Sunday, September 8, 2019

TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY (CYCLE C)

SEPTEMBER 8, 2019

In the mid-1930’s, there arose in Germany a small group of Catholic and Protestant churchmen who, in the face of the rising tide of Nazi political power, openly defied Hitler’s government and preached against Germany’s Fascist policies and programs. One such leader was the eminent Lutheran theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose pulpit proclamations and writings formed the conscience of those Germans who, as Christ’s dedicated disciples, rejected Nazi tyranny and lived their lives committed to the Gospel of Jesus. One of Bonhoeffer’s more important works was entitled: “The Cost of Discipleship.” In the book, he delineates what the price is that someone must pay if one decides to take the Gospel seriously and become a faithful disciple of Christ. In our own day, God has raised up a host of disciples whose lives are a testimony to the teachings of Jesus. Not least of these is Oscar Romero, the slain archbishop of San Salvador in Central America, who was assassinated in 1980 as he celebrated Mass. As a contemporary disciple of Jesus, he became a fearless leader of his people, struggling for justice and defending the rights of the poor. He knew his denunciations of the military’s actions and his criticism of the powerful oligarchy in El Salvador would eventually cost him his life. Yet, like Bonhoeffer, he chose to continue preaching every Sunday the Gospel of justice and peace. Similar to Bonhoeffer, who was executed by Hitler in 1945, Romero finally met his untimely death at the hands of politicians and military personnel who plotted against him.

Of course, there are also other contemporary disciples whose lives, though they did not end in assassination, nonetheless encountered great human cost due to their commitment to Christ’s Gospel. We need think only of persons like Dorothy Day, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Bishop Dom Helder Camara of Brazil, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Many more form a legion of persons who are outstanding witnesses to a life dedicated to sacrifice of self, possessions and even personal relationship to family and loved ones for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Each of them embraced Christ and his Gospel as their first and foremost priority. None were half-hearted in their dedication to Jesus. It was their passionate love and devotion to him which enabled them to renounce all for the sake of Christ and God’s reign.

They subordinated everything: comforts, riches, relationships and their very own lives to the work of proclaiming and spreading God’s kingdom. They took up their daily crosses in companionship with Jesus. They accepted whatever challenges Christ demanded of them. They knew the loneliness and diminishment that the cross brings to those who choose to be true disciples of Jesus.

These remarkable followers of Jesus remind us that he is calling us, too, to be his disciples. The question is: are we willing to sacrifice and pay the cost of discipleship? Are we able, by God’s grace, to meet the demands of walking in the footsteps of Jesus and his followers? Can we respond to his call to live the Gospel and become missionary disciples in our city and world? Can we take up our cross, whatever it might be, and follow the path of the Gospel?

In light of today’s gospel, it is fitting for us to close our reflections with the Ignatian prayer: Dearest Lord, teach us to be generous; teach us to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we do your most holy will. Amen.

Bill Watters, S.J.

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