Homily for the 13th Sun. in Ord. Time [C]

The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
I Kgs 19:16,19-21  +  Gal 5:1,13-18  +  Lk 9:51-62
June 30, 2019

“He resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem….”

All over the Wichita Diocese, many priests this month were “on the road again”, to use the words of Willie Nelson.  They moved to new residences and took 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.’”

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 speed bump, and there’s no detour around it.

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In the passage immediately before today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus challenges His followers—including us—to imitate Him.  He asks us to do three things:  to deny your self, and to take up your cross each day, and to follow Him.  In today’s Gospel Reading 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 speed bump 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.

This year, we will be celebrating the season of Ordinary Time over the next twenty weeks or so, 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.

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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.  Nonetheless, Jesus at the Last Supper said, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you”[1].  Where is this peace in our lives?  What keeps us from experiencing deep and abiding peace?

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.

Elijah calls Elisha