13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
13th Sunday / Ordinary / C
June 25-26, 2016
St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames, Iowa
Fr. Jon Seda
I work with young men who are discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood, which is interesting and enjoyable. This fall, I think 16 or 17 ISU graduates will be in seminary for various dioceses in the Midwest. And they are really good guys, not misfits like me! At the pre-theology seminary at Loras College in Dubuque, 5 of the 12 seminarians are ISU graduates. The seminary there is next to the retired priests residence. I hear that they often play cards together, and that some of the retired priests are a bit too competitive.
I told the Archbishop that I think it is a good thing for the guys to get to the know our retired priests, because the C word that scares them the most is not celibacy. The C word that scares them the most is commitment, and it is not just them. It is good for them to see people who show them that a lifetime commitment is possible, is fruitful, is joyful. That is why for many years our parish has had the practice of blessing married couples celebrating their anniversaries each month. We need to see that lifetime commitments are possible, are fruitful, are joyful. You may not know that our parish has over 40 couples who have been married 50 years or more, which is an awesome gift to our parish.
Making and keeping a lifetime commitment is difficult in a culture where the dominant notion of freedom is: Hey things may change. Keep your options open. Someone or something better may come along, and usually does.
St. Paul in the second reading says that this is not freedom. This is slavery to the provisional. Paul in his writings and in his life shows us that real freedom is in the ability to give one's whole life away in a definitive way.
The readings today are about making definitive commitments, and may seem harsh to us as they probably did in the time of Jesus. In the first reading, Elijah calls Elisha to succeed him as a prophet of God. Elisha was a wealthy farmer, and at first he hesitates. But then it says he slaughtered his oxen and burns his plowing equipment. In other words, he closes the door to changing his mind later on. He makes a definitive commitment.
This sets up the Gospel where Jesus speaks words that jar us. He calls for a total commitment to discipleship. Three times Jesus says, "follow me." And three times the response is, "Yes, I will but . . . when . . . if." Jesus rejects these excuses, even the good ones. He is not looking for lukewarm, half hearted followers.
I think it was Soren Kierkegaard who once defined a saint as someone who can will the one thing. That may sound odd but get right to the point of the matter. Many of us will many things. We want to follow Jesus, but we also want X, Y, or Z. What makes saints different is that they have the ability to will the one thing. And that one thing is Jesus, who shapes every area of their lives and relativizes everything else.
This is what Elisha does. He does God's will in a definitive way, and kills his oxen and burns his farming equipment. There was no going back, no changing his mind later, he was all in.
Jesus picks up on this image in a way that we in Iowa can understand. "No one who set a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God." Making lifetime commitments is scary and counter-cultural. Yes, things will change, but with the grace of God, our commitment to Jesus can be steadfast. Without making and keeping lifetime commitments, our lives become so tentative and ultimately shallow.
A few weeks after he was elected Pope, Francis visited St. Mary's Basilica in Rome. He spoke of Mary in a way I had never thought of and never heard of, and it has enriched my devotion to her. These beautiful words touch my heart, and speak to us of discipleship and of the good life. He says:
"Mary, like a good mother, teaches us to be, like her, capable of making definitive decisions, definitive decisions in this moment in which there reigns, so to say, the philosophy of the provisional. It is so difficult to commit oneself definitively in life. Mary helps us to make definitive decisions with that complete freedom with which she answered 'yes' to God's plan for her life. Let us not be afraid of definitive commitments, of commitments that involve and interest our whole life! In this way, life will be fruitful, and we discover true freedom."