Reflection for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle C)
To follow the Christ is to walk from a slavery to the flesh to a slavery to Love and thence, to a freedom which comes with mutual responsibility for others. To follow the Christ is to grow from the desires of the self to the desires of the Spirit, for it is the will of the Spirit for all to be authentically free.
So, the Apostle Paul teaches, “You, brothers and sisters, were called to enjoy freedom; I am not speaking of that freedom which gives free rein to the desires of the flesh, but of that which makes you slaves of one another through love. For the whole law is summed up in this sentence: You shall love your neighbor as yourself …. Therefore, I say to you, walk according to the Spirit and do not give way to the desires of the flesh! For the desires of the flesh war against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are opposed to the flesh.”
But discipleship is not an easy endeavor; it is essentially a self-emptying and a self-giving in active pursuit of balance in all ecological and social systems, thus achieving holy happiness for all peoples. It is a sacrifice with a mission, whose goals are not primarily aimed to saving oneself, but to liberating us precisely from the sin of oppression which comes with and from the ‘original sin’ of self-preservation.
Discipleship is both an exhortation and an example of selflessness.
We are given two approaches among which we can choose from, to define our discipleship. The first can be called the “transactional approach” which entails a discipleship of continuous negotiation through the twists and turns of the meandrous flow of daily living. It means “following Christ by going through life “as is,” hoping to come out the same or a little better, in the end.” It is thus a discipleship accepted only on the condition that “I can at the same time, still live and thrive within the presumed normalcy of my existence;” that is, “I will ‘take up my cross,’ if I can still have enough food to maintain myself, if I can still have a modest space for work and rest, and if I can still opt to ‘leave my cross for a while’ and to ‘look back’ to give time for personal wants and wishes.”
The second can be called the “transformational approach” which entails a discipleship arising from an irreversible decision to change one’s self in order to change the lives of others. It means “following Christ by going through life ‘as it should be,” without expecting to come out “as is,” in the end.” It is thus a discipleship accepted without conditions, following Christ through bitterness and until the bitter end, hoping to help achieve one day, a social transformation for a sustainable peace: “I will ‘take up my cross,’ committing ‘never to leave it,’ even if I do not have enough food, even if I have ‘nowhere to lay my head,’ even if it means becoming unable to have or to do whatever gives me pleasure.”
To which approach do we think Christ is calling us?
May I recommend this brief examination of our suitability for discipleship:
- Am I truly aware of how much my Father in heaven loves me? How much then do I truly love him?
- Filled with the love of God, am I joyful?
- Filled with the joy of life, am I hopeful?
- Filled with the hope of eternity, can I now bear the sorrows of the present, with a sense of humor?
- Filled with the laughter that heals both body and soul, am I at peace?
- Filled with the divine peace, am I prepared to share?
- Am I now truly prepared to bear those who dislike or hate me? Those who betrayed me? Those whom I have betrayed? Those who failed me? Those whom I have failed?
- When I am impatient, angry or tending to become violent, do I have immediate and habitual recourse to prayer?
- When I am impatient, angry or tending to become violent, but unable to express it publicly, do I have immediate and habitual recourse to the virtual world of social media?
- Do I consider myself being and knowing more than others? Or do I consider myself being less and in need of learning from others? Do I have genuine peace in my heart?
- How many times have I chosen to keep silent, to work quietly on the more difficult tasks, and to endure harsh criticism, if only to preserve peace in the family or in the community?
- How many times have I chosen to gently utter the truth, and firmly defend the defenseless?
- Am I afraid? Am I afraid to think, speak and act for the Gospel? Am I afraid to think, speak and act in behalf of the ultimate reign of God?
- Am I open to this mission? Do I feel enthusiastic about my mission?
- Am I “living out my life safely” in my service to God and the Church? Should I not be “living out my life dangerously” in my service to God and the Church?
- Do I lack the compassion of Jesus? Should I not now pray to him to grant me this strong love, this deep splagchnizomai for those being left behind?
- Am I prepared to be emboldened by the Spirit? To go to those yet untouched by the Spirit? To venture into the unknown abyss, armed only with confidence in the Spirit? To do what I am uncertain I can do myself? To be where I know only God exists?
- Is it not the time now for me to confront and not to shun from the battle with evil?
- Am I tempted to disobey and flee from the love of God? Am I sincerely avoiding these evil snares by trying to live within a community of people I can share love with?
- Am I persistent in my practice of perfect charity in my family? To my parents or grandparents? To my spouse or siblings? To my children or nephews and nieces? To my grandchildren? To my in-laws and other relatives?
- Am I steadfast in my practice of perfect charity in the communities I belong to? In the communities where I live and worship, where I study, play and work?
- Do I have regular recourse to the guidance of God, in persistent prayer?
- Am I prepared to listen and to follow the guidance of God, wherever he may lead me to?
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.