Monday in the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: Is 1:10-17; Mt 10:34-11:1

Jesus gives us some very serious straight talk today. He rattles our cages. He comes not to bring peace, but the sword. Those who want to follow Him will be set against their most loved ones. Most importantly, the criterion for being worthy of Him is to take up ones cross and follow. Yesterday it seemed we just had to hear, understand, and bear fruit. Why the price increase for discipleship?

Yesterday we learned that to hear the word converted our perception to Christ. We see things in the light of Christ. To understand it, to value it as a way of life, converts our disposition, our readiness to live toward unity with the Father as He did. Today we learn that converted hearing and understanding are not only good in themselves, but they illuminate other events, including unpleasant ones and those that compete for the loyalty God wants.

Finding God’s will is not hard; wanting to do it is hard. “Whoever loses her life for my sake will find it,” means a change in identity will have to happen. The disposition of the Redeemer will have to shape that of the redeemed. That is the reason for the price increase. In fact, that is the price increase. We need our cages rattled!

The other criterion for worthiness is to love Jesus and His cause more than father, mother, and close others. This is a change in how we value things, in our disposition or readiness to relate to others. But because it calls for carrying our cross, losing our life, and preferring the good of others, it calls for more than a good attitude. It calls for a diminishment of selfishness and a firm, wholehearted stand on what matters most. It calls for a change in identity, in who we understand self to be and want to become, and to take actions in accord with that. That’s the stuff that will rattle our cage!

Identity is the conscious, deliberate shape of one’s character. The constellation of lifelong memories, aspirations, sensitivities, relationships, and commitments form the core of who we know ourselves to be. These provide a sense of personal continuity that holds one’s life together. Thus we know who we are…and who we are not. Life has not been a series of unrelated episodes, like a sitcom. Instead it results from conscious commitments and deliberate fidelity to others and to a cause bigger than self.

Thus the price increase; thus are the demands of Jesus. Thus the vowed life, marital or monastic, is not for girls…it’s for women. This preferring Christ to loved ones, carrying of the cross, and losing an episodic (though familiar) way of life may seem to be too much. One other thing is necessary besides a consciously and intentionally developed character: GRACE.

The reliance on Grace, rather than self, affects not just what we do, but how we do it. Thomas Merton, in The Silent Life, writes that there are those in communities that rely on a strong will to be very observant monks or nuns. They have, he writes, “a basic hidden project to be better than everyone else.” The fruit of their efforts is not charity, but rather is commonly a grouchiness and rudeness to other community members.

The other community members, Merton writes, are no less observant, but they are familiar with struggle (and it shows!) and know that their will has little to do with how they live the life, with why they persevere, and that Grace is the true source of their observance. That is very ego-deflating. The fruits are an increase of charity, i.e., gentleness in bearing and demeanor that Evagrius cited as indicating authenticity in a monastic. Merton notes that such a monastic “seeks God by the dark and secret path of theological faith.” He continues that the fruit is, “acceptance of God’s hidden action in the weakness, ordinariness, and unsatisfactoriness of our own everyday lives…of our own incompleteness.” 

Thus, in responding to cage-rattling, Jesus reminds us that holiness is not achieved; it is allowed.