The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
II Kings 4:8-11,14-16 + Romans 6:3-4,8-11 + Matthew 10:37-42
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
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references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Sunday by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:
CCC 2232-2233: to follow Christ is first vocation of Christian
CCC 537, 628, 790, 1213, 1226-1228, 1694: baptism, to die to self, to live for Christ
CCC 1987: grace justifies through faith and baptism
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All over the Wichita Diocese, many priests are in the midst of starting new assignments. Undoubtedly, some have mixed feelings about uprooting themselves and beginning again in a new part of the diocese. At such a crossroads, a priest knows to reflect upon Jesus’ three years of public ministry.
Whenever we hear of Jesus’ teaching and miracles, we have to be mindful that Jesus isn’t just wandering from town to town randomly. He’s a man on a mission. His mission is the Cross on that hill just outside Jerusalem. Jesus wants each of us to follow Him there.
At Sunday Mass, the Church’s Sacred Liturgy will be marked by Ordinary Time for the next twenty weeks or so until the end of the Church year in November. Over the course of these twenty weeks our Gospel Reading each Sunday will follow this journey of Jesus towards Jerusalem.
Consider two points about this journey. Each relates to your own spiritual life, which is meant to mirror Jesus’ public ministry.
First, reflect upon the sort of strength you need to persevere in the journey. There are two types of strength that are needed. There is moral strength on the natural level, which we can develop into moral virtues, especially the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Then there is the spiritual strength that comes only from God’s supernatural grace.
But think about how these two interact with each other. Atheists who want to be virtuous will rely only on the moral virtues, rejecting the idea of turning to God for His grace. Then on the other hand is the opposite, but also wrong-headed approach. This is the belief that only through God’s spiritual strength can we make it through life. The false belief negates the need to cultivate the human, moral virtues. In other words, this second wrong-headed approach claims that a Christian can just receive the sacraments frequently without the hard work of cultivating the human, moral virtues.
The middle approach, which is the path that Holy Mother Church commends to us, is to integrate these types of strength. We need human, moral strength that comes from cultivating the virtues. We also need the divine strength that comes only from God’s grace.
In theology, there’s a basic principle that sums all this up. It asserts that “grace builds upon nature”, or that “grace presupposes nature”. Our human nature, including our human formation in all the virtues, is the foundation of our lives as persons. When God gives us His grace, even as powerful as grace is, it presupposes nature. If the natural foundation is not there, the supernatural grace washes away, so to speak.
To illustrate this principle, think of a one-hundred story skyscraper. If its foundation is made of sand, it doesn’t matter if you build the upper stories with the strongest steel beams on the market. The whole building will eventually teeter, and then totter, and then the whole thing will collapse, including those strong, steel beams. Something similar occurs in connection with God’s grace, which must build upon the natural qualities that we do or do not have through human cultivation.
Given all that, reflect upon a second point. Reflect upon the peace that comes from following Jesus instead of following the call of the world. Jesus at the Last Supper said, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you” [Jn 14:27].
So how can we know this peace in our lives? It emerges when you focus your earthly days upon the two most important moments in your life. Whenever you pray the “Hail Mary”, you speak of those two most important moments: now and the hour of your death.
Some live as if death will never arrive. Many live only for “now”. Yet 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. Cooperating with God’s grace at each earthly “now” will bring us peace not only at the hour of our death, but also during the eternity that inevitable follows death.