September 4, 2022: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Pastor’s Corner
Recently I was chatting with a Jesuit friend about his new upcoming assignment. (Full disclosure, this is not a set up for a joke!) After many years of ministry in the diocese, he is being called to the Southwest to take up a different kind of ministry with immigrants and the poor. I told him that just like Abram was called to leave his family and home when he was 75 years old, so too he was starting a new journey of God’s blessings. As we talked about this ministry, he shared the challenges involved in relocating. Moving is not easy. It takes energy to pack up, and even more to discard whatever is no longer needed going forward. In particular, my Jesuit friend said that letting go of the academic work and notes that formed a foundation of his previous ministry was acutely difficult. Not only is there sentimentality involved, but the hours of study and writing which they represent made it particularly hard to let go of such materials. He described his process of letting in almost ritual terms. He took up his papers, embraced them and then sent them off to the recycle bin for a new incarnation of life. Letting go is arduous.
In the Gospel, Jesus connects this principle of letting go with discipleship. There is a cost to following Jesus; a precious price to be paid when we truly want God’s will to be done in our life. Jesus gives two illustrations to this point: “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.” (Luke 14: 27-32) In other words, growth in our spiritual life is not the result of spontaneous sentimentality or the effects of a “religious moment” but rather the fruit of planning and daily practice.
This spiritual planning is not engaged at first with doing something, but rather with letting go of what would impede our ability to follow God’s will. This is why Jesus concludes these parables on planning by saying: “In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33) Letting go of our priorities and goals is the first step to allowing Our Creator to reveal his will for us to follow. For example, there’s no way we can grow in generosity if we’re not willing to let go of grudges, no way to grow in gratitude if we can’t stop complaining. Growth in virtue is not possible when we’re holding on to any forms of selfishness. The cost to follow Jesus is to let go of having ourselves at the center of life. In the end, though, we discover that letting go empowers us to grow into the person we are created to be!
~ Fr. Michael