23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 8th, 2013
Wisdom 9:13-18; Psalm 90:3-6, 12-17, Philemon 1:9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33
A few weeks before I entered the seminary in Boston, Massachusetts in 2001, I heard the surprising story of a 78 year old religious priest who had been a priest for close to 50 years and had served in his congregation in many capacities as a novice master, seminary rector, provincial and missionary. This particular priest had decided to leave the priesthood and get married after close to half a century of priestly life and ministry. This story made a big impression on me and reminded me how it is so much easier to say Yes to Jesus once in our lifetime than to continue to say Yes to Him all the days of our lives through the thick and thin. It is also reminds me of how much we need an undivided heart, i.e. a heart that is focused on God alone if we are going to follow Jesus to the end.
Today’s First Reading from the Book of Wisdom places on the lips of Solomon the following words, “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends? For the deliberation of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans.” This wise king realizes that, as mortals, our deliberations about what is best for us is full of fear and uncertainty. No mortal person knows absolutely what is best for him or her, or for others, because “the corruptible body burdens the soul and weighs down the mind.” God alone knows what is best for each and every one of us and realizing this is the key to that much desired undivided heart that we need to be faithful to Jesus all the days of our lives.
The good things of God, the counsels of God, can only be known if “God gives us wisdom and sends His Holy Spirit from on high.” God has indeed done this by giving us His own Son, Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom, along with the gift of His own Spirit. It is Jesus Christ alone who reveals to us that the Father knows and loves us as His children and has our best interest at heart always. It is Jesus Christ alone who makes our heart undivided like His own, giving us the grace to enter into the mysterious divine plan that God has for us in our vocations in life and to be faithful to Him to the very end. It is by the wisdom and grace of God that Jesus Christ makes present that “the paths of those on earth are made straight.”
Today’s Gospel passage shows Jesus calling the “large crowds” following Him to hate father, mother, brother, sister and their own lives if they are going to be His disciples. For sure He is not calling them to that hatred that is the opposite of genuine Christian love. But He is teaching them that to be His disciples they must have an undivided heart, a heart that seeks the perfect good that God alone knows. We cannot have such a heart if we are hoping to find our ultimate good in creatures. We must believe that no mortal being in this world, no matter how intimate they may be to us, knows what is ultimately best for us unless it is revealed to them by God. Human deliberations always remain timid and unsure as the First Reading reminds us.
Ultimately God alone knows what is best for us and Jesus, the God-Man, is the one who makes our hearts ready to grasp, embrace and hold on to what is best for us. Without this undivided heart that comes from realizing that God alone has our best interest at heart always, we cannot be faithful to Him forever and we will “begin but not have the resources to finish.” In short, without renouncing all our ideas and notions about what is best for us, without realizing that God alone knows what is best for us, a lifetime of faithful discipleship with Christ is not possible.
I experienced this need for an undivided heart at the very beginning of my vocation discernment. I remember thinking of going for a Masters degree in Geophysics while living in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I was then thinking that with this degree I could get a well paying job in the oil industry and this will be the best thing for me. My father called me on phone from Nigeria and advised that I studied Information Technology instead because he believed that it was the booming field then. I was thinking about his advice when an uncle called me from Nigeria and advised that I go for an MBA instead because he thought I would do better as a business man. Then, off course, my childhood friend called and asked if I ever thought of going to play professional soccer. You can imagine their shock when I told them that I was going to the seminary to become a religious priest with the Oblates of the Virgin Mary.
I realized the great love that my family and friends had for me and their desire that I do something that they all thought will be best for me. Looking back now after 14 years, I know that I could not make that decision then without the deep believe that God alone knows what is best for me better than myself or any person else. And if God has placed in my heart a desire for this religious and priestly vocation, then it is the best thing for me and it is only by realizing this can I be faithful to this vocation. Now I pray that I keep this belief that God alone knows what is best for me so that I can be faithful to Him all the days of my life.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we have said Yes to Jesus in our vocations whether it is to marriage, single life, religious life or priesthood. It is indeed easy to say Yes at the beginning but difficult to persevere day in and day out through the monotony of life. We can get tempted to discouragement sometimes in the face of the daily burdens and anxieties and we lose our focus on Christ Jesus. The key to our faithfulness in our vocations is the deep trust and faith that, in all things, God alone knows what is best for us. The moment we begin to think that we or someone else in this world, no matter how close the person is to us, ultimately knows what is best for us or ultimately has our best interest at heart, we lose that undivided heart that alone receives the graces and blessings of God. Yes, God can reveal our greatest good to us through others but even then, we need to always keep in mind that He alone has all the details and the support that we need.
Today September 8th is the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary is a woman who also experienced the need to believe that God alone knows what is best for her if she was going to be faithful to Jesus to the very end. When she lost Jesus for three days and found Him in the Temple, she had said, “Why have you done so to us? Your father and I have been searching for you with great anxiety.” Jesus had replied to her, “Didn’t you know that I had to be about my Father’s business?” Jesus was thus inviting her to realize too that in all things, God has her best interest at heart and that she should let go of what she thought will be best for her. Jesus came to draw us into God’s loving plan for us and not to meet our expectations of Him. Mary learned this painful lesson and followed Jesus faithfully all the way to Calvary never doubting that God knew the best for her no matter the darkness and the pain involved. Let us beg her to imprint this truth deep in our hearts so that we never slack on our commitment to Jesus Christ.
As we encounter Christ Jesus in this Eucharist, He comes to bring us into the Father’s loving and mysterious plan for us. Our Eucharistic encounter is always another Yes to Him and God’s plan for us. We may never understand this divine plan as it unfolds for us through the trials and joys of life in our vocation. But if with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we learn to believe that in all things, God knows what is best for us and He always has our best interest at heart, we will have an undivided heart and with such a heart, we can be faithful to Him all the days of our lives, renewing our Yes to Him till we come to see Him face to face in the glory of Heaven.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!