Ordinary Time 23, Year C

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
She, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood (Lk. 21:4)

We hear or read in this Sunday’s gospel that one can be a disciple of Jesus only if one prefers Jesus above all else—above one’s father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even one’s own life—and carries one’s cross and follows Jesus.

In the Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission, II, 9, St. Vincent de Paul takes hatred of relatives to mean avoidance of over-attachment to relatives. This strong saying on hatred of relatives, along with another saying that promises abundance in this world and eternal life in the next to all who left family for the sake of the gospel, “goes to show what an obstacle to full Christian living blood relationships can be.”

Carrying one’s cross, on the other hand, is presented in the same Common Rules (II, 8) as entailing that one should overrule his personal wishes and opinion, and discipline the gratification of each of his senses. One who takes up his cross does not live according to one’s unspiritual nature but rather mortifies it by the Spirit. One must even discipline one’s craving for learning out of curiosity lest it insidiously invades one’s heart and one becomes puffed up with pride, taking himself more highly than he ought to (Ibid., XII, 8). “We are not, though,” goes on to say this section of the Common Rules, “to neglect the dedicated study which is needed for the proper carrying out of the work of a missioner, as long as our primary aim is to acquire the learning of the saints, which is taught in the school of the cross, so that we may preach only Jesus Christ, following the example of St. Paul, who also admitted frankly, when writing to the Corinthians, that he had decided that when among them he would speak of nothing except Jesus Christ, and of him crucified.”

And preaching only Jesus Christ and to speak of nothing except Jesus Christ and of him crucified requires one, needless to say, to follow Jesus Christ. And St. Vincent himself says in his Foreword to the Common Rules:

My idea was that men who are called to continue
Christ’s mission, which is mainly preaching the
good news to the poor, should see things from his
point of view and want what he wanted. They should
have the same spirit that he had and follow in his
footsteps.

The Common Rules, then, aims at helping missionaries follow Jesus. It says that the following of Jesus more precisely means the imitation of Jesus, imitation of his virtues and of what he did for the salvation of other. To follow Jesus is likewise to be guided by his teaching especially those that have to do with the five characteristic missionary virtues of simplicity, humility, gentleness, mortification and zeal. And insofar as the rules specify for the missionary what Jesus did and taught, then the missionary who observes the rules also follows Jesus.

But did what apply to St. Vincent then and to the missionaries of his time still apply to us today? This matter could be debated. But what there should be no debate about is that I today am under obligation too to find the meaning for me of ancient gospel texts, all the while that that I try to uncover the message an evangelist intended for his immediate audience. That this task is not easy should not come as a surprise. After all, if it is hard enough to guess the things on earth, to search out things heavenly must be even harder, as the first reading points out. Not even Paul, if I may dare point out, explicitly condemned slavery but appeared to have simply accepted it as a social fact, albeit that he pleaded with Philemon to take back the run-away slave Onesimus “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother.” And should I come up with nothing as I try to figure out what the essential elements of true Christian discipleship mean for me more concretely, perhaps I can simply place myself at the foot of the cross in the presence of God and wait for God to speak to me, to give me wisdom and send me his Holy Spirit (cf. P. Coste, IX, 50).

And having nothing, the renouncement of all possessions, is in the end what it takes to be a true disciple of Jesus. True, before embarking on a journey with Jesus, I would do well to take stock of myself and know the high cost exacted by discipleship. But the taking account of myself and my resources should make me realize finally that there is no better option than to follow Jesus, for to resist him will be like going against a stronger foe, as would discover Saul, for whom it was hard to kick against the goad (Act 26:14). Better then to sue for peace with Jesus and give everything up in surrender and be left with nothing—without father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even one’s own life—and only carrying the cross and following Jesus all the way to the complete self-emptying and nothingness of death.