Today’s reflection is for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 28, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.
I remember hearing about a fiery preacher who gave a sermon on all those things that pollute our life and cause us to sin. He said to the congregation, “If beer is causing you to sin, take that beer and dump it right into the river!” He continued, “And if it’s whiskey or wine, take it down to the river and dump it!” “If you’re addicted to drugs or pornography,” he went on, “then take it down and dump it right in the river!” After finishing up his sermon, the music minister said, “For our closing hymn, open up to page 138, and join me in singing Shall We Gather at the River?”
Funny joke, I think, but that preacher was right on track. In college, when I first really started following Jesus, I had an incredible transformation and chose to follow Him with my whole heart. I had a lot of baggage that I needed to be rid of, some unhealthy addictions, some friends that were not helpful to live a life of holiness, and some really bad habits that did not give glory and honor to God. With the pastor of our Church group we went through all my possessions and started clearing it out. We didn’t dump it in the river, of course, but we did get rid of it, and that’s an important first step in our growth in holiness.
I think every person who wants to become a Christian must seriously look at his life and ask the question, “Does this thing, action, relationship, or habit, help me grow in holiness, give glory to God, and advance His kingdom?” If it does not, we must be rid of it. It is an anchor that is pulling us down to hell. I believe this is what Jesus is telling his apostles in today’s Gospel when he gives them the quite shocking news that they must love him more than their own family.
I think it’s interesting that he’s not actually talking to those who are on the fence about following Him. He’s talking to those that are already his apostles, who, like us, have already made a commitment to follow him. Even still he says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” I don’t think there’s anything closer to one’s heart than immediate family; father, mother, and children, which is probably why Jesus chose them as an example for his apostles. If we want to follow him, he comes first, period. Before everything else, even those closest to us and whom we love.
The Catechism teaches, “the first vocation of the Christian is to follow Jesus,” and that, “becoming a disciple of Jesus means accepting the invitation to belong to God’s family, to live in conformity with His way of life.” (2232-33) We choose to make him our closest family, and we choose to live in a way that glorifies God in all we say and do.
I believe that choosing to follow Christ is not a “one and done” sort of thing. Like eating healthfully, exercising, and prayer, we must recommit ourselves often (very often) to following him. We must time and time again dump our sin and vice “in the river.” As St. Paul tells the Romans, “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” So, to the degree that we are still not dead to sin, we, to that same degree, are not able to live in the newness of life that has been won for us in Christ.
My wife and I have made a commitment to minimalism. We work very hard to not have more than we need. It’s crazy how fast things accumulate, isn’t it? We always have a box dedicated to Goodwill that we fill and then give away. I think each of us needs a “vice” box. A box that we continue to fill up, again and again, as we clear out the garbage from our life. Maybe it’s profanity, or alcohol, or other unhealthy habits. Maybe it’s too much time on social media and not enough time in prayer. Whatever our anchor, throw it in the River, put it in the box—just be rid of it, time and time again, if necessary.
After all, we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation; and we are called to announce the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. Follow him. You will surely not lose your reward…but we’ve got to get rid of the anchor of sin. Deacon St. Ephraem the Syrian asked, “What leper, when he has been healed, turns again and desires to have his leprosy back? You have put off your transgressions in baptism—forsake them!” Let’s start today.