Thursday, July 31, 2014

...To Follow Jesus

The crowd of teenagers was speechless.

A young man had been invited to speak to their youth group. At the start of a promising career, he decided to leave his job, sell his condominium and his car to become a Franciscan priest. The teenagers just could not understand why he would give up so much. They asked him if he was afraid that he was making a mistake or whether he thought he would be missing out on all that life could offer him. To all their questions, he simply replied that he had found something better. He had seen what the world had to offer and decided that God had something even better in store for him. He had met Jesus and in comparison to serving him, everything else began to seem worthless.

This young man was able to give up everything to follow Jesus. But we know that it is not only priests or nuns who sacrifice themselves for the Lord. It is also young families who are willing to sacrifice vacations or bigger homes to have more children. It is also business people who take smaller salaries so that they can pay their workers a just wage. It is single people who often are left out because they will not follow the crowd. All these people are willing to give up money, comfort and friends to live the message of the gospel. Why? Because they have met Jesus, and when you have Jesus, you have everything.

Jesus’ parables about the treasure buried in the field and the pearl of great price teach us that there is nothing the world has to offer that can compete with the riches we find in the Kingdom of God. Why is that? Because God created this world with all its wonders. If He created it, He must be greater than it all. And if He is greater than it all, why would we settle for the things of creation when we can know the Creator Himself?  It would be like a wife loving her husband’s shadow more than her husband. It does not make sense. In just the same way, it makes no sense for us to love material possessions and even other people more than we love God Himself.

Jesus’ parables also teach us that, though we can have a loving relationship with our God, it must come at a price. It will cost me something to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Not everyone will have to give up everything like the people in the parables, but everyone will have to give up something. If we are to reach out our hands to grab hold of the love, peace and joy which Jesus is offering us, then we have to drop whatever we are holding on to.

What are you holding on to that is keeping you from living the gospel with fervor and joy? Is it material possessions, a sinful relationship or a bad habit? Are you holding on to the fear that if you give your life totally and completely to God you might be missing out on what life has to offer? Or are you holding on to the worry that others will judge you or call you crazy? Whatever it is that you and I are clinging to cannot compare to what God has to offer us. It is sad to lose the things we love. But it is even sadder to hold on to those things so tightly that they crumble apart in our hands.

The enemy does not want us to receive all the blessings of grace that God wants to give us. He wants us to hold on to our false securities and fleeting pleasures. He whispers in our ear that if we give anything up for God we will regret it. He tells us that we will be missing out if we change our lives to follow God’s plan for us.

But if God is asking us to give something up, it is because He has something even better to give us. As Saint Paul tells us in the second reading, “all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” We can trust Him to lead us in the way that will make us thrive and prosper.

And if God is asking us to give something up for Him, He will also give us the strength to do it. He will place within our heart a desire for Him that is so strong that we will be able to sacrifice ourselves willingly. And, like the people in the parable who discovered the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price, the result will be great joy.

The love of God is within our reach. The price to receive that love will be different for each of us,  but it will cost us something. As we prepare to receive a gift which is beyond all price, the Body and Blood of Jesus, let us look honestly at our lives. What is it that God is asking us to do without so that we can follow Him more closely? Let us offer it up to Him together with the bread and wine. Let us ask Him to give us so deep and moving an experience of His love and goodness that we will desire to give up anything and everything to serve Him. Then we will know the joy that comes from discovering that treasure hidden for many ages but now revealed in Jesus Christ.

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