23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 4th 2016.
Wisdom 9:13-18; Phlm 9-10,12-17; Lk 14:25-33
In St. Teresa’s school of surrender
Jesus’ words to Mother Teresa on that faithful day in 1946 in India after close to two decades of her life as an established Loreto sister was, “My little one, come, come, carry me into the holes of the poor. Come, be my light.” How was this new mission going to end? What would it cost her? What would be the consequences of accepting this mysterious plan? She had no idea then.
God’s plan for us can be so demanding and mysterious. The Catechism points out a way for us to respond: “For the truths that concern the relations between God and man wholly transcend the visible order of things, and, if they are translated into human action and influence it, they call for self-surrender and abnegation.”(CCC 37)
Complete surrender becomes both the condition of grasping the divine plan and the path to faithful response to the divine plan. This is exactly what then sister Teresa did. She surrendered herself completely to God and today she is canonized St. Teresa of Calcutta. What does this total surrender look like? It can be described in these three words – Take, Change, and Use. “Take” says to God, “I give myself freely and completely to you along with all that I am so that you alone are in absolute control of every aspect of my entire life.” “Change” says to God, “Transform me completely so that my thoughts, desires, and affections may be aligned to yours completely.” “Use” says to God, “Use me and all that I am as you desire for thy greater glory.”
St. Teresa gave herself completely to God and allowed Him to have complete control of every aspect of her life. Her memoirs show that even her prayer life was no longer under her control. She was ready to close down any of her established religious communities at a heartbeat if asked to do so by any government because she was thoroughly convinced that it was all the Lord’s work and not her own. She allowed God to transform her so completely that Jesus’ thirst for love would reign in her own heart. She allowed God to use her as He pleased and today we have her Missionaries of Charity in almost all countries of the world.
Today’s Gospel shows that Jesus is not interested in large crowds that follow Him without a readiness to completely surrender all. He had to stop on the way to remind them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Jesus is surely not asking us to hate others; but He is demanding that we surrender our own preferences and rights over our lives, our relationships with others and our possessions. Such surrender says, “I give all control to God over my life, relationships, and possessions that He may transform me and use me as He will and I willingly accept what I get.”
It is not enough for us to count the cost of following Jesus because we can never know in advance where the divine plan will lead us, what it would cost us, or the consequences of our commitment to Jesus. That is why total surrender, that complete renunciation of all that we have, must come after our prudent evaluation if we are going to have the light and strength to follow His plan from the beginning to very end.
St. Paul served Christ faithfully in proclaiming the Gospel. He writes Philemon this beautiful letter from prison in Rome. Did he ever know that his faithful ministry would end in prison? Even in his confinement, St. Paul connected with the divine purpose behind his imprisonment, “My imprisonment is for the Gospel.” He even recognizes the divine plan behind the behavior of the slave Onesimus towards Philemon in stealing from him and running away, “Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you may have him back forever, no longer as a slave but as a brother.” St. Paul connects with the divine plan for himself and for others because he was a soul completed surrendered to God, one who had offered his life completely to God, allowed God to change the desires of his heart and to use him wherever He willed.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, God has a beautiful plan for us that unfolds mysteriously even in the difficult and painful moments of our lives. The first reading reminds us that we never grasp the intention of God ahead of time. We cannot even grasp the intentions in the mind of our loved ones unless they reveal it to us. God alone reveals His intentions to us. Self-surrender may be difficult for us but it is the only way to grasp the beauty of God’s mysterious plan and to be faithful to it till the very end.
Have we made a conscious decision to surrender all to Jesus Christ or are we still holding on to control while trying futilely to know the intentions of His heart for us? Confusion and spiritual weakness reigns when we refuse to journey towards surrender. The widespread confusion today about what vocation we are to embrace, where God is calling us, about our sexuality, as well as the failure to embrace a vocation and to remain faithful to it till the very end can be connected with this failure to make a complete surrender of ourselves and all that we have to God and to allow Him to transform us completely and use us as we are for whatever He wills.
St. Teresa’s life also points us to the twin inseparable sources of this complete self-surrender – the Eucharist and Mama Mary. We can only surrender ourselves because Jesus Christ continues His own self-surrender to the Father on our behalf in the Eucharist. Jesus allowed His Father to use Him and His entire being as the Father willed for the salvation of the world. The Eucharist is an opportunity for each of us to enter into the powerful current of Jesus’ complete self-surrender to the Father so that we can participate in His own spirit of self-surrender that is always ready to say to God, “Take all that I am and have and have absolute control of it all. Transform me completely into what you want me to be and then use me and all I have as you will.”
On her part, Mother Mary did not understand God’s plan as conveyed to her through the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, “She pondered what this greeting might be.” She did not know where this plan would lead her or cost her. But she made a complete surrender of herself to God, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.” She allowed God to transform her into His own Virgin Mother and to use her as she was, even when God invited her to stand in faith and love at the foot of the cross and to accept the beloved disciple as her son. We too will learn and imbibe the spirit of surrender through the Eucharist and our devotion to Mary that gives us a share in her own complete surrender.
The God whom we encounter in today’s Eucharist is the one who has a great plan for us to be saints with Him in heaven. It is a mysterious, demanding, and often painful plan. When, by His grace, our surrender is so complete that we can say, “Lord, take all I have and am, change me completely, and use me as you will,” our eyes will be opened to grasp His plan for us, we shall embrace this plan to the very end and, like St. Teresa of Calcutta, we will not be disappointed.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!