The following is my homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.

Growing up, I never doubted the existence of God; there was something inside of me that accepted that God was real, that Jesus performed miracles and whatnot, and so I always said my prayers, went to Church, tried to be a good person. No, I never doubted God, but I also wasn’t particularly moved by God either; I said my prayers because that’s what you’re supposed to do, went to Church because my mom made me, and tried to be a good person, well, because. I considered myself a “believer,” but really, that’s all I was. Someone who believed… but didn’t really act any differently from anyone else.

That was, until I was 16. When I was 16, I went on a retreat with my church. On one of the evenings of this retreat, I was handed a block of wood and a marker, and was told to write on that block of wood everything that was burdening me—my sins, jealousies, pains, regrets, everything that was weighing me down—and then to throw that block of wood in the bonfire.

Needless to say, this was a cathartic experience. Sitting there, I watched everything wrong with my life—all of my mistakes, my regrets, my pains, weaknesses, unrealized dream and desires—slowly burn to a crisp. In a matter of minutes, they were gone. Absolutely obliterated. While I knew that none of these problems had actually changed, that this was just a symbolic act, the symbolism struck a cord with me: in that moment, I felt, probably for the first time ever, the healing touch of Christ. That wood may just be a symbol, but that is what he actually does. He does take away our sins. He does give us strength in weakness. He does heal our wounds and give us new life. And all of those things that weigh us down, those things that burden us, those things that we feel like are so important and they’re ruining our lives… well, they really aren’t much more important than ash in the face of God.

I don’t know if you have ever experienced something like this, but it was one of the most freeing moments of my life, and the moment, I really believe, that I became a follower of Christ. I came back from that retreat a different person, a person that wanted to serve, to devote my life to God and the Church. I had felt the amazing healing power of Jesus, and I wanted to share it with everyone I met.

In many ways, my story is the most common story in the Bible. All throughout the Bible, people come to faith because they have been healed. In our readings today, we hear of two such stories.

In 2 Kings we remember Namaan, a general from a foreign nation with leprosy. There is obviously something in him that believes in the God of Israel, believes that Elisha is a prophet, otherwise he would not have traveled so far, but he is by no means a follower of this God. That is, until he is healed. Washed in the Jordan 7 times, he has done to him what no other prophet or god could do: his disease is gone, his burden is lifted. He feels the powerful, personal touch of God in his life, something that is not simply known but felt, and he is a new person. More than just a “believer,” he becomes an evangelizer! He shouts with joy, he proclaims his allegiance, and returns to tell the others of his nation. 

So it is with the Samaritan leper in the Gospel. He, too, clearly believes in Jesus to some extent, otherwise he would never have asked Jesus to heal him, but something radically changes when he realizes that he’s been healed. There is a joy that arises in him that cannot be contained, thankfulness that must be shared, and so he runs back to Jesus and falls at his feet in thanksgiving. Faith had moved from his head to his heart, taken root inside of him, and he was moved to share it. How could it stay contained?

So often, we look at conversion as a particularly intellectual exercise. We look at faith as a matter of belief in doctrines and principles, of understanding God, and so when we see the state of faith in our country, the rise of atheism, we blame it on poor catechesis. “If only they knew what I knew! If only they could be convinced of the error of their thinking. If only we could teach them all Thomas Aquinas!” Some want to respond with apologetics, with stronger arguments, that this will create more Christians.

I’m not convinced.

No, that’s not how I found faith. It’s not how Namaan or the Samaritan leper turned from their old lives. In fact, Namaan knew the Truth from the start; all ten of the Lepers believed enough to come to Jesus in the first place. I’ve heard it said that no one has ever converted to the faith because they lost an argument, and I think this is true. Facts do not move people. Mere concepts do not change lives. Love does. Feeling the personal, healing touch of God does, the touch of a God who is more than some cosmic being out “there” but an intimate, loving person who knows what we experience, who’s walked the way we’ve walked.

I don’t know why you’re here today. Maybe, you know what it’s like to be healed by God and like me, like Namaan and the Samaritan leper, you can’t help but shout with joy for what god has done for you; you’re so filled with thankfulness that it bubbles out from within. If so, that’s awesome. But maybe not. Maybe, like me as a kid, like the nine lepers who did not return, who call to Jesus from afar, you believe in God, you accept in your mind that God is real, but do not have your lives changed.

Wherever you are right now, I want to read a passage from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel:

I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”. How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!

Jesus loves you. He is calling you in the night, reaching out to you, seeking to take all that burdens you and holds you back. He offers himself completely to you. This week, today, right now in the Mass, i want to encourage you to let yourself have a personal encounter with him, to let him touch you, and to never be the same.

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The following is my homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.

I have a friend who is gay. This friend knew that he was gay since he was a kid, but didn’t tell anyone until he was an adult. You see, he had an older brother who was a bit of a bully. Growing up, he saw his brother pick on people, physically and emotionally hurt them; he heard his brother use anti-gay slurs, talk about gay people with anger… and so he was afraid of his brother. He loved his brother, but didn’t know if his brother would love him if he knew. 

At the age of 18, he decided that he could no longer live in fear. He was an adult, moving out of the house—he had to tell his family. On his 18th birthday, he came out to his brother, and the most amazing thing happened. He said that his brother did not react much, there was no anger or tears, no congratulations or laughter, but from that moment on, he never heard his brother say a bad word about gay people again. Something changed in his brother. It was as if his whole perspective on the issue was different now. He loved his brother, his brother was gay, so how could he hate people just because they were gay? The issue had become personal for him.

There are times in all of our lives when our eyes are opened, when we realize all at once that we could not see what was right in front of us—that we had hurt others, that we’d been inconsiderate, that we were wrong. Once you see, once you know, you just can’t go back living the way you did before. Something has to change.

These moments might be big, as in the case of my friend, but they might also be very routine. Like many of us when we’re kids, I used to leave many messes around the house. Spill something, knock something over, leave food out. No big deal, right? It always got cleaned up. That was until my mom got frustrated with me one day and said, “You know, when you leave a mess, it doesn’t just magically clean itself. I clean it. And so when you leave a mess, what you’re saying is, ‘I don’t care, I’ll make mom clean it.’” I know it sounds super obvious, but my 6 or 8 year old brain had just never put those pieces together. My eyes were opened, the issue became personal. I saw, right there in front of me, how I was hurting someone, being disrespectful, and I had to change. And from that moment on, I’ve never left a single mess for anyone else to clean…

Okay… well, nobody’s perfect! But the point remains: Once you see, once you know, you just can’t go back living the way you did before. Something has to change.

But we don’t like change, do we? We don’t want to be shown that we were wrong, that we’ve hurt people, that we haven’t lived up to who we say we are. And so what we do, sometimes, is remain willfully ignorant. We choose not to look. We pretend like our problem doesn’t exist. We keep it distant, out there, as far away from personal as we can.

We act as the rich man does towards Lazarus.

Remember where Jesus tells us that Lazarus was. He was not in the marketplace on the rich man’s way to work. He wasn’t on the side of the road, easily ignored. No, Jesus tells us that Lazarus was lying at the rich man’s door. Lying at his door. In order for the rich man to even leave his house, he would have had to step over Lazarus. There’s no doubt that Lazarus probably smelled, the passage says that he attracted dogs—the rich man would have been well aware of Lazarus, how desperate he was, how hungry he was, that he would have gladly eaten the scraps from the table.

And yet, the rich man does nothing. He chooses not to see.

And that’s just the start of his problems. Reunited in the afterlife, everything is made even more obvious for the rich man. He is in a place of torment while Lazarus is carried by angels to the bosom of Abraham. Nothing could be clearer as to who was favored, who was important to God. Surely the rich man is contrite! Surely he knows now that he should have respected Lazarus, cared for him! Right? Unfortunately, no. Despite the truth being right in front of his eyes, he refuses to see. He pleads with Abraham to have pity on him, to warn his brothers. But remember how he asked: “Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water,” “Send Lazarus to my father’s house.” Even in the afterlife, even with the truth right in from of his eyes, he still treats Lazarus as less than him. He never apologizes to Lazarus, never even speaks to him directly. He speaks about him, and treats him like a servant that is supposed to do things for him.

The rich man did not see because he did not want to see. He remained willfully ignorant to the damage he had done, to the problems around him, because acknowledging that they exist meant admitting that he was wrong, admitting that he had to change. And nobody likes change, right?

It doesn’t take much to see that there are many Lazarus’ in our world, many people lying at our own doors crying out for their lives, desperately hoping that someone will see them. On a global scale, the United Nations reports that there are more than 70 million people living as refugees in our world, forcibly removed from their homes by violence and extreme poverty. They live without a home, separated from their families, just fighting to survive.

On a local level, Clarke County, where many of us live, has the third highest percentage of poverty in all of Georgia. Just beyond campus there are people who are hungry, who are homeless, who live in situations we would never accept for our own families.

On a community level, 25 percent of students here on campus—one out of every four—deal with food insecurity while in college. In the past two weeks alone, the Center has been approached by three different organizations asking us to help combat this problem.

The fact of the matter is that Lazarus is not just some story, but a living reality for so many people in our world. All around us—in our world, in our city, in our community, maybe even in our families—Lazarus is in desperate need. I guarantee that each and every one of us in this congregation encounters someone on a regular basis who is struggling. Maybe it’s a big issue like hunger or depression or a financial crisis, but maybe it’s a less obvious problem: a friend who has a little too much to drink, a neighbor who is lonely, a coworker who’s having a rough day. Lazarus is all around us, sometimes right in front of us. There are problems in our lives that are so close to us that we have to literally walk over them to get out of our houses.

When they are distant, when they are someone else, when they’re just a story on the news… they can be very easy to ignore. The news is so depressing, right? So we can just turn it off. We can look away. We can tell ourselves that it’s not our problem, that there’s nothing we can do. It’s easy to ignore Lazarus when we fail to see him. It’s easy to make anti-gay slurs when we don’t know anyone who’s gay; easy to leave messes around the house when we don’t realize someone else has to clean them up.

As Christians, we simply cannot do this.

Jesus calls us to see the Lazarus’ of our world, to care for them, to treat them with dignity, because the poor are blessed. He tells us in the Beatitudes just as he shows us in this Gospel today that they are particularly blessed. If we want to follow Jesus, we must love the ones he loved, and he clearly loved the poor.

Even more than that, though, is the fact that Jesus identifies with people like Lazarus. In the Gospel of Matthew he says that when we feed the least among us, give them clothing and visit them in prison, we don’t just do it to people he loves, we actually do it to him. He so identifies with people like Lazarus that he can be found clearly in them.

And so I wonder: do you see the person lying outside of your own door? Do you recognize Jesus in them and want to serve them with your whole heart? Or do you prefer to keep walking, to step over, to remain distant and say that it’s not our problem?

May God give you the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the heart to love every Lazarus in your life… for it is not just Lazarus that is lying at our door, but Christ, living among us, waiting to be served.

The following is my homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Last weekend I was at the wedding of one of my college friends, and I heard this bit of advice quite a bit. In the toasts, the speeches by parents and friends, people who had been married many years, they all said the same thing: don’t sweat the small stuff. Besides being a bit a of a cliche, I think it can be great advice. Don’t go crazy over things that don’t matter—okay, so he forgot to make the bed—sure, she left a mess in the bathroom with ten thousand types of makeup everywhere. Oh well. Is it really worth fighting over? Probably not. Focus on what matters, and let the little things slide.

At the same time, I think there is something a bit misleading about this advice, something that can actually hurt more than it helps. In saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” there is an implication that small things don’t matter, that if it’s small, you can do anything you want. As long as you love your spouse, are always faithful, help in taking care of the kids, show humility and listen well—big things—then nothing else matters: never make the bed, leave messes everywhere, forget to put things on the list, whatever. They’re just small things, right? No sweat.

My guess is that our relationships would really suffer if that’s the way we treated them. 

Small things do matter. Maybe not as much as the big things—forgetting to take out the trash is nowhere close to cheating on your spouse—but they do matter. If you were to forget to take out the trash every week, you forget to make the bed every other day, you act just a little rude, a little distant, a little passive aggressive on a regular basis… these things add up over time, and actually, I think they point to the fact that there are actually some problems on a much deeper level.

In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis reminds us that everything we do is connected: “We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is ‘contrary to human dignity.’ We can hardly consider ourselves to be fully loving if we disregard any aspect of reality.” We have only one heart. 

When I hear our Gospel today, this is what comes to mind. Jesus says, “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones.” You are but one person, you have but one heart, and so if you are considerate and attentive in small matters, I imagine that you will be considerate and attentive in great ones as well. But if you are lazy or forgetful when it comes to small things, if you are selfish or even hurtful, it is only a matter of time before that same heart causes you to act the same way in big things. Put another way, what Jesus is getting at, quite simply, is integrity, being the same person when things don’t matter, when no one is watching, as we are when things really matter, when everyone is watching. Anyone can put on an act for an audience; anyone can show up to the big game when everyone is watching. And we might be able to fool people who only see us in those situations that we are loving, humble, caring, and live by the values of the Kingdom. But we are the same person in rehearsal, the same person at practice, the same person in the small details of preparation. We have only one heart… and Jesus knows our hearts.

I think it’s easy, sometimes, to justify our bad habits by diminishing them. “Yeah, I do that thing, and I know it’s bad, but c’mon! It’s not that bad, and it’s only one thing. Look at all of the great things I do. That one thing isn’t that bad!” We can look to our first reading and hear how the business leaders were abusing the the poor, selling them into slavery, hating God’s feasts because it meant they couldn’t do harm, and think, “My thing is nothing like that. It’s just a small sin. I’m good. I don’t need to change.” This is rather unwise. 

The great contemplative Thomas Merton once had an analogy that I find very poignant. He once wrote that being killed by a single enemy and being killed by an entire army leaves you just as dead. What difference does it make how many people kill you if you’re dead regardless?It takes but one mortal sin, one act of hatred, of pride, of deceit, of some deadly habit to keep us from living in Christ for all eternity. It doesn’t matter if we are a “good person,” if we have hundreds of virtues—it takes but one deadly sin to keep us from God’s grace. Why? Because that deadly sin affects everything we do; that deadly sin is done by the same heart that does everything else.

Now am I saying that we need to be perfect to a disciple of Christ, that we have to be completely without even the smallest sin to live in eternity with him? No, of course not! I’m honestly not sure if it is possible to go a day without some sort of venial sin let alone our whole lives. There are some small things that we work to prevent, but sometimes fall, and so we come to the Eucharist, this sacrament of mercy, and we are forgiven. In that sense, the popular wisdom of weddings is true: don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t let the unattainable goal of being perfect derail us and let us fall into scrupulosity, worried that every single impure thought, uncharitable word, or minor act of selfishness is going to keep us from heaven. Come to the eucharist, be forgiven, let those things go, and strive to do better.

No, in offering the Thomas Merton’s image of being killed, in bringing up Pope Francis’ words about having only one heart, my goal is not to have all you beginning to worry that every little thing you do could prevent you from heaven. No. My goal is to remind you, maybe even awaken you, to the fact that sometimes the small stuff is big stuff. Sometimes we overlook what is actually killing us, ignore things that are real problems in our lives, deceive ourselves into thinking that we can do lots of good things to make up for the bad things we do. That’s not the way God works; that’s not the way we work! True conversion to Jesus Christ means giving up our entire selves, our whole heart: who we are at our best but also who we are at our worst. They are the same person, because we have but one heart.

It may not be the most conventional marriage advice, but I say, “do sweat the small stuff.” This is our salvation. This is the heart that we’re giving over to Jesus. If it’s true that “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones,” it seems to be in our best interest to be trustworthy in small matters too, to be trustworthy in everything. 

The following is my homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.

I lived in a fraternity once in which things would mysteriously go missing or show up in strange places. The guardian of the house would routinely make announcements at dinner, “Has anyone seen the stapler? It’s not in the mail room.” Or “Why is the paper cutter in the kitchen? Who was using it and what were you doing?” Without exception, no matter what it was, the response was always the same: silence. No one ever seemed to know where things were, who had used them, why they were broken. It was like the objects in our house were like Toy Story characters who came alive when we weren’t looking and hid themselves in strange places.

This, of course is not the case—things do not get up and get lost on their own—people lose them. They forget about them, get distracted, maybe even treat them with negligence.

It may sound like an extremely obvious point to make—you’re sitting here wondering, “Did Fr. Casey just find out that Toy Story isn’t real?”—but I think remembering this fundamentally shapes the way we interpret our Gospel today. So often, when we hear the parables of the lost coin, lost sheep, and lost son, we place ourselves in the position of the thing that is lost. We read them as Jesus telling us that even though we are lost, God will continue to search for us, continue to seek us out. The story is about how we need to return to God with a contrite heart and he will take us back.

And that’s true, for sure. But I’m not sure that that is the really what Jesus is trying to teach here. Because, remember, objects don’t lose themselves. The coin did not jump out of the woman’s bag and run away; no, the woman had to have misplaced it, dropped it somewhere. The sheep probably walked away, but are you really going to blame one of the world’s dumbest animals for getting itself lost? Of course not. The sheep is lost because the shepherd lost track of it, because he didn’t do his job and let it go astray. Even with the lost son: science tells us that the human brain doesn’t fully develop until you’re 25; I know I’m in the presence of the cream of the crop, students who never did anything foolish in high school, or yesterday… but the fact of the matter is that the part of the brain that makes decisions is really impulsive when we’re young. We all have free will, sure, but the story of the lost son could be as much about a father giving a teenager his inheritance and letting him run off to a foreign country.

In all three stories, the active character—the one responsible for the situation—is not the one who is lost, but the one who lost. These stories are not about comforting those who are lost, convincing them to repent and return to God; they’re about demanding that we take responsibility for those we have lost. The coin did not have a change of heart. It didn’t decide, “Oh, I’ve been bad, I should go back.” No, the woman tore her house apart to find it. She changed her life so that she could get it back. The sheep did not all of the sudden think, “I’ve been foolish. Why did I walk away from the pack?” No, the shepherd left the 99, he took a huge risk of losing more, he went out of his way to retrieve it. But the son, you say? He sinned horribly and repented before returning. Yes, but it wouldn’t have mattered to the father. Even before the son could say a word, the father ran to him and hugged him. When he apologizes, the father never even acknowledges it. What matters is not the son’s contrition, but the joy that the father has to have him back. “Who cares why you’re here, I’m just so happy to have you back.”

These parables are not about the lost, but about those who have lost. These parables are not about our relationship before God in our sin, how we go astray, but about how we, as Christians and ministers, are to respond to those whom we have lost, those on the peripheries, those who are not always welcomed.

I’m talking about our friends and family who have left the Church because we failed to evangelize and catechize. Those people who say “I used to be Catholic,” who come to mass on Christmas and Easter, who feel no connection, no welcome, no fulfillment.

I’m talking about those who have been abused by the Church, who trusted us only to find that trust exploited, who have gone through life burdened with pain and suffering at our hands.

I’m talking about our LGBTQ brothers and sisters who feel that they have no place in the Church because so many Catholics have told them that they have no place, who routinely are told that they are not real Christians, that God hates them, that there is something disordered about them.

I’m talking about those those in prisons and in gangs, those who live in destitution and poverty, who know nothing but suffering in their lives, who find themselves cut off from the human family and do not know the love of God.

These are the lost coins, the lost sheep, the lost sons of our world, not us. Our exhortation today is that we must be like our heavenly father who rejoices when one of these are found. That our relationships must not be based on merit—what someone can offer us, what others have earned—but rather on mercy: like the father to the son, “who cares why you’re here! I’m just so happy that you’re here!”

But even more than that, Jesus does not want us to simply wait for them to return, to “hope” that they magically find their way back, as if the coin will just appear on its own. No, what he is telling us today is that if we want to share in the Father’s joy, we must actively go after those who are lost. If we really love our brothers and sisters, if we really care about the state of their souls, the state of their lives, we must be willing to do all that we can to go after them, even if that means being inconvenienced, dropping everything and tearing the house apart. We must be willing to take a risk, to leave what’s comfortable, in order to go after that one sheep. We must be willing to accept that we might be the reason that they left in the first place, that there is something wrong with our home, something we failed to do, and have the humility to change ourselves in order to welcome them back.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: we love with humility, not because of who they are, but because of who we are. It is not about deserving to be in this place. None of us deserve to be here! The problem of the Pharisees, and why these parables were directed to them specifically, is because they could not accept the wideness of God’s mercy. They could not imagine a God who loves sinners, who welcomes outcasts, who goes out of his way and risks his own life for people who do deplorable things. But that is what our God did. He died not just for the good, but for all. He welcomes not just the repentant, but all. He loves us, all of us, so much, that he’s just happy that we’re here.

If we want to be his disciples, we must go and do likewise. No one is outside of God’s love, and so no one should be outside of our care. Go to the lost and forgotten, go to the hurt and abused, go to those tax collectors and prostitutes of our world, and make it your life’s work to welcome them with love.

The following is my homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.

They say that you should always read the fine print before you sign anything. I… have not always been the best at doing this. Throughout my life, I have often acted impulsively and signed up for something without knowing what I was getting myself involved with.

When I was in second grade, I saw the boy scouts in their uniforms and thought it was so cool. The idea of hiking and camping seemed awesome, and so I signed up, made my parents buy the uniform and everything I needed… until I realized that we wouldn’t be going on an adventure in the rocky mountains every week and that there were many things about being a boy scout I found boring. I quit after three weeks.

When I was a freshman in college I signed up for this sort of “outside the box” series of classes that sounded incredible. It was team taught by the best faculty in the school, used interdisciplinary methods, and was supposed to be this amazing learning experience. Turns out, they were also known as the hardest courses at the school… and you had to take all three to get credit for any of them, so there was no quitting without losing everything. Should have read that pamphlet all the way through…

And then there was that time that I met the Franciscans and was so moved by their lives that I signed up to be a priest only to find out after the fact that they take a vow of chastity and can’t get married. You should have seen my face when I realized that one!  Okay, the last one is a joke, but you get my point. So many times in my life I got involved with things before I knew what I was getting myself into, and as a result, never really committed to what I was doing. Easy in, easy out.

For many people in the world, the Church is the same way. 

I look at all of the kids that have gone through religious education over the years. Their parents signed them up for the classes, they coasted through for a couple of years, and then got a nice party at the end with a pretty communion dress. Without much knowledge of what they were doing, without a strong commitment to what they were signing up for, they became Catholic Christians, they began receiving the sacraments, without knowing much of Christ or his mission.

This was certainly the case for me. I went to class, knew I was a Catholic, but come confirmation, it was basically my graduation. I went to Mass because it was a “good thing to do,” I guess, but I didn’t want to get involved, didn’t want to go to any more classes, didn’t really want to do anything. I considered myself a Christian, but my life wasn’t really any different from any of my other friends. I acted just like others, wanted the same things as them. I was very much a Christian in name, but not in commitment.

Unfortunately, this is the case for many people. I think of friends and family who say that they’re Catholic, consider themselves Christians… but never actually pray, never actually go to Church, change nothing about their lives. They’ve gone through the motions and received the sacraments, they bear the indelible mark of Christ on their souls that they received in baptism, they might even receive Christ in the Eucharist from time to time, but they’re not actually disciples of Christ. They are Christians in name, but not in commitment.

Maybe, to some extent, you’re the same way. You’re here, and that’s awesome. There is obviously something inside you that got you here, you want to be here for this hour, and I applaud you for that.  But what about the other 167 hours of the week? Do you have a relationship with Christ that shapes and defines all that you do?
If you do, awesome! Let it grow. If not… and I know this sounds harsh… but are you really a Christian?

The reason I ask is not because I’m here to judge you, not because I’m here to separate the real Christians from the fake ones. No, I ask simply because I know that Jesus doesn’t want lackluster commitments. He doesn’t want easy signups, partial followers, people who accidentally find themselves involved with something because they forgot to read the fine print. Through a number of parables and sayings in our Gospel today, Jesus reminds his followers that being a Christian is not a part time job. Being a disciple means giving everything to God, making Jesus the most important person in our lives, for whom we’d be willing to do anything. Life for a disciple is not easy… and he wants to make sure that anyone who follows him, everyone who signs up knows ahead of time. Like the king calculating his troops, the builder planning the house, Jesus wants his disciples to take this commitment seriously. Are you sure you know what you’re signing up for? If you follow me, read the fine print: You better be ready to bear your own cross.

This does not simply mean that things will be difficult for us. We use the phrase so much that I think it’s lost its meaning—bearing our cross is nothing more than an inconvenient situation. We get sick? Cross to bear. Have to deal with difficult people? Cross to bear. Have to share Netflix account with my sister and she’s always using it? The worst cross to bear!

No… Following Jesus, bearing our cross, means radically changing our lives. It means aligning our values, our thoughts, our actions, our politics, what we do with our free time, how we spend out money—everything about us—with Jesus Christ. It means, in a world where slavery is the norm, being like Paul writing to Philemon, challenging his friend to act more justly: now that you are a Christian, he says, you cannot treat men as slaves, receive this man as your own brother. It means realizing that the world will not accept us when we side with Jesus, that we will face persecution and hatred because of his name. Like Paul, we may even find ourselves in prison.

No, following Jesus is not an easy task. It is not for the faint of heart. And so Jesus wants to let people know: this is what you’re signing up for, this is what you’re getting yourself involved with. Are you really sure you want to follow?

Here at mass we are given Christ’s very self, the Way, the Truth, and the Life in physical form. We are given all that we could ever want, and MORE. What Jesus is offering us today is something that no one else in the world can offer. But in receiving it, in coming to this table, we do not simply receive something, we make a covenant with the Lord, we sign our names in his blood, accepting all that comes along with it.

You’ve read the fine print, you know what that entails. And so I leave you with this question: Do you just want to be called a Christian, or do you actually want to be one?