Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey
Last week we noted that a fundamental feature of the Christian faith is the wholehearted commitment that it requires. Today that is highlighted and underscored.
Quo vadis? Where are you going? That is the question Jesus is posing to us today. Being lukewarm will not do. If we are not clear about and committed to our destination, we will have no idea how to deal with the obstacles, the detours we will encounter in getting there. We may encounter them in events but it is in the interior evaluation of them in the heart that we will find obstacles.
Jesus is telling us how to make room in our hearts. He is teaching us “unless-ons”. “Unless” we renounce the support of others such as family and “unless” we renounce our own control over the direction of our lives, we cannot be His disciples. We cannot learn how to “do the life-thing” right. And He shows us how to do that.
Jesus devotes His life to the chief good: His Father…and the mission His Father gave Him. It is for the sake of that chief good that everything else in His life is chosen. He is committed to it by His sense of importance and He endorses it by His teaching. His endorsement of the Father and His way of life are consistent and unhesitant. In short, He is wholehearted. Wholeheartedness is a necessary condition for having integrity. It is His integrity that makes us admire Jesus as He takes up His own cross.
In wholeheartedness, Jesus separates out of His heart any inconsistent desires and integrates competing and nobler desires. In teaching followers to do this in preference for Himself and the Father, He is committing to a future of living this way. And He does indeed live…and die…that way.
And if we want to be His disciples, we, too, must be willing to live this way, each of us taking up her own cross. Since it’s more than we can do, He gives us His Holy Spirit.
As we said at the outset, lukewarmness will not do. That’s why we renounce other forms of consolation and, like Jesus, we re-order our desires. And then, to avoid lukewarmness, we take vows. The profession of vows is a pledge of wholeheartedness. Living up to what we wholeheartedly profess is our integrity.
The first aim of the heart is to unite with what it loves and so, as the first step of humility, we are mindful of the destination. But today Jesus addresses the second aim of the heart: to avoid the upsetting, what breaks it. We need to know. We need to stop fixing the broken heart and instead let it speak.
The urge to avoid the upsetting is what concerns St. Benedict, so he advises that one not be granted easy entrance into a community. It must be discerned if her desire to unite with the One she loves is stronger than her desire to avoid the upsetting. Half-heartedness will not work. It is contrary to love.
Jesus advises us to assess what each of us brings to the endeavor that will help us cope with the unexpected. In the two examples Jesus gives of the tower and the battle, good planning and fierce determination are important…but not adequate. Sooner or later we must rely on a power greater than ourselves. That means we must consent to being upset. Like the human Jesus, we are trying to live by values we did not create and that we cannot alter.
Jesus’ parting requirement for discipleship today is to renounce all of our possessions. This includes our most cherished ideas about how life should be and how we should be regarded. His first requirement for discipleship is to take up our cross. In doing that we are to remember that we were saved by what shouldn’t happen.