the course of these twenty weeks our Gospel passage each Sunday will follow this journey of Jesus towards Jerusalem, as Saint Luke records it, from Luke Chapter 9—from which today’s passage is taken—through Luke Chapter 21 on the Sunday before the Solemnity of Christ the King, and then culminating in the scene of Calvary from Luke Chapter 23 on the Sunday of Christ the King.

You know, many Catholics are eager to study Scripture on a weekly or daily basis, but they are often unsure how to go about it.  Maybe they don’t realize that our Sunday Mass readings are laid out in a very purposeful way.  If you’ve been interested in studying the Scriptures, these next twenty weeks offer a wonderful way to meditate on the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, the City of Peace, moving through Chapters 9-23 of the Gospel according to Saint Luke.  If you’re interested in a study guide to help you in meditating on Scripture, I’d recommended the Ignatius Study Bible’s single-volume commentary on Luke.

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Regarding Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, which through your spiritual life you are meant to be a pilgrim on, consider just two points this morning:  (1) the sort of strength you need to persevere in this journey; and (2) the peace that comes from following Jesus instead of following the call of the world.

So what sort of strength is demanded of you to follow Jesus on His journey?  To make a long journey on foot, as of course Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem was, requires a great deal of strength.

There are two types of strength that we have for this journey.  We have moral strength on the natural level, which we can develop into the moral virtues, especially the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.  Then there is the spiritual strength that comes from God’s supernatural grace.

But what I want you to think about it how these two interact with each other.  Atheists who want to be virtuous will rely only on the moral virtues, and reject the idea of turning to God for His grace.  Then on the other hand is the opposite, but also wrong approach:  relying only on God for His grace, and believing that only through His spiritual strength we can make it through life, without having to cultivate the human, moral virtues.  That is to say, I can just receive the sacraments frequently without having to cultivate the human, moral virtues.

The middle approach, which is the path that Holy Mother Church points out to us, is to accept the need for both types of strength.  We need human, moral strength, and we need divine strength that comes from grace.

In theology there’s a very basic principle that sums this up:  translated into English this principle says that “grace builds on nature” or “grace presupposes nature”.  Our human nature, including our human formation in all the virtues, is the foundation of our lives as persons.  God gives us His grace, but as powerful as grace is, it presupposes nature.  If the natural foundation is not there, the grace washes away.

To illustrate this principle, think of a tall building, a skyscraper of one hundred stories:  if the foundation is made of sand, it doesn’t matter if you build the upper stories with the strongest steel beams that you can buy.  The whole building will eventually teeter, and then totter, and then the whole thing will fall, including those strong, steel beams.  It’s very similar with God’s grace, which builds upon the natural qualities that we do or do not have through human cultivation.

We are blessed, in the 2000 year history of Jesus’ Church, to have many saints who not only pray for us from Heaven, but who also show us two things:  how to turn our sins over to Jesus, and how to grow in holiness, by focusing less and less on our self.  In the life of each saint, God’s grace builds on human nature.  Consider just one of those saints as an example.

In November of 1534, the Parliament of England passed a law stating that the king of England ruled not only the civil order within his realm, but the spiritual order as well:  that is to say, the king was to be called “the head of the Church in England”.  This law was drawn up into an oath called the “Oath of Supremacy”, which all noblemen were required to sign as a testimony of their allegiance to the king.  Inasmuch as bishops were also noblemen in England, the signing of the “Oath of Supremacy” was put before every Catholic bishop in England, and every one of them took pen in hand and signed the oath, except John Fisher, the bishop of Rochester.

Bishop Fisher had the sort of steadfastness that we see in Jesus today.  In the same way that Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem”, the scene of his trial and crucifixion, so Bishop Fisher was steadfast in recognizing that for a person to keep his head on straight in life, he has to be willing to put first things first—to put spiritual goals ahead of worldly ones, and to put the Truth ahead of his own self.

Not surprisingly, the steadfastness of Bishop Fisher was met with his arrest and imprisonment in the Tower of London.  His loyalty to the universal Church was recognized when Pope Paul III named him a cardinal and sent him the red galero of a cardinal (the galero is a large brimmed cap).  King Henry VIII was infuriated, and replied, “Let the pope send him a hat.  I will see to it that whenever it arrives, John Fisher will wear it on his shoulders, for head he shall have none.”  Meanwhile, Bishop John Fisher spent the months of his imprisonment in prayer, asking God to strengthen him up to the moment of his death, which came with his beheading on June 22, 1535.  In His martyrdom, Bishop John Fisher united Himself to Jesus on Calvary.

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As Jesus heads resolutely to Jerusalem, the City of Peace, He knows that His vocation is to bring peace to each human person.  Peace is often, unfortunately, not commonplace in our earthly lives.  You and I may not face the sort of persecution and trial that St. John Fisher did, but we never seem to have a lot of peace in our lives.  Nonetheless, Jesus at the Last Supper said, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you”[1].  Where is this peace in our lives?

Here’s a way to answer that question.  Ask yourself just how seriously you take the two most important moments in your life:  the two moments that determine whether your life will have abiding peace in it.

What are the two most important moments in your life?  They don’t involve the moment of your birth, or the birth of your first child; not your graduation from school, or the graduation of your last child; not the day of your wedding, or the day you bought your first house; not even the day of your baptism.

You speak of, and pray about, these two most important moments of your life when you pray the “Hail Mary”.  Whenever you turn to our Blessed Mother in this prayer, you speak of those two most important moments of your life, which are:  #1, now; and #2, the hour of your death.

The two most important moments of your life are now and the hour of your death.  Maybe we know others who live as if the moment of death will never arrive:  they live only for “now”.  The fact is, though, that every “now” of our life bears a direct impact on which eternal dwelling God will send us packing for at the hour of our death.  Everything we do now, or don’t do now, bears on that moment at the hour of our death.

Each of us as a Christian does not control his or her life.  If you do believe you are in control of your life, the life you’re imagining as your own is certainly not the life God wants for you, and which Jesus died to give you.  If you are firmly resolved to prepare your self for the hour of your death, you will be firmly resolved in the “now” of every moment to follow what God is calling you to do.  In other words, God’s will is the thread that links the pearls of your now, and of the hour of your death.  Both are pearls of great price, so don’t squander either.

Every day God calls us to follow Him.  If we worthily receive the Body and Blood, soul and divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist, He will strengthen us at every “now” of the coming week.  He wants us to accept the spiritual strength we need to cultivate the virtues of human life, to more closely follow Jesus, and to experience every single day the peace of our heavenly Father.


[1] John 14:27.