2004—Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time—C
So how was your summer? Have you been asked this question yet? If you haven't I'm sure you will. I certainly have and expect to be hearing it many times in the next week, especially as people return to campus or to the parish. So how was your summer?
I have to say that this question makes me a bit uneasy. Should I tell the truth and go into detail or just find a word or two to sum it all up? It is difficult to sum up a season in a few words. The question "how was your summer" also brings up a bit of panic. Oh my god summer is over and I didn't get such and such accomplished. All those sensible things I planned were too easily moved from the priority list. Oh I'll get it done before summer's end. And here is the end.
If I could share with you one of the highlights of my summer, it would be my annual retreat. Retreat is a wonderful time for taking stock of your life. In the silence and prayer of 8 days, you get to be with yourself and with God in a way that you can ask the really important questions, "What am I doing with my life? What resources do I have from God? How am I using them for the building up of God's kingdom? What does the call to be a disciple of Jesus, a friend of Jesus really ask of me? Do I have the spiritual freedom to respond? On a retreat one is able to "take stock" of one's life and see what one's priorities really are.
These questions are similar to the ones that the scripture raise today. Can we recognize God's design in the events of our lives? Does God's spirit surprise us with a sense of purpose that may challenge the way I view the world and myself? Today's Gospel is certainly challenging. Jesus asks, are you willing to make the Reign of God the absolute priority of your life? Using language that is shocking, he asks, Will you place everything you have and are on the line for me? Will you make the sacrifice of your personal projects and align yourself with mine?
These are not easy questions to answer. But they are important ones for us who call ourselves Christians.
My retreat this summer was a bit unusual. Those of you who know me know that Eastern Point in Gloucester is where I always make my retreats. (In fact I've wondered if God's spirit has a special claim on the property. This year I didn't take stock of my resources in time and wasn't able to get a reservation. I wondered whether I could encounter God any place else? I found myself at the Community of Jesus in Orleans Mass. The community has been in existence for more than 30 years and is modeled on a Benedictine community of shared life and prayer. It is ecumenical with Episcopal roots and is comprised of sisters, brothers, clergy and families whose common life is centered around prayer and worship, especially giving God glory through all the arts. They have built a place of worship that is extraordinarily beautiful in the tradition of medieval Cathedral artisans. They also offer wonderful opportunities of prayer and performance for the local community.
And still those on the outside raise their eyes skeptically about this kind of community. It must be some kind of cult, people think. Why would people commit themselves to share their resources, live in community, sacrificing their own plans and projects, their own independence to live this way? There must be something suspicious about a group like this!
Ironically, this skepticism and suspicion comes mostly from other Christians! And yet this is supposed to be who we are as Christians. As Jesus in the Gospel says, will you give up your own priorities, your own projects, even the centrality of family relationships and put your relationship with me at the center of your life? Will you be willing to share your gifts and resources with others and not just think about what you need for yourself? To be a follower of Jesus calls you into relationship not only with him but with all that belong to him. It is not about "me" but it is about "us".
Although I have had 38 years of community life in the Society of Jesus, the Community of Jesus deepened not only my commitment to the Lord but also challenged me to find ways, in my community and parish life to acknowledge the gift of the Spirit in our creating and forming us as the body of Christ.
This morning we welcome Emma Polina Ryan into the body of Christ. We pray that as a member of our Catholic Christian community she may know the wonderful blessing of a life lived in union with Jesus Christ and with all God's people.