1 Kings 19:16, 19-21; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62
We have all faced life-changing decisions, some forced, most made by our own free will. The death of a parent, suffering a divorce, the collapse of our business, hurricanes, floods, fires, a terrible accident, are all examples of forced changes on our journeys through life.
Some decisions are our own: choosing a college, proposing marriage, having children, changing our career, joining the military, joining the Church, entering the seminary or joining a religious community are examples of choices we make of our own free will.
The readings today present us with the reality of decisions, life-changing decisions. We are called by God to be decisive. Decisions bring consequences with them, and we have to live with the consequences of our decisions. Nobody can undo them for us. We want to make our own decisions and we want to have the freedom in which to make them. This is God’s will – His plan. God wants us to freely choose. He wants us to freely choose to love Him. That’s why He made us. And God, too, must live with the consequences of our decisions. Take a look not at that crucifix. it tells us the price God paid for living with the consequences of our decisions.
In today’s first reading we find the need for security being challenged by the prophet Elisha’s decision to move into an unknown future. In the second reading we are presented with a false freedom, the freedom of license and anything goes vs. the true freedom of loving for the sake of others, particularly the other that is God. Finally, in the Gospel, we find the challenge to move beyond the ties of family loyalty and affection into commitments outside the pale of our immediate families. The consequences involve our movement into decisions and responses consistent with making God central in our lives.
We are all called to make hard, tough decisions in life. It's not easy to actually leave one's childhood family in order to cling to a spouse in marriage and start a new family. We all know of husbands or wives who have never emotionally left father or mother in order to surrender in love to their spouse. Being unable to leave their childhood they become emotionally arrested and fixated, without any further development. Not only that, but when we marry we quickly learn that there are things we cannot do, our freedom to do whatever we want is gone. So, too, when we have children. We soon learn that our freedom to do a lot of things is severely restricted.
Many folks never come to the full realization that sacrifice is not simply a nice ideal, it is a fact of life. Life forces us to make choices. The question is not whether we are willing to sacrifice. After all, life is filled with sacrifices. It's always a question of how much are we willing to sacrifice… and for what are we sacrificing? We cannot have things of value and at the same time live foot-loose and carefree lives. All commitments involve sacrifice. So does growth.
To be sure, there are those who try to live free and unfettered lives, but what becomes of them? To say “yes” to anything special requires saying “no” to a whole lot of other things. For instance, one cannot be "a little bit religious" for very long. You either commit or you end up saying that you don't go to Mass very often any more because of this, that or the other thing. To say “yes” to everything means we cannot say, “yes” to anything in particular. One cannot both commit and keep all of one's options open at the same time. "No man can serve two masters,” Jesus said.
Keeping all of one's options open is another way of avoiding full commitment. It's another form of denial. That's true in our close and intimate relationships with others. And that's true in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Commitment, love, marriage and friendships all impose things upon us. They require an uncluttered “yes.” A “yes” that is life-changing. The same is true in the commitment to enter into religious life.
But while love demands sacrifice, paradoxically it also at the same time lets us find freedom. True lovers give each to the other the gift of freedom, the freedom to be the very best persons living deep down inside of them. True lovers give each other the freedom to become the best they can be. True love gives us the joyous freedom to say “yes,” “yes” to something greater and far more wonderful than just living for our own selves in our own little self-centered world.
The greatest life-changing event in human history occurred when God, moved by His infinite love, bridged the unimaginable chasm between us and became man – that moment in cosmic history when God took on our humanity and became one of us. That moment was given to us when the Blessed Virgin Mary responded to God’s glorious messenger, the Archangel Gabriel, with her profound “yes, be it done unto me according to your word.” In her “yes” God the Son forever opened the way for us to return back home to our Father in heaven.
We need to recognize the truth that freedom is found in decisiveness. You and I all know of indecisive people; we find them among our friends and acquaintances. They can’t make up their minds. They’re paralyzed and imprisoned in their lack of ability to make a decision. They get hung up on a hook called “the paralysis of analysis” and suffer from their indecision.
Finally, we need give ourselves the freedom to focus on where we’re going in our lives along with the freedom not to be held captive by constantly looking back at our past. Do you drive a car looking through the front windshield or do you drive looking through the rear window? If you drive your car by looking through the rear window, you will certainly crash! If you are constantly living in your past you are not going forward in your life. We grow in focusing on our future, not our past.
Jesus said to His disciples: “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God." He was talking about fitness and abilities, as well as vision. We can be crippled and disabled if we’re constantly dwelling on our past mistakes, if we’re constantly feeling sorry for ourselves about what’s happened in our past, or what we’ve given up. To be truly free our eyes must be fixed on what’s ahead, not what was in the past.
When I was a little boy, my mother taught me “True happiness is something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.” We need to have things to hope for in order to know what to do and how to love. To find happiness in true freedom we need to keep in mind for just what it is that God has given us freedom. Hope and freedom are joined go together.
For me, my home is always to walk in “the glorious freedom of the sons and daughters of God.” I am never freer than when I am doing what God wants me to do. Nor do I find greater happiness.
I leave you today with a beautiful prayer, a prayer composed by a famous Trappist monk, Fr. Thomas Merton. In moments of doubt and wonderment it has given me great comfort.
Perhaps it will for you, too. In his book, Thoughts in Solitude, he wrote:
Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.