We come together to celebrate the Sacrifice of Christ in order that we might also share in his Resurrection. In today’s gospel Our Lord reminds us that to be a true member of his family we have to be single-minded in his service. And yet despite the passage of the years, so many of us remain fair-weather Christians: what we used to call Cafeteria Catholics. We have faith when it costs us little or nothing. And so let us seek forgiveness and ask for the continual awareness of Our Lord’s presence in our lives, so that we may never take Him for granted.
The world is full of wishful thinkers, people who dream and talk but never quite succeed because they are unprepared to make an effort, or to take a risk, or to make that dreaded leap of faith. While addressing a large crowd who are eager to join up and be his disciples, Our Lord dampens their enthusiasm by challenging them in a way that is, to say the very least, off-putting. Our Lord isn’t interested in being popular, he’s not concerned with numbers or in gaining a large following by softening his words and watering down the requirements needed to be a follower of his; and so he leaves his listeners under no illusion at all about the high cost of discipleship. Nothing short of total commitment is required of those who would follow him. In fact, Our Lord is saying something like this: If you want to be a disciple of mine, you have got to think seriously. Don’t act on the spur of the moment or on impulse, because following me is not for the half-hearted. Give careful consideration to what it’s going to cost you, because I have no time for half-hearted recruits. I am not inviting you to walk in my footsteps for an hour, or a day, or a week, or a month, or a year, but for a lifetime. And what’s more, I am looking for followers who will measure up to my expectations.’
Throughout the Scriptures Our Lord makes it quite clear what he thinks about the half-hearted, the lukewarm, and those who waver and dither. And Our Lord doesn’t pull any punches. He says: ‘he who puts his hand to the plough and keeps looking back is not worthy of the Kingdom of God. And in another place he says: ‘if you are neither hot nor cold I will spit you out of my mouth.’ These are very hard words, and they remind us that ‘many are called, but few are chosen’. God calls us all, but it is the quality of our response to that call which determines whether or not we will spend eternity with God in heaven.
Today’s gospel presents us with a series of sayings on what the demands of a life of discipleship involves in terms of suffering and self-sacrifice. The life to be lead and the conditions laid down are anything but easy. As committed followers of Christ we are expected to give God everything and to hold back nothing. Whole-hearted service is demanded and there is no room for compromise or for looking back. And if you thought that this was impossible in our modern world, then just tune in to Vatican Radio when you get home. As we speak, Mother Teresa of Calcutta is being canonised by Pope Francis – the Church isn’t making her a saint, but recognising that she is a saint. And Saint Teresa, as does every other saint, teaches us quite clearly that being a Christian is not a part-time occupation or a hobby, something reserved for an hour on Sunday when we feel up to it. Saint Teresa showed the determination that should be the hallmark of every disciple. She once said that: “The first step to becoming holy is to will it.” We have to want holiness, and she shows us that the price of discipleship is nothing less than the heavy burden of the Cross. The journey to God is so valuable that it is worth stripping our lifestyles down to the bare essentials. By doing this we realise that discipleship is so much more important than acquiring possessions and hoarding money in the bank. “For where your treasure is, there is your heart also.”
The Gospel, as indeed the life and witness of Saint Teresa, may well make us feel uncomfortable, because our Christian lives should demonstrate that we are carrying the Cross. When the Cross is absent from our lives and we don’t feel its heavy weight bearing down upon us then, then I would dare to say, that Christ is not present either. Putting God first in our lives is a choice we must make every day. We can hardly consider ourselves as feeling the pinch and standing up for what we believe if all we have got to show is our attendance at Sunday Mass whenever we feel like it, and perhaps a few prayers hastily said each day. Attendance and participation at Sunday Mass every week is only the beginning. When I was a parish priest I would annoy some people every year by commenting on Saint John Paul II’s letter, addressed to the Catholic faithful, in which he speaks of our obligation to attend Mass every Sunday and every Holyday. I remember one year a man came out after Mass and pointed to the word ‘obligation’ in the document and said it should read ‘privilege’. And how right he is, and yet how many Catholics today consider their participation at Mass to be a privilege? It’s not all that long ago when Catholics in this country were actively persecuted, and yet where are all our Catholic people on Sunday mornings? Where are all the children who make their First Communions in droves every year? What a shame it is the Church has to oblige its children to take part in the greatest miracle we will ever have the privilege of participating in during this life. The Oratorian priest, Father Frederick Faber, said that ‘the Mass is the most beautiful thing this side of heaven’. Granted, he was describing the Tridentine Mass, but the Novus Ordo can be just as beautiful, if we put the effort into it.
When the struggle to remain an authentic disciple of Christ becomes too great, then it’s good to remember we are not alone; Our Lord is walking along every step of the way with us. He calls us to be his disciples in our community, in our home, in our parish, in our place of work, in our school, and in all our dealings with other people.
Some wise person once said that: ‘To follow Christ through time and into eternity costs nothing less than everything.’
Today, as we think about the life and witness of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, may we follow her example of total dedication to Christ which she demonstrated in her service to the poorest of the poor.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.