Sunday, July 26, 2015

Discipleship and Discipleship 'With an Asterisk'

(Seventeenth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on July 26, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read John 6: 1-15.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Seventeenth Sunday 2015]

When it comes to being a follower of Jesus Christ, there’s “discipleship” and then there’s what I would call discipleship with an asterisk.”

And that asterisk—small though it might be—makes a HUGE difference!

When you’re reading a book or a magazine and you come across an asterisk, it normally means that the author wants to direct your attention to the bottom of the page, because he either wants to clarify something he wrote or to explain it a little more completely.

That having been said, the application to discipleship should be clear.  As Catholic Christians our discipleship—our loyalty and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Gospel—is supposed to be ABSOLUTE and UNCONDITIONAL!  In other words, it’s not supposed to involve any exceptions—any “asterisks” so to speak—at all!

But that can easily happen!  That little, pesky asterisk can very quickly make its appearance in our heart!  

And when it does, it immediately changes everything.

Case in point: today’s Gospel story, and the remainder of the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John.  Here we see Jesus, out of mercy and compassion, miraculously feeding more than 5,000 very hungry people until they’re stuffed!  And they still ended up with twelve baskets of food leftover (which I’m sure made a very good midnight snack for each of the apostles!).

And how did the people respond to this miracle?

They responded by wanting to carry Jesus away and make him their king!

They said, “Wow, this is great!  That’s the best fish dinner I ever had in my life!  And I could have as much as I wanted—with great bread too!  Best of all, it was free!  Jesus, you’re the best!  You should be our leader!  We don’t get meals like this from Herod, or Pilate, or Caesar, or any of the others—so we want to follow YOU!  We want you to rule over us; we want to live as your disciples.”

That was their attitude, and it was entirely understandable.

The only problem was that their discipleship had an asterisk attached to it—a very big asterisk—which becomes clear in the remaining verses of chapter 6 of John’s Gospel (which we will hear in our Gospel readings for the next four Sundays).

This is a preview of coming attractions.

They said, in effect, “Yes, Jesus, we want you to rule over us; we want to live as your disciples*(asterisk) … *unless, of course, you ask us to put our faith in something extraordinary, something we do not—and cannot—fully understand.  That’s where we’ll draw the line.  That’s when we’ll have a really big problem.  That’s when our loyalty, our fidelity—our discipleship—will come to an end. …But other than that, we’re great—we’re cool—we’re right there with ya, Jesus!”

This crowd that was fed miraculously by our Lord followed him the next day across the Sea of Galilee (which is really a big lake) to the town of Capernaum.  And there Jesus proceeded to give them a very challenging and detailed teaching on another meal that he intended to give them in the near future (which is the one we participate in at this and at every Mass).  He told them that he intended to nourish them spiritually by giving them his Body to eat and his Blood to drink.

And it was then that the “asterisks” began to make their appearance, such that many of the people there—some of whom had been following Jesus for quite some time—walked away. 

“Yes, Jesus, we will live as your disciples*(asterisk) … *unless you ask us to put our faith in something extraordinary like the Eucharist: something we do not—and cannot—fully understand.  That’s where we will draw the line; that’s when our discipleship will come to an end.”

And I think it’s safe to say that most of the 5,000+ people reacted in this way, because toward the end of it all Jesus turned to his closest followers—his apostles—and said to them, “Do you want to leave me too?”  It was then that Peter made his famous response, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

For the crowd in John 6, the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist was the difficult issue.

For the rich young man, it was something else.  His problem was his inner attachment to his possessions.  Remember?  The Bible tells us that he came to Jesus one day with the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Our Lord told him to keep the Commandments—to be faithful to the moral precepts of the Decalogue.  The young man said he had been obedient to the Commandments from the days of his youth—which, incidentally, was no small accomplishment!  I don’t know about you, but I didn’t always do too well with that 4th commandment when I was a little guy.

But then Jesus challenged him to go one step further by selling everything he owned and becoming a full-time follower of his, just like the 12 apostles.

At that point, the scripture tells us, “He went away sad, for he had many possessions.”

His attitude was, “Jesus, I will gladly follow you, I will be more than happy to live as your faithful disciple* (asterisk) … *unless, of course, you ask me to let go of all my stuff and give all my possessions away.  Yes, you’re important to me, Jesus—but not that important.”

We are living in a world right now, my brothers and sisters, where the asterisks that people put on their discipleship are becoming more and more numerous—which is extremely distressing!  At least to me it is.  

Just look at how many professed Christians have caved in on the marriage issue—starting with the man in the Oval Office!  In fact I’d be willing to bet that many of you who do support real marriage—traditional marriage—have had conversations with some Christian relatives and friends during the last few weeks that have shocked you.  They’ve shocked you because these are people who used to believe the same thing that you do, but who have “evolved,” such that they now enthusiastically support the recent Supreme Court decision.

They are disciples with an asterisk—and the asterisk concerns marriage.

But as one gay writer, Andrew Sullivan, has noted, this phenomenon has not happened in isolation.  As he sees it, the embracing of gay marriage has come about because in the last 50 years or so many people have also embraced practices such as what he calls “no-strings heterosexual hookups.”  (By the way, I almost never agree with Andrew Sullivan—the man is extremely anti-Catholic—but I would say he’s got a valid insight here.)  Listen to what he wrote:

Surely the world of no-strings heterosexual hookups and 50 percent divorce rates preceded gay marriage.  It was heterosexuals in the 1970s who changed marriage into something more like a partnership between equals, with both partners often working and gender roles less rigid than in the past.  All homosexuals are saying, three decades later, is that, under the current definition, there’s no reason to exclude us.  If you want to return straight marriage to the 1950s, go ahead.  But, until you do, the exclusion of gays is simply an anomaly—and a denial of basic civil equality.

Put in the terms of this homily, Andrew Sullivan is saying that because so many Christians have put asterisks on their discipleship in recent decades by rejecting the teaching of Jesus and his Church on sexual issues, and by embracing sins like fornication (and I would add sins like contraception and abortion), they’ve already in effect changed the common understanding of marriage.

And so putting one more asterisk on their discipleship now through an embrace of same-sex marriage is no big deal to them. 

In fact, it’s quite logical.

Do I have an asterisk on my discipleship?

Ask yourself that question today.

As I’ve hopefully made clear in this homily, people can put asterisks on their discipleship for all kinds of reasons.  It might involve a doctrinal issue like the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  It might involve a moral issue.  It might even involve something like forgiveness.

Do you realize that every time we refuse to forgive another human being we’re actually putting a big asterisk on our Christian discipleship?

“Sure I’ll follow you, Jesus.  Just don’t ask me to forgive that guy!  No way!  Not after what he did to me!”

Dear Lord, we ask you this morning to help us.  Help us to see if we have any asterisks—any asterisks at all—written on our hearts at the present time; and then grant us the strength and the desire and the determination that we need to erase them!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

More Steubenville East Pics

A few more Steubie East pictures that were emailed to me today:

Monday, July 20, 2015

Steubenville East 2015: Limitless!!!

Awesome music.  Christ-centered, challenging talks by great speakers.  Powerful prayer experiences at Mass and during Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

And a little fun thrown into the mix!

This is the "Steubenville experience" which is available every July at the Steubenville East High School Youth Conference, and which helps to bring many, many teenagers from all over the Northeast to a deep (or deeper!) conversion to Jesus Christ and his Gospel. 

The theme of this year's conference was "Limitless", based on the words of Jesus in John 10:10 ("A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.")

My prayer for everyone who attended this year's event in Lowell, Massachusetts, is that they will come to experience the "abundant life" that Jesus came to give them now and FOREVER!

To watch the videos of the conference, click here: Steubenville East 2015

Here are some pictures from the conference, courtesy of Mrs. Carey (click on images to enlarge):