Wis 9.13 to 18; Ps 90; Phmn 1, 9-10.12-17; Lk 14.25 to 33
Is 30, 8-15b; Ps 50; Rm 5, 1-11; Mt 4.12 to 17
First Sunday after the martyrdom of St. John the Precursor
1) Paradoxical needs for a paradoxical journey.
After having left the banquet where Jesus said that we must live in humility and generosity (see last Sunday’s Gospel), Jesus resumes his journey to Jerusalem. His journey, more than a “geographical” one, is a journey of the heart that led him to open his hands and to let them be nailed to the cross.
On this road to Jerusalem, the Redeemer is accompanied by “a large crowd that went with him” (see Lk 14, 25). This “going” is the journey of life. To go with him is the meaning of our life because we are among the many people traveling with him. We too, like the first disciples and the crowd that was following him, are called to make up our minds, to take the decisive step and to become His disciples following him.
Often in the Gospel and not only in today’s passage, Christ calls to go with him, inviting to follow him in the path of his heart, which is a heart that saves, heals and forgives: a merciful heart. However, none of his teachings seems as hard, not to say disconcerting, as the one we hear today: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. “(Luke 14: 25-27). Three times Christ says that we can be his disciples only if we
1) hate the loved ones and even our own life,
2) carry the cross,
3) renounce all our possessions.
A question arises: how is it possible that Jesus, model of meekness, spoke words so harsh that seem to contradict other recommendations he himself had repeated several times, for example those that suggest to honor the parents and to love not only the neighbor but also the enemies?
These are not contradictions but paradoxes. In fact, also in various other passages of the four Gospels there are paradoxical teachings: “Blessed are you poor … …”; “If anyone wants to be first must be last and servant of all”; “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it”, etc. These are paradoxical expressions as paradoxical are the three indications remembered by the Messiah required as conditions necessary to follow Him. They are disconcerting indications expressing the need for a behavior that goes far beyond what is called common sense. However, these evangelical paradoxes are not unreasonable, but have a real and profound logic.
2) The Christian paradox.
To understand the truth and the reasonableness of the “paradoxes” of Christ required to follow Him, it is important to remember that, to be his followers, we need a superior love, a “more” which cannot come from us, but always assumes the substance of the Cross. To follow Jesus we must have for him a love bigger than the one for our family, a love greater than the one that each of us has for his or her own life. Moreover, we must carry our own cross.
But who is capable of this? Jesus calls us to do a good deal. It is a strange deal. The less one has, the great are his possibilities to succeed. The more one counts on Jesus in total surrender and loving trust, the more he is strong in the Lord (see. 2 Cor 12:10). The more we are poor of ourselves, the more we are rich of Christ and full of his strength which supports and forgives. To follow Jesus, then, we must “give up all our possessions.”
More than contradiction, this call of Christ sounds craziness. Christ’s call is not crazy and unreasonable. It is logic. In fact, the Savior asks to “give up everything” because it is not possible to make compromises nor to have a heart eyed and split, otherwise the result would be to die tormented. It is necessary to “give up everything” because, to be his “disciples” and save the world, we must have “all” his love and “all” his Grace. Mixing these with the infected resources of our carnal frailty would make everything useless. We are called to “give up all the assets”, from money and properties to will, leaving the field open to the love and grace of God.
3) Mother Teresa of Calcutta: a current example of discipleship.
A recent example of how it is possible to follow Christ, taking seriously the three logical and reasonable requirements expressed in the today’s Gospel: 1) to “hate” the loved ones and even his own life, 2) to carry the cross, 3) to renounce all possessions, is offered by Mother Teresa of Calcutta that today, September 4, 2016 will be canonized by Pope Francis.
This Saint had a strong experience of God who called her, loving her. For her, in her daily life on which weighted the consciousness of her own weakness and spiritual aridity, the experience of God has always had the upper hand. She understood that her life was being with Christ, who thirsts for our thirst.
Saint Teresa replied to the call that the Lord made directly to her with total abandon, loving trust and joy. In this way she has become an exemplary witness to Christians and non-Christians of the words of the beloved disciple: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us “(1 Jn 4: 11-12)”. Let this love continue to inspire us to be like Missionaries of Charity, to give ourselves wholeheartedly to Jesus, and to serve the poor and the sick, the lonely and the abandoned.
The thirst that Christ has for us on the Cross made Mother Teresa of Calcutta understand that the humanity of Jesus is the supreme sign of God’s revelation to man, the portal through which one must pass in order to understand what charity is and what divine life is. Charity is God who descends between us, who bends over us and quenches our thirst for love and meaning in life. At the same time, from our side, love is to embrace the humanity of Jesus. In welcoming the poor, our brothers, let’s accept Jesus. We are Jesus for one another.
God, who is the living water, needs our poor water and needs our yes to him to give us his life. In this way, the Redeemer introduces us to a journey of gradual identification with him. Through his thirst he makes us aware of our thirst and of our true needs.
With the water of His mercy He refreshes us. For our part, through the example and the intercession of Mother Teresa, we must respond to the cry of Jesus on the Cross: “I thirst.” If we listen with our heart, we will feel, understand and experience deeply that Jesus thirsts for us, for each one of us, and will welcome the invitation of the new saint: “Follow His footsteps in search of souls. Carry Him and His light into the houses of the poor, especially the neediest souls. Spread the charity of His Heart wherever you go, so as to quench His thirst for souls. “The mother of the poorest of the poor adds:” Do you realize it? God is thirsting for you and me to quench His thirst. “
How do the consecrated Virgins in the world and in the Church respond to this thirst? The specific form of the consecration of the Ordo Virginum by which these virgin women respond to the thirst of Christ, is characterized by a commitment to lead a life of faith and evangelical radicalism in the ordinary conditions of existence. The Virgins consecrated in the world and totally given to Christ, conform to Christ by living the Gospel radically and, in doing so, they reply to His thirst for us.
With their “proposita” they undertake forever the commitment to “follow Christ more closely … betrothed mystically to the Son of God” (canon 604, § 1) to serve the Church in the world. In this world, these consecrated Virgins pray the work, “doing it” with Him, “doing it” for Him, “doing it” to Him. In doing so, they love Him. Loving Him, they become more and more one with Him, and allow Him to live in them His Life. “This life of Christ in us is holiness “(see St Teresa of Calcutta).
For this Sunday, instead of the patristic reading, I propose a beautiful prayer composed by the Fathers Missionaries of Charity following the teachings of the new Saint.
I THIRST FOR YOU…
It is true. I stand at the door of your heart, day and night. Even when you are not listening, even when you doubt it could be Me, I am there. I await even the smallest sign of your response, even the least whispered invitation that will allow Me to enter.
And I want you to know that whenever you invite Me, I do come always without fail. Silent and unseen I come, but with infinite power and love, and bringing the many gifts of My spirit. I come with My mercy, with My desire to forgive and heal you and with a love for you beyond your comprehension- a love every bit as great as the love I have received from the Father ( As much as the Father has loved me, I have loved you…”[John.15:9]). I come – longing to console you and give you strength, to lift you up and bind all your wounds. I bring you My light, to dispel your darkness and all your doubts. I come with My power, that I might carry you and all of your burdens; with My grace, to touch your heart and transform your life; and My peace I give to still your soul.
I know you through and through – I know everything about you. The very hairs of your head I have numbered. Nothing in your life is unimportant to Me. I have followed you through the years, and I have always loved you – even in your wanderings. I know everyone of your problems. I know your needs and your worries. And yes, I know all your sins. But I tell you again that I love you- not for what you have or haven’t done – I love you for you, for the beauty and dignity My Father gave you by creating you in His own image. It is a dignity you have often forgotten, a beauty you have tarnished by sin. But I love you as you are, and I have shed My Blood to win you back. If you only ask Me with faith, My grace will touch all the needs changing in your life; and I will give you the strength to free yourself from sin and all its destructive power.
I know what is in your heart- I know your loneliness and all your hurts- the rejections, the judgments, the humiliations. I carried it all before you. And I carried it all for you, so you might share My strength and victory. I know especially your need for love – how you are thirsted in vain, by seeking that love selfishly, striving to fill the emptiness inside you with passing pleasures- with the even greater emptiness of sin. Do you thirst for love? “Come to Me all of you who thirst…”(John 7:37). I will satisfy you and fill you. Do you thirst to be cherished? I cherish you more than you can imagine – to the point of dying on a cross for you.
I thirst for you. Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe My love for you: I THIRST FOR YOU. I thirst to love you and to be loved by you – that is how precious you are to Me. I THIRST FOR YOU. Come to Me and I will fill your heart and heal your wounds. I will make you a new creation and give you peace, even in all your trials. I THIRST FOR YOU. You must never doubt My mercy, My acceptance of you, My desire to forgive, My longing to bless you and live My life in you. I THIRST FOR YOU. If you feel unimportant in the eyes of the world, that matters not at all. For Me, there is no one any more important in the entire world than you. I THIRST FOR YOU. Open to Me, come to Me, thirst for Me, give Me your life- and I will prove to you how important you are to My Heart.
Don’t you realize that My Father already has a perfect plan to transform your life, beginning from this moment? Trust in Me. Ask Me every day to enter and take charge of your life- and I will. I promise you before My father in heaven that I will work miracles in your life. Why would you I do this? Because I THIRST FOR YOU. All I ask of you is that you entrust yourself to Me completely. I will do all the rest.
Even now I behold the place My Father has prepared for you in My kingdom. Remember that you are a pilgrim in this life, on a journey home. Sin can never satisfy you or bring the peace you seek. All that you have sought outside of Me has only left you more empty, so do not cling to the things of his life. Above all, do not run from Me when you fall. Come to Me without delay. When you give Me your sins, you give Me the joy of being your Saviour. There is nothing I cannot forgive and heal, so come now and unburden your soul.
No matter how far you may wander, no matter how often you forget Me, no matter how many crosses you may bear in this life, there is one thing I want you to always remember, one thing that will never change: I THIRST FOR YOU – just as you are. You don’t need to change to believe in My love, for it will be your belief in My love that will change you. You forget Me, and yet I am seeking you every moment of the day- standing at the door of your heart and knocking. Do you find this hard to believe? Then look at the cross, look at My Heart that was pierced for you. Have you not understood My cross? Then listen again to the words I spoke there – for they tell you clearly why I endured all this for you: ”I THIRST….”(John 19:28). Yes, I thirst for you – as the rest of the psalm-verses I was praying says of Me: “I looked for love, and I found none…”(Ps 69:21). All your life I have been looking for your love- I have never stopped seeking to love you and be loved by you. You have tried many other things in your search for happiness; why not try opening your heart to Me, right now, more than you ever have before.
Whenever you do open the door of your heart, whenever you come close enough, you will hear Me say to you again and again, not in mere human words but in spirit: “No matter what you have done, I love you for your own sake. Come to Me with your misery and your sins, with your troubles and needs, and with all your longing to be loved. I stand at the door of you heart and knock…Open to ME, for I THIRST FOR YOU…” (Missionaries of Charity Fathers)
— Of course, St. Luke does not use the word “hate” in its true meaning. He knows that parents need to be loved and respected. It is, for him, not hate, but detachment and preference for the Kingdom. Yet he has used the verb “misein” that means a particularly radical detachment. It is not only to break ties with family or just a general detachment from self. The example of Jesus is very specific and precise: we must be willing to carry the cross (Lk 14, 27), the real and total self-sacrifice  The etymology of the word “paradox” helps to better understand its meaning. It is a word of Greek origin “ para-doxos”(= contrary to common opinion, therefore unexpected and shocking) that indicates a statement in clear contrast with expectations and normal experiences but that – if considered with a critic and deep examination- shows to be definitively valid. Moreover, it manifests a truth particularly rich and deep, therefore “unexpected” and shocking.