This homily delivered in Loyola House of Studies is based on Luke 14:25-33.
My first thought this morning after reading the Gospel was: I should have checked out the Gospel reading first before accepting the invitation to preside at this Mass.
It’s a difficult gospel. And I have major problems with it.
Our Lord begins by making two big demands on a person who wants to be his disciple: Leave your family and loved ones, and take up our own cross. And he ends with another big ask: If you wish to follow him, you also, by the way, need to give up all your possessions!
The message couldn’t be louder or clearer: Discipleship comes at a very high cost.
To make matters more difficult, somewhere in that discourse, our Lord throws in a precaution to the would-be disciple to make sure to count the cost before making the decision to follow him. The way Jesus puts it: Don’t start going about building that tower unless you’re certain you have the resources to finish it. And don’t go start declaring wars unless you’re confident about your victory.
In short, don’t follow the Lord–don’t even bother to think about it!–if you’re not willing or able to write him a blank check. He will settle for nothing less.
I don’t know about you, but all that made me think of my own discernment all those many years ago and my decision to join the Society of Jesus. And I can’t help but wonder: “What was I thinking?!”
Here’s a simple and honest answer: I didn’t know better.
So I wonder: If i had known then what i know today about discipleship and religious life, would I have actually joined?
Honestly, I’m not sure.
I’m not sure that I would have joined if I had known that I wouldn’t be inspired, idealistic, and enthusiastic every single day about serving the Lord.
I’m not sure i would have joined if I had known that there would be days of disappointments, disillusionment, and disheartenment.
Had I known that I would be vulnerable to the jadedness and skepticism that creep in the times you’re not looking, would I have made that leap of faith and actually hoped that I could be a worthy disciple?
All those many years ago, I had a very positive and naively perfect picture in my mind of what life in a religious community would be like. I could have sworn all we would do was pray in perfect unison and serve God’s people in perfect collaboration while singing Himig Heswita songs–in perfect harmony! Had I known that our communities, like all human communities, would also have its share of human weakness–and occasionally, even wickedness!–would I have been bold enough to make that decision?
These were the questions going through my head as I made my way here in the rain. But the moment I reached the chapel, the moment I stepped into this familiar sacred space where I had spent seven years of my Jesuit formation, I realized that those were not the sort of questions the Lord was asking me to consider today. He is not inviting to ask whether or not I would have joined because well, after thirty years of Jesuit life, it’s pretty moot and academic. Rather, he is asking me to wonder–and to ask with awe–why I had decided to stay.
And immediately I knew the answer. All these years, I have chosen to stay despite the disappointments, disillusionment, and disheartenments. I have not left despite all the weakness and wickedness–my brothers’ as well as my own–because I’ve never doubted–not for a second–that if I should run low on materials and on energy working on my unfinished constructions, the Lord would never fail to send supplies and co-workers my way. And I have seen how he has done that countless of times.
And if I should run out of ammunition or fall wounded in my still-unwon battles with my twenty thousand demons, the Lord himself would rush over, and he himself or through friends–like my many inspiring and generous brother Jesuits–mend my wounds. And yes, they have done that so countless of times as well.
Yes, as the Lord reminds us today, discipleship has such unreasonably high demands. But what he neglects to tell us today is that he does not leave us alone, standing in the wreckage of our imperfect discipleship. Yes, we fumble and fall in our following of Him, but He is always close by. He always turns back and never gives up on us, with his faith in us ever unwavering.
Today he is asking me to do the same.