Wednesday November 5, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Romans 13:8-10) Gospel (St. Luke 14:25-33)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear Our Lord talking about the cost of being His disciple. We must understand that God never ever suggested to us that it was going to be an easy thing to be His follower, nor did He tell us that if we follow Him we are going to have lots of wealth and ease and comfort and all the other things. But rather, what He did make very clear is that we must be detached from everything else and from everyone else, and that we must take up our cross and follow Him. That is made crystal clear. So where people get this idea that as long as you are a follower of Jesus everything is going to be easy has never ever made sense to me because it is just the opposite of what Jesus told us was going to happen. He told us in other places in the Gospel that if we are His follower He will give us a hundred times more in this life – and persecution besides. He told us that they will hate us because they hated Him. He told us that the world would not understand and it would not accept us. He made very clear what the cost would be. But now it is for us to sit down and calculate that cost, He tells us. Can we do what is required?
Saint Paul, in the first reading, tells us that all of the last seven of the commandments can be summarized in one saying: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The first three, of course, are summarized in: You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart and soul and strength. Jesus tells us that those are the two top commandments and that everything else is contained within them. So, on one level, it sounds pretty easy; all you have to do is love. Well, until you try it and then you find out it is not so easy because as Saint Paul says in the first reading today: Love does no evil to the neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law. Love seeks only the good of the other. It seeks to serve; it is not selfish; it is solely looking out for the good of the other person, and, once again, in a detached manner. This includes spouse, children, friends, relatives, whoever it may be.
Now, detachment in this case does not mean having to get rid of somebody. If you are married, obviously that is not an option. There are some objects that we have to throw out because we get so attached to them and they lead us away from God. The Lord will actually ask us to give them up. Others He will not ask us to give up but simply to be willing to give up. But love by its nature, again, has to be detached because it seeks the good of the other. An attachment is something which is selfish, and if you are selfishly hanging on to another person then you want that person for your own self and you are not loving that person solely for the good of the other, but rather it is for what you are getting out of it or for what you want. That is not love. And so when the Lord tells us that we even have to turn our back on husband and wife and children and so on, He is not saying, “Boot them out of the house. Walk away. Divorce your wife. Just leave and follow Me.” That is not what He is saying. But He is saying that, first and foremost, God must be first. And to love God with your whole heart and soul and strength means to follow His commandments, to do what is the very best, and then to make sure that you are loving the neighbor as yourself – spouse being the first, obviously, children following from that. It is in a detached manner that this must happen, in a selfless manner, in a manner which seeks only the good of the other person, placing yourself at the service of that other person, dying to self in order to live for another. It is to do exactly what Jesus Himself did.
If you look at what He commands us to do and then put it into the context of His own life, He loved His own mother more than anyone else in the whole world. He did not tell her to get out of His life. He did not say, “Mother, I don’t want any part of you now because I have to love God,” but rather He loved His mother because of the love for God. That is the way we can be as well. We place God first and then the love for neighbor flows from the love for God. But we need to look very, very seriously at why we love people because if there is anything selfish that is what needs to go. That is what Jesus is talking about.
And so we need to look at the cost. We are trying to build a tower that is going to get us to heaven. We are trying to enter into warfare with Satan himself. We need to calculate the cost. The Lord, on His behalf, is promising us everything: all the bricks and mortar we need to build the tower, all the angels and all grace and all the help we need to engage Satan in battle. The question is whether we really want to do it – because it is going to take some work. We have to put it all on the line. Are we willing to do what is required? That is the challenge Jesus Himself is placing before us, and what is required is made very clear. It is to die to self; it is to live for others; it is to love God and love neighbor. He could not have made it any clearer than what He did. The cost is great because the cost is to give up one’s own life, one’s own will, one’s own desires. It is to literally die to self in order to live for another.
On the natural level, that does not sound good to us, but the reality is that if we do it we will find freedom, we will find joy, we will find blessing beyond anything that we have ever known. This is the fulfillment of our being, the purpose of our creation. It is the devil who has told us that we need to look out for ourselves. It is the devil who has told us that we need to take care of “number one” first. “Number One” is God, not self. So if we really are taking care of “Number One” first, we would have our priorities right. But we need to look at it and we need to make a choice because the Lord lays out for us what will be required. We have to decide whether we have what it takes, or else we will get part way through and we will quit. That is what He is asking of us. Are we willing to do what is required to be His follower, to take up our cross daily and follow Him, to love God and to love neighbor as the self?
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.