23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

     Those of you who know me, know that I am not a very emotional person; in fact my friends sometimes accuse me of having no heart. Yet as a priest, I frequently encounter deeply emotional situations, and every now and then one of them moves me deeply. A few months ago I had the honor of working with a child who has a rare form of cancer. It was painful to see a 5 year old suffering so terribly, but it was just as painful watching his mom suffer with him. As I was leaving after a visit, his mom walked me out of his room and down the hall towards the elevator where she pulled me aside to have a private conversation. Listening to her, I quickly realized that in some ways the boy’s illness was harder on her than it was on him. As we talked she revealed how she felt every poke her child felt, she felt the sickness the drugs were causing her son’s weak body and how she laid awake at night wishing that she could take the pain on herself so that her son would not have go through it. While I knew the inestimable love of a mother, there was something about hearing her tell me that she loved her son so much that she wished she could take the pain on herself so her own child wouldn’t have to suffer that left me speechless.

     As I left the hospital, I realized that the deep love that mother had for her son was just a glimpse of the love that God has for each and every one of us. Just as that mother loved her child so much it caused her pain, so too the love God has for us came at the price of inestimable pain. Friends, the cross is the sign of God’s love for us. Jesus suffered a brutal death on a cross, because in His great love for us He was willing to do whatever it took to save us and the cross is what it took for Him to save us from our selfishness in sin.

      The love of the cross demands a response, but “God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, he makes us see and experience his love, and since he has ‘loved us first,’ love can also blossom as a response within us”[1] Our response to this love of God must be discipleship.

     In today’s Gospel Jesus shows us the cost of true discipleship. He shows us that to be His true disciple we must be willing to give up everything to follow Him. While our redemption costs us nothing, authentic discipleship will cost us everything. The cross begs us to love Christ just as He has loved us. It demands that we be willing to give up everything in love. After all if Jesus gave up everything, including His life, to do the Father’s will, shouldn’t we too be willing to give up everything to follow Him.

     “To follow Christ means to become one who loves as God has loved.”[2] Jesus loves us by giving His life for us and since true “love demands freedom from one thing in order to place itself freely at the service of another,”[3] to love God demands that we be willing to give up anything, even our own families, to pick up our crosses and follow Him. To love Jesus is certainly extreme, but Jesus loved us to the extremes of the cross, so to love Him rightly we must be willing to give Him everything in love.

     My friends, to be loved means to know that we are worth it in someone’s eyes. Certainly all of us need to look no further than the crucifix, to see that we are worth it to God, after all He sent His only Son into this world to die for us. This love demands a response, a response of love regardless of the cost. For “if you really want to touch someone’s heart, then be prepared for a little bleeding along the way. Love is not something you have – love is something you use.”[4]

     Jesus is thirsting for our love. He gives us the cross as the reminder of His love for us and that love demands a response, the response of discipleship. However if we are going to set out to follow after Him, we must be willing to leave everything behind. In fact unless we are prepared to give everything we cannot truly be His disciples. Today’s Gospel then challenges us to take account of what it means to be a disciple and to ask ourselves what is getting in the way of fully responding to God’s love with our gift of total love back to Him. Since he gave everything to love us why should our love for Him be any different?

[1]Pope Benedict XVI.Deus Caritas Est. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006.  Par 17.

[2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011.  Pg. 129.

[3] Fulton Sheen. The World’s First Love Mary, Mother of God. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Pg 26.

[4] Simcha Fischer. The Sinners Guide to Natural Family Planning. (Huffington: Our Sunday Visitor) 2014. Pg. 52.

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