Fr Billy Swan
Dear friends. One of the features of modern culture is the availability of choice. We like choices. From the ice cream flavour we choose to the clothes we wear to the person we marry. To be free to choose is good. Even St Paul insists in the second reading today that Christ wants us to be free and stay free. However, as we all know, choosing means picking one thing over another. If I say ‘yes’ to being a priest then I am saying ‘No’ to other ways of life. If you say ‘Yes’ to marrying someone you are also saying ‘No’ to marrying someone else. Commitment to something or someone entails sacrifice.
One of the reasons I believe that the Church struggles to attract people to a faith commitment is that Jesus Christ is seen as one guru or teacher among many. He was a good man, led an interesting life, died a horrible death but so did many others before and after him. And so, while I might admire him, giving my whole life to him is a step too far. And yet, this is what he asks. He does not ask us to follow him by half or part time but to make a life-long commitment that involves choosing his way of life and rejecting others. For most of us this is challenging. We would prefer to stay safe, to keep our options open, neither rejecting Christianity but not fully embracing it either. Even we priests can back off from this ‘all or nothing’ radical choice that faces us when confronted with the truth of Christ and offer a wishy washy and diluted message in an effort to keep everyone happy and on-side.
This is not the Gospel. There are a number of conversations Jesus has in today’s passage from Luke and I would like to focus on the last two. In the first of these, a man decides to follow him but wants to bury his father first. At first glance, Jesus’ response appears insensitive: ‘let the dead bury the dead’. But the point he is making to the man and to us is that our commitment to him must be on his terms and is more important than any worldly obligation. In the second case, someone also says ‘Yes’ to following him but with the condition that he says goodbye to his people at home first. Again, it seems like a reasonable request but Jesus says no. Once more, our commitment to Christ comes first and needs to be our first priority. Everything else revolves around him and the practise of our faith and not the other way round. If something else becomes our first love then it becomes an idol and a temptation.
Is making this commitment tough? Absolutely! Is re-ordering our priorities necessary? Absolutely? Is it worth it? Yes! For there is a joy in saying ‘Yes’ when you trust the one you say ‘Yes’ to, no matter what happens in the future. I conclude with an example of this that stands out in my memory. In the Irish College in Rome where I studied, I lived with Fr Ragheed Ganni from Iraq who was killed for his faith on 3rd June 2007 having celebrated Mass in his parish. Four years earlier, I remember being apart of a group of his friends seeing him off in a taxi as he was about to go to the airport and return home. We were all worried for him but he was calm and resigned. On his ordination day he had said ‘Yes’ to God without conditions and ‘Yes’ to serving the people of his diocese. His time had come to return home despite the consequences of what awaited him.
We probably won’t be asked to pay the ultimate price for our ‘Yes’ like he did but his story inspires us to hear the radical call of Christ to follow him now, today – not on our terms but on his.