Opening Our Eyes

William Willimon, the chaplain of the Methodist Church’s Duke University, remembers this happening. A very angry parent phoned him. “I hold you personally responsible for this,” he said. “I have spent an enormous amount of money for my daughter to get a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering and now she wants to throw it all away and do mission work for the Presbyterians in Haiti. Can you imagine! A trained engineer digging ditches.” “Now how is that my fault?” the minister responded. “What did I do?”  “I’ll tell you what you did,” the now shouting father answered. “You ingratiated yourself with her, filled her head with all that religion stuff. She likes you. That’s why she is doing this. I hold you personally responsible.”
“Now look,” the increasingly defensive college chaplain responded. “You had her baptized in the church. You read her Bible stories. You took her to Sunday school. You were the one who paid for her to go skiing with the youth group. It’s your fault that she took that stuff so seriously she now wants to go into the ministry.”  “I know, I know,” the once-angry and now-grieving father lamented. “But we didn’t want her to be a minister. All we wanted was for her to be a Presbyterian!”
Large crowds followed Jesus, and even those on the fringes felt that they were part of something special because they were with the great teacher. And suddenly Jesus turns to address them all with some serious words. Are they ready to pay the cost of following him?
Things would be simpler if we could show our allegiance to Jesus simply by wearing a medal around our neck or knowing how to make the sign of the Cross.  But the attitude of Jesus could not be clearer.  As we listen to the words of today’s gospel, he challenges us to sit down and calculate whether we are up to the task. Are we as serious about our relationship with Jesus as Jesus is about his relationship with us?
Jesus wants to be most important in our human relationships, especially those most dear to us.  When we speak angrily, or point out failures, Jesus is not found in that moment. When we demand to have things as we like, the humble servant Jesus is forgotten. As we let our work or activities outside the home consume so much time that there’s no energy left to give our attention to those most near to us, there is no community of love being built around Jesus.
Jesus tells the crowd that each of them must carry their own cross.  Soon enough he would embrace his Cross, suffer terribly and give away everything he had so that we would never doubt how much we are loved or that all our failures are forgiven.  But, each of us has our own cross, by which we prove our love and our willingness to accept the will of God. As we make our plans and have everything set exactly as we want it and someone else will not go along, or circumstances are out of our control; when suffering touches us, it is easy to become discouraged or angry.  But, in those moments, we are invited to renew our trust in our Father’s love, for he is bringing us to the place he knows is best for us.
We cannot be content with sitting in church only being a Catholic.  Jesus expects more.  And it takes planning – training our self to see the hand of God at work in the difficult parts of life, opening our eyes to an opportunity in front of us to welcome a brother or sister in Christ. Following Jesus is not always easy, because love is not always easy. But it has the power to make our life more wonderful than we could have imagined.

 –Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk