Reflection for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle C)
A disturbing conclusion about the demands of the “right path” of an authentic Christian discipleship stems from a first realization that a proper preparation for our servanthood consists of a “giving up” of ourselves, an active planning towards a mindful yet passive surrendering to the indiscernible will and mysterious designs of the Spirit, a “right path” which can only be guaranteed by the God who neither deceives nor can be deceived.
Our Lord the Christ is underscoring for us that one cannot become a genuine follower “if he doesn’t give up everything he has.” “If you come to me, unwilling to sacrifice your love … carrying your own cross, you cannot be my disciple.” It is with this pain of “sending their own hearts” that the Apostles humbly requested from the followers of the Christ, the “receiving” of what they have “given up,” “as if it were they themselves.” Such a “giving up” of ourselves is neither a fleeting inspiration nor an action emanating only from our choices; it is a daily and incessant struggling against the tempting allurements of achieving self-interests; and for the fulfillment of moral duties of responsibly serving the forsaken other who “cannot repay.”
It is a lifelong oblation on the mount of Calvary likened to the careful reflection and agile execution of an intended project, endeavor or venture: primarily sacrifice assures the attainment of successful outcomes.
One also cannot become a genuine follower “if he doesn’t give up everything he thinks he has.” It is with this pain of admitting our “human reasoning is timid, our notions misleading” that the prophets dared the proud: “Indeed, who can know the intentions of God? Who can discern the plan of the Lord?” and “lifted up the lowly”: “We are barely able to know about the things of earth and it is a struggle to understand what is close to us; who then may hope to understand heavenly things?”
On the other hand, hope and consolation, in spite of the demands of the “right path,” stems from a second realization that servanthood is at the same time, a “receiving” for ourselves, of both the infinite wisdom and divine life of the Spirit: “Who has ever known your will unless you first gave him Wisdom and sent down your holy spirit to him? In this way you directed the human race on the right path; they learned what pleases you and were saved by Wisdom.” God is the assurance that amid daily and incessant struggling, he will most definitely prompt and lead us to himself.
In providing us with the capacities to know and to act in the “right path” on which our Lord the Christ has preceded us, God is thus the vindication of our sacrifice, the crowning glory of our martyrdom. It is in this sense therefore, that an authentic Christian discipleship is essentially a meaningful and joyful suffering meant to make the world a little better.
May we pray: Father, I am afraid. I am in fear of losing what I have tried so hard to earn, of missing what I think I richly deserve, and of not gaining back what I believe might have been stolen from me.
I am afraid of the unknown. Is this the life you really intended for us to live: disturbed by temptation; struggling against sin, and at times, succumbing to it; anxious at so much uncertainty; conscious of tremendous weakness, lack of fortitude, depravity of faith and a timid will; and most of all, confronted with a social existence unwilling to change itself? Could it be that holiness is simply useless? Why can I not simply enjoy life instead, and perhaps I will die happier?
May your Spirit flood me with your love! Help me understand that indeed life is meant to be enjoyed by everyone, but that it is also every person’s duty to contribute to making it worth living, by giving up at least a little of ourselves for this aspiration. May I fully comprehend the inevitability of my sacrifice for a greater purpose, and may you embrace and whisper to me “not to worry,” so that I may be strengthened to carry on until the time I will be with you again in paradise! Amen.
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.