Tuesday, January 24, 2012

We Must Be Willing To Forsake All

Today in the Traditional Calendar is the Feast Day of St. Timothy, disciple of St. Paul, and to whom two books in the New Testament were written.  The Gospel for the traditional calendar is Luke 14:26-33.  I've heard and read this passage many times in my life, but for some reason it really hit me today when I read it.  It is a very deep passage, which asks that we give our entire lives to Jesus Christ:

26If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
27And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
28For which of you having a mind to build a tower, doth not first sit down, and reckon the charges that are necessary, whether he have wherewithal to finish it:
29Lest, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able ti finish it, all that see it begin to mock him,
30Saying: This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
31Or what king, about to go to make war against another king, doth not first sit down, and think whether he be able, with ten thousand, to meet him that, with twenty thousand, cometh against him?
32Or else, whilst the other is yet afar off, sending an embassy, he desireth conditions of peace.
33So likewise every one of you that doth not renounce all that he possesseth, cannot be my disciple.

Whew!  This passage would never make it in a Madison Avenue advertising agency.  Christ tells us that if we want to follow him, we must be willing to give up everything and everyone we love, including our very own lives, and to take up our cross - be ready to suffer, be ready to completely deny ourselves to the point of death.  Who in their right mind is going to accept this offer?  Deny yourself, accepting suffering, give up everything.  In our world, and most specifically in the western world, we don't do anything unless it makes us feel good in some way.  Why would anyone willingly take on suffering?

And yet, what are we really being asked?  Why are we so intent on clinging to this life, which is temporary and fleeting at best?  No matter how happy we may think we are, no matter how much we gain in riches and fame and whatever other material goal we may set, it is all going to fade away.  Everything that we can see, taste, touch, hear and smell is going to one day be gone.  And if that is where our heart is, we will be gone with it.  We can never be free in this life from death and the fear of death.  It is always there, and we know that one day death will be the victor and will rob us of everything. 

Christ is telling us that if we want true life, eternal life, then we must let go of this material world. Christ is asking us, when everything is boiled down to its essence, to give up death, because everything in this world will eventually lead us to death.  And in return, he will give us life.

There is a great reading in the Traditional Breviary from St. Gregory the Pope which explains this much better than I can:
Dearly beloved brethren, if we consider what and how great things are promised unto us in heaven, all things which are upon earth grow poor to our mind. For when this world's goods are reckoned against the gladness above, they are found to be a hindrance rather than an help. This present life being compared to life eternal, ought rather to be called death than life. For what is the daily failing of our corruptible body but, as it were, a creeping death? And what tongue can tell, or what mind comprehend, how great is the rejoicing in the city above? For there they have part with the choirs of Angels, and stand with those most blessed spirits before the glory of the Creator, and see the face of God present, and gaze upon Light Incomprehensible, and have no fear of death, but rejoice in the gift of an incorruption which is eternal.

When we hear these things our hearts burn within us. And we long to be already there, where we hope to rejoice eternally. But we cannot attain unto great rewards save through great labour. Therefore saith the mighty preacher Paul : No man is crowned except he strive lawfully. If the greatness of the reward delighteth the mind, then the pressure of the struggle cannot make the heart grow faint. Therefore the Truth saith unto all who would come to him : If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

But it may be asked, how we are commanded in one place to hate our parents, and all our kith and kin, and in another place to love even our enemies. And verily, the Truth hath said, concerning wives : What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And Paul saith : Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church. Behold the disciples commandeth a man to love his wife, and the Master saith : If any man hate not his wife, he cannot be my disciple. Doth the Judge, then, make one proclamation, and the crier make another? Can we both love and hate at the same time? But if we consider well the force of the commandment, we shall be able by discretion to do both.  Let us love wife, and kindred, and neighbour, in so far as the duties of the flesh are concerned, but in so far as they hinder on us the way to God, let us not know them, but hate them and flee from them.

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