There have been moments in the history of faith, which is at the heart of the human story, in which women, men, and even children, have made decisions about the course or orientation of their lives that have changed history itself. Like that “shot heard ‘round the world” of April 19, 1775, marking the first military action of the American Revolution, certain acts have opened up new pathways and modes of faith that have forever shaped the lives of countless believers through the ages.
Some of these might seem quite simple, perhaps because we know the stories so well: Mary’s fiat (Luke 1:26-38), Saint Peter and Saint Andrew's decision to get out of their boat to follow the wandering Rabbi (Matthew 4:18-20), and Saint Matthew leaving his tax collecting post (cf. Matthew 9:9-13). Others seem, somehow, far away and remote to us: Saint Lawrence presenting the poor, the Church’s true treasure, to an emperor who would kill him; Saint Patrick’s decision to return to Ireland after escaping slavery; Saint Benedict abandoning his studies to live as a hermit outside of Rome; Saint Francis stripping off his clothes and family ties to stand naked in the square of Assisi; Saint Angela Merici bringing together a group of women in order to teach girls outside of the walls of a cloister; Saint Aloysius Gonzaga renouncing his titles and princely rank in order to become a Jesuit; Saint Vincent de Paul taking the place of a slave on a French galley; or Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s decision to enter the Catholic Church, despite society’s objections, and establish a new community of sisters, laying the foundation for Catholic education in America.
Even contemporary figures, our modern “saints,” if you will, had moments in which they made a decision that marked a moment of conversion: Blessed Teresa of Calcutta asking permission from her religious superiors to begin working with the poor on her own; Dorothy Day’s recognition of the good work being done on behalf of the poor by the Catholic Church and her desire to unite herself to that work; Saint Maximilian Kolbe volunteering to take the place of a husband and father chosen to be executed by the Nazis; Thomas Merton’s decision to attend a Mass at Corpus Christi Church in Manhattan that marked a turning point on his journey to Catholicism and life as a Trappist monk; Martin Luther King’s trip to India in 1959 to learn about non-violent resistance; and Archbishop Oscar Romero’s decision to seek justice for his slain priest-friend and all the poor of El Salvador.
|Dorothy Day prior to her arrest participating |
in a demonstration for workers' rights in 1973
in Delano, California. She was 76.
Regardless of when they lived or their title or state of life, these individuals demonstrated a willingness to make the Gospel the primary focus of their lives. And, they have something to say to us today—knowing the cost of discipleship, they willingly took on the burden of Faith and set out on a new way, taking the words of Christ at face value: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).
In these tense days, as people of good will around the world have come together in prayer and hope for peace in Syria and throughout the world, Pope Francis has reminded us that “There is no such thing as low-cost Christianity. Following Jesus means swimming against the tide, renouncing evil and selfishness” (Tweeted on September 6). These days call us to trust in Providence and to focus our attention on the common good and search for peace, asking for the grace of wisdom and discretion: “Who can know God’s counsel or who can conceive what the Lord intends? For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans… who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight” (Wisdom 9:13, 17-18b).
The Holy Father and the Church’s liturgy this Sunday remind us that, if we are to be true followers of Jesus, we must be willing to accept the responsibility that comes with discipleship, and part of that responsibility is a commitment to peace and justice, a dedication to building God’s Kingdom here and now. And so, we pray, we fast, and we give to the poor. Any one of those acts is good and noble. But, the question before each one of us is, “Where is my heart? To whom, or to what, does it belong?” If we continue to hold back, any words we speak or pray, the acts of penance we perform, and the gifts we share will always fall short and will never be what they might be, unless we act out of love for God and a spirit of gratitude for all that God has done for us.
A Prayer for the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time +
by whom we are redeemed and receive adoption,
look graciously upon your beloved sons and daughters,
that those who believe in Christ
may receive true freedom
and an everlasting inheritance.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)