May 19, 2019

True Disciples

Today’s Gospel sheds some light on our claim that Jesus is truly present at our Eucharistic Celebrations and that he talks to us his words of life as he did 2000 years ago in Palestine. What we are reflecting on (Luke 14: 25-33) is an existential, real-life reflection on discipleship done at the time of the second or third generation of Christians by comparing their way of living the Faith in light of Jesus’ original teachings. In other words, we have here the Risen Lord Jesus speaking to his congregation of second, third generation Christians through the mouth of his priests/bishops.

How can this statement be correct? Because, originally, Jesus could not have mentioned the absolute necessity for every disciple of his to carry his/her cross and follow him to Calvary. That would have gone over their heads for the simple fact that everyone knew that in the Roman Empire crosses were meant for slaves and for criminals, and their Rabbi was neither. It was only after his passion, death and resurrection that, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they realized the absolute necessity of sharing, personally, directly, in the passion, death, and resurrection of their divine Master.

What must interest us immensely is to see why, in our gathering, the Lord Jesus brings up once again the harsh conditions for being his disciples of the 21st century. We ought to keep in mind that our Lord is still on “his way to Jerusalem” and that even nowadays there are vast crowds traveling with him. The numbers of true disciples who climb mount Calvary in recent years to shed their blood are staggering.

It is the largest number ever in the history of the Church! These most courageous people come after Jesus carrying their bloody crosses. We are reminded of some of these supreme sacrifices because of the occasional, sporadic media coverage. However, the real number of those who come after Jesus carrying their cross is much, much larger and their climb of mount Calvary goes totally unnoticed to the eyes of our distracted and self-absorbed world. Furthermore, nowadays, too, the setting would be incomplete if we were to overlook the fact that great crowds are still traveling with Jesus… Most of them, perhaps we included, are traveling with Jesus as if it were a pleasant excursion in the countryside.

That is the reason why, in his infinite love, he feels compelled to turn around and clarify what genuine discipleship entails. He is blunt, totally candid, brutally honest, our sweetener-free Master who never hides any aspect of the harsh reality of his brand of discipleship. We should take him very seriously and feel the weight of each one of his words so that we can determine if we can accept the challenge. His concept of genuine discipleship is similar to the old catchphrase for the Marines: the few, the proud, the Marines.

But why would he bring this up today and with us? I can only think of one reason: he loves us with boundless love; and because of this he cannot let us continue the journey with a divided, lukewarm heart, a confused mind and double loyalty, to him and to the world. He knows that so many in the crowds tagging along are unwilling to pay the price of discipleship. Others claim to be numbered among his disciples but are simply deluding themselves.

For example, there are prominent political figures whose Catholicism is less than skin deep. They claim to be Catholics in good standing while leading two parallel lives: presumably attending church on Sundays and, perhaps, engaging in an additional quick window-dressing while, de facto proving in the public arena that they persistently, repeatedly repudiate Church doctrine like the sacredness of each and every human life from conception until natural death and the exclusiveness of marriage as being between one man and one woman. Hence they, too, are totally unwilling to pay the price of discipleship.

But, in this country, up to now at least, true disciples of Christ can still come after Jesus without having to shed their blood, literally, although they are paying a steep price already for their loyalty to him and to his Church. In the last six years or so the Catholic Church, herself, has been asked to change the teachings of Christ to keep up with the evolving times. If she were to yield to this preposterous demand she would betray her Bridegroom Christ and become as insignificant as other accommodating Churches have become.

So far the price paid by committed disciples of Christ has been the infringement of their first amendment rights and the loss of their livelihood. Tragically, so few disciples-to-be in the large crowds following Jesus are aware of these instances of subtle yet crippling persecution.

My friends, learn that some pharmacists, nurses, doctors, bakers, photographers, florists and other professionals have sat down to calculate precisely the cost of building the tower of a society based on Judeo-Christian principles.

My friends, learn that there are many believers who are carefully planning the war they have to wage against the forces of evil, the proponents of relativism and against a world that has repudiated God and his laws.

Their means are very limited; their number, so far, seemingly too small to come out victorious. But, today, Jesus turns around to pick us out of the bland amorphousness of a non-committed life. With the unmatched intensity of his love he dares us to step forward and be counted among the number of genuine disciples who pass the triple test that assures the genuiness of our commitment.

The first requirement is the most basic one which is the catalyst for anything worth living and dying for: love. We become his disciples only if we love him and his Church above anyone else, including our closest blood relations; above also the most treasured possession we all have: our very self.

Surprisingly, the second prerequisite is about the way we handle the predicament besetting every member of the human race: the cross. Each human being has his/her cross to bear or to reject. It consists of whatever pains and challenges us. True disciples carry theirs behind him with courage, perseverance, and hope, refusing to let it crush them.

The third and final prerequisite is the one that somehow tends to slip under the radar of our consciousness: we ought to renounce ALL our possessions. Historically some of Jesus’ disciples were wealthy. So it can be said that the third prerequisite simply demands poverty in spirit, i.e. that nothing and no-one should take the place of God in our heart.

The life of a true disciple of Christ is lived continuously in the security of the Father’s hands while being totally engaged for the best output of generous love as possible. It should not be controlled, held back, derailed by any ideology, conflict of interest, lure of power, greed: by nothing at all.

Today we have seen that the cost of discipleship is very steep. We have to face the uncomplicated fact that only if our love for Jesus is strong and intense we can make the decision to follow him to Calvary and, then, to glory.

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin

REVEREND DINO VANIN, PIME was born in Cendon di Silea, Province of Treviso, Italy in 1946. He entered the PIME Seminary at Treviso at the tender age of eleven. He came to the U.S. in 1968, studying Theology at Darlington Major Seminary in New Jersey. He has an MA in Secondary School Administration from Seton Hall University. Ordained in 1972, he served as an administrator, teacher, rector and principal at the PIME High School Seminary in Newark, Ohio before being sent to the missions of Thailand, where he served for six years. He is currently the Treasurer of the U.S. Region of PIME in Detroit. On December 16, 2018 he was installed as Pastor of San Francesco Catholic Church in Clinton Township, MI. Every week he takes some time off from his parish ministry to do some administrative work at PIME headquarters in Detroit. Due to his increased workload at the parish while continuing as Treasurer of the U. S. Region of PIME and as counselor and spiritual director, he spends any time left doing a little woodworking.

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Written by Fr Dino Vanin