Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

June 26, 2022
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21
Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
Luke 9:51-62

The Gospel finds Jesus resolutely turning toward Jerusalem where He knows that He will face His death. Luke makes it clear that Jesus is fully aware of the mission His Father had set for Him and what that mission will entail. This mission is not ultimately about Jesus’ death but about the Father’s mercy and forgiveness offered through Jesus for our salvation. On the way to Jerusalem, the Sons of Thunder become enraged at being mistreated and want a Samaritan town destroyed for its lack of hospitality, but Jesus corrects this desire of James and John. In so doing He draws them more deeply into His mission of love and compassionate mercy. One admirer of Jesus eagerly promises to follow him, and Jesus reminds him that this decision will result in his being without a home. To be without a home means that our ultimate sense of belonging cannot be met here in this world. A second individual is invited to follow Jesus, and a third volunteers to do so, but they cannot let go of their previous commitments and prior lives and they remain admirers of Jesus but decide not to belong to Him or His mission.

Belonging is rooted in a kind of homecoming. The place and the people who know you and whom you know are at the heart of belonging. The place and the people that you know and who know you, and the place and the people from where you are, and what “you are for” are at the heart of belonging. Belonging speaks of marriage; it speaks of family; it speaks of community; and it speaks of the Church. It does not speak of a mob, a gang, or of a clique. Christ offers us belonging to Him and to His Church by revealing the Father to us fully through the offering and gift of His life.

 “Fitting in” involves compromising enough so as not to be kicked out or ostracized from a group. Fitting in is a way of showing that you are useful for the purposes of a group of individuals — purposes that are not your own but require your passive and external compliance. When you are fitting in you are settling for merely being useful; when you belong you are cooperating towards a higher goal that you and those to whom you belong both know and love. Belonging requires the sharing of time; “fitting in” demands that I jealously measure time and ration it begrudgingly with inconvenience. Belonging involves my being received in love and receiving others in love. Belonging involves offering and receiving; fitting in involves being absorbed. Belonging implies knowing and being known; fitting in only requires using and being used.

This distinction between belonging and fitting in is key for understanding the readings that the Church has provided us in our Mass for today especially in light of Friday’s Dobbs decision of the United States Supreme Court. As the baptized and confirmed People of God, the Church, we do not fit in to this world that values only those who are useful or willing to fit in. We belong, first to Christ and then to each other as family and as the Church. As the People of God, we are not simply a collection of diverse individuals with competitive and special interests marked off by what makes us different from each other. Yet, our sameness does not absorb our uniqueness in belonging to God and with each other. We belong as members of the People of God sacramentally, body and soul, integral and dynamic, walking together on our pilgrimage to the new and eternal Jerusalem, not fully at home in this world. As Pope Francis has said, “Our Christian identity is belonging to a people. Without the (Catholic) Church, we are not Christians.”

In God’s creation, we are designed in body and soul to belong and not simply to fit in. This can be seen in our consideration of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Matrimony is a depiction of the consummation of belonging between Christ and His Bride, the Church. Husbands and wives belong to each other through the lived consent they offer each other in giving their lives, body and soul, first and continuously offered in the vows they exchange in permanence, fidelity, and openness to God’s gift of children.

Belonging is not simply the act of living together between two or more individuals fitting into a lifestyle of using each other for pleasure or financial security. Belonging can only be the effect of authentic and sacrificial love as initiated selflessly by God. This is expressed sacramentally through authentic marriage between man and woman and as society’s foundation of the family open to God’s gift of children and blessed by them for the sake of God’s plans and not simply “fitting in” to each other’s plans. Children, born and unborn, belong to their mothers and fathers, even if they do not fit into their plans.

Saint Paul reminds us today in his letter to the Galatians, “For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.” We are called for freedom, not for autonomy.

True freedom is found in commitment, not in open-ended choice. We are not our own masters. We only become fully free when we can give ourselves away in love. The rage displayed by many people and that we are witnessing this weekend in our nation is a result of trauma and of fright. This is because keeping commitments and promises and accepting responsibility is frightening when all one considers is that we do not know how the future will fit into our plans — what the future holds, so we hoard the little we have. Yet, because we belong to Christ who holds the future with us in love, we are free to commit and to belong to Him and to each other — even to those who are enraged this weekend and riddled unnecessarily by fright.

Discipleship is not simply about choice; it is about decision to answer the call to follow Jesus. Our decision to follow the Lord may not be as direct as that of Elisha. Our call may be more subtle, like that of James and John. Like them we are asked to understand this world in a way it does not understand itself. Jesus reminds us in the Gospel that our true home is not in this world.

We must let go of worldly desires and riches with a desire to fit in and instead seek a more enduring home and love that is offered with belonging to Christ. For “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”

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