Homily: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
There was a man who went strolling by the woods one afternoon. Without knowing that he was already approaching a high precipice, the man suddenly slipped and slowly glided into the cliff. Fortunately, he was able to grasp a small trunk of a plant and was hanging on to it for some time. He cried to the Lord, “Lord, save me from here!” He was repeating this prayer desperately until midnight.
At around 3 A. M. he heard a voice telling him, “Let go of the trunk… Let loose!” The man did not heed the voice. He thought this could be coming from the devil. God would not command him to let loose and let go of the trunk. Again and again, the man kept praying, “Lord, help me. The devil is tempting me. Save me, Lord”. But again, the voice said, “Let go… let loose”. The man continued to hang on. He thought that to let go would be to commit suicide.
So, he remained hanging on the cliff until the first streaks of dawn. When the sun was up, the man was able to see where he was and as he looked down, he realized that he was only one foot from the ground.
My dear sisters and brothers, oftentimes we don’t understand why God would ask us to detach ourselves from the things that offer us security and certainty in life. Our human understanding is so limited and we fail to grasp God’s designs. Indeed, the Book of Wisdom, in the First Reading, has already hinted it: “Who can know the intentions of God? Who can discern the plan of the Lord? For human reasoning is timid, and unsure are our plans”.
Perhaps, Paul’s request to Philemon, in the Second Reading, to consider Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway slave, as his own brother, might not have been quite intelligible to the people of those times when slavery was so prevalent, or even to Philemon himself. Paul tried to make Philemon understand God’s plans saying “Perhaps Onesimus has been parted from you for a while so that you may have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but as a brother”.
Even Jesus’ words in the Gospel appear intimidating to us because we can’t fully grasp His intentions. He said: “If you come to me, without being ready to give up your love for your father and mother, your spouse and children, your brothers and sisters, and indeed yourself, you cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not follow me carrying his own cross cannot be my disciple”. Perhaps, God wants us to be detached from what we consider our security and comfort so that we may learn only to rely on Him and nothing else. Our attachments to material possessions, to people, and even to ourselves can be hindrances to our union with God.
In order to correspond to God’s grace, if we are to imitate Jesus Christ, our hearts need to be entirely free from attachments from earthly goods. Although the world is created good, our hearts tend to be disorderly attached to creatures and things. A Christian, therefore, needs to be vigilant throughout his life so that these goods could not hinder his union with God. On the contrary, he should make use of these goods as means to love and serve the Lord.
The Second Vatican Council teaches: “Let all then have care that they guide aright their own deepest sentiments of soul. Let neither the use of the things of this world nor attachment to riches, which is against the spirit of evangelical poverty, hinder them in their quest for perfect love. Let them heed the admonition of the Apostle to those who use this world; let them not come to terms with this world; for this world, as we see it, is passing away”.
One way, perhaps, to detach ourselves from material possessions is to avoid creating false necessities and to evade from acquiring superfluous things. St. Augustine once wrote: “Man looks for things to satisfy his necessities, and when he finds them in abundance, his heart begins to be filled with pride (Questions about the Gospel, 2, 29). What is superfluous to rich people is a necessity to the poor (Commentary on Psalm 147).
It is also necessary to purify our hearts of disordered love, oftentimes manifested in our love of self: we are so excessively attached to our own opinion and creative ideas. When we perceive that others do not agree with them, we take it as an offense against our person. Our disordered self-love and self-centeredness often cause us lots of troubles. Conflicts between husbands and wives, between friends and colleagues often proceed from an unbridled selfishness.
St. Josemaria Escriva wrote in his book Friends of God: “if we really want to follow our Lord closely and be of real service to God and the whole of mankind, then we must be thoroughly detached from ourselves, our intellectual talents, our health, our good name, our noble ambitions, our triumphs and successes... We can ensure our detachment by tailoring our will to this clear and precise rule: ‘Lord, I want this or that only if it pleases you, because, if not, I’m not the slightest bit interested’. By acting in this way, we are dealing a mortal blow to the selfishness and vanity that lurk in every conscience. At the same time we will find true peace of soul through this selfless conduct that leads to an ever more intimate and intense possession of God” (no. 114).
My brothers and sisters, like that king in Jesus’ parable in the Gospel who, upon waging war against another king, first sits down to consider whether his ten thousand can stand against the twenty thousand of his opponent, we too must begin to examine ourselves: Am I too attached to people, material possessions and myself to the extent that these attachments prevent me from following the Lord with all my heart, soul and mind? Do I still surrender my life to God even though oftentimes I don’t understand His will for me?
With the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose birthday we celebrate today, September 8, let us all say to the Jesus: “Lord, free me from all my earthly attachments so that I can attach myself totally to you and to you alone. Amen!”