September 4, 2017
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily for the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) on September 3, 2017 at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63; Romans 12:1-2; and Matthew 16:21-27.
For the third time in four weeks, we hear about St. Peter. Peter – who had faith sufficient to take a few steps on the stormy water, who received the grace to recognize Jesus as God’s anointed one – fails to accept that Jesus must suffer and die for the salvation of the world.
But as Jesus further explains how we must deny ourselves, how we must lose our lives in order to save them, let us not hear this as a passage of gloom and doom. Many of us here have made choices in our lives because we recognize the reality of which Jesus speaks. In our first two readings today, both Jeremiah and Paul recognize the necessity of making sacrifices for the LORD. And with the LORD, there is mercy.
My relationship with this gospel passage has changed drastically over the years. I used to hear this passage as a declaration that no human beings were truly capability of giving their lives for others. When I heard this passage, I thought that the proper inclination was to feel unworthy.
But then, not all that long ago, I had an epiphany. Many people give their lives for others. Parents sacrifice sleep for their infants, sacrifice gasoline and free time for their tweens, sacrifice dignity for their teenagers, and sacrifice oodles of money at every stage of the parenting process. Why do they do it? Because they find abundance in their own lives by sacrificing for their children. Other people understand the wisdom of losing one’s life for Christ in order to save it. Some people are engaged in the helping professions. Others give their money and time to worthy causes, such as the overwhelming response of people around the country to those devastated by Hurricane Harvey. Professors and graduate students do research for years at a time to further the advance of knowledge. Even Jeremiah, the reluctant prophet, felt a life-giving fire within him, forcing him to proclaim God’s message.
Whenever we give our lives in some way, we are making a commitment. A commitment is saying “yes” to something we value. But we live in a society that is afraid of making commitments… because saying “yes” to one option means that we are saying “no” to other possibilities. A few years ago, The Onion ran a fake news article about a 31-year-old guy who supposedly had never made a commitment in his life. He had never responded “yes” to a party RSVP in case a better offer came along, he had never had a serious relationship, and even at 11:30 each weekday morning, he couldn’t commit to going to lunch with his coworkers at noon. Even The Onion preaches what Jesus does – keeping all our options open does not lead to a glamorous life. “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it.”
In different points in our life, we are called to make different kinds of commitments. At some points, it makes more sense to commit to discerning what commitments we should make in the future. Freshmen in college don’t often have to commit to their majors. But it probably makes sense to shadow a professional in their field or to get an internship by the end of their sophomore year to “test out” their major before they commit to it. Not everyone needs to get married by their mid-20s, but no one at that age should still be dating jerks with no future.
We are constantly becoming the people God calls us to be. As James and Evelyn Whitehead wrote: “A vocation is not a once-and-for-all call in young adulthood (to follow this career or enter this particular lifestyle). It is a lifelong conversation with God. Like any rich conversation, it is patterned by periods of spiritual exchange, times of strain and argument, and intervals of silence…. To be faithful… requires that we remain in the conversation.”
Throughout my life, I’ve made sacrifices and commitments. In elementary school, I gave up free time to practice music. In middle school, I committed myself to learning more math and science. For thirteen years, I’ve been seeing a spiritual director. Did I feel sure at every moment that these commitments were part of God’s plan for me? No. But in hindsight, when I think back on the marvelous performance opportunities I’ve had, my twelve years in the optical engineering profession, and my deepening prayer life, it’s clear that each of these commitments has helped me find life.
Six years ago this weekend, I gave my life in a profound, irrevocable way: Along with René Constanza and Tom Gibbons, I gave my life to the Paulist Fathers. What’s unusual about religious life, however, is that many people think of the “no”s of this commitment rather than the “yes”es. Sure, I have given up the possibilities of having a family, financial wealth, and independence, but I also have the privilege to journey with all kinds of people in powerful ways. I have a sense of identity and focus that many people only dream of having. And I have job security for life! This weekend in Washington, DC, two more men made the same commitment. Mike Hennessy and Ryan Casey made their final profession to the Paulists on Friday, and they were ordained deacons on Saturday morning. Please pray for them as they embark on this life-long mission!
I’m sure in the decades to come, Jesus will challenge me to make other sacrifices, large and small. But if I stay faithful to that life-long conversation with God, as I give my life to others, I will continue to experience life in abundance.
We can’t have it all. Let us not give in to the advertisements and videos that claim that we can. Instead, let us continually talk with God about which opportunities are worth sacrificing for. Even when we’re not sure what God has planned for us, let us commit to one possibility until the path becomes clearer. Then we will be good and pleasing and perfect as living sacrifices to God.