by Elizabeth Hayden '68
In today's readings we are reminded of our call to follow Jesus. The message we hear from God sounds harsh. When Elisha receives his call from Elijah he kills his oxen, which were his livelihood, and says goodbye to his mother and father and leaves behind him the life he had known.
In the Gospel, when Jesus hears the man who wants to follow him say, "Let me first go bury my father." Jesus replies, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
At first this sounds cruel, but one could understand it as an urgent, unmistakable and non-negotiable message to us from God.
In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us that when Jesus redeemed us through his death and resurrection, he sets us free from a kind of slavery and gave us freedom: the freedom to choose between good and evil, between love and hate or fear. We have been given the freedom to choose between being a follower of Jesus or submitting to what Paul calls a "yoke of slavery, the yoke of sin."
That "yoke of slavery"- our personal yoke of slavery, is different for each of us. For some of us it might be some desire of the flesh like excess in food or drink. It might be jealousy of what others have or have accomplished, or it could simply be the distractions of this world that keep us busy, squandering our time and energy, on insignificant concerns like spending too much time shopping or reading what I call "fluff." None of this adds to a sense of well-being or a feeling of being connected to God. It takes away from the time and energy needed to listen to the Holy Spirit whom we know to provide guidance and inspiration.
Our traditional Catholic teachings tell us we are expected to follow certain laws of the Church. These laws may seem like a "yoke" that requires us to live by commandments, attend Sunday Mass and celebrate special Feast Days. We are called to abide by these laws, but more than living by laws, we are called to live by the Spirit. Paul says that God's law can be summed up in a single commandment and that is "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." What does that mean?
Paul stresses that the Spirit is love, which means we are to be guided by love in our work, our lives, and our associations. When we "love our neighbor' we will notice when we are tempted to be greedy or become prejudiced. Rather we will give our time and resources to those less fortunate than us. We will look outside of ourselves to those we encounter in our daily life. How do we show respect to the clerks in a store or the people who work with our children? How do we treat them? How do we make them feel? How do we help and support our Church and our local community?
As I review the readings for today and think about their meaning, I could not help but reflect on my four years here at College of Saint Benedict and the values and lessons I learned. In this Benedictine institution I discovered that the Rule of Benedict is the only Handbook for Living that I really need. In the Rule, St. Benedict teaches respect: respect for ourselves, for others, respect for property, and respect for this earth and our need to be sustainable to the environment that God created. Part of this respect is Benedict's appreciation for a balanced life. His instruction says each day should include prayer, work and play. To love ourselves as God's creation, as one of God's children, and with that we need to maintain a healthy balanced lifestyle so we can be inclined to and have the ability to love our neighbors as ourselves.
My pastor, Fr. Tony Oelrich, often reminds us that God loves us and is always present for us. God is ready to forgive us and wants us to be happy and at peace.
When I find myself drifting toward those things that pull me down, my 'yoke of slavery," I remind myself that I am a natural resource, created by God. I must respect myself, for I am created for a greater purpose and I am called to that purpose. I am called to live in the Spirit. This requires a relationship with God through prayer and quiet time to ask for guidance. So how do we do this? Where do we start?
In his Rule, Benedict writes "we intend to establish a school for God's service. We hope to set down nothing harsh, the good of all concerned however may prompt us to a little strictness. The "strictness" we experienced as students was really the structure and guidance we needed to lead a healthy lifestyle, one that would allow us to find our own way to follow Jesus. We were and are encouraged to respect, support and pursue what is good for others. And if we do, Benedict says we will progress and run on the path of God: "our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love."
This is what we learned here, this is what we need to do as we return to our jobs and families. Let us be loving persons; thankful for our faith, our education and our opportunity to grow closer to God. Let us walk our paths with joy and gratitude.
At this Eucharist, let us pray to live by the Spirit so we can heed the call to let go of what enslaves us, to know God's love, to respect ourselves and to love our neighbors, especially those in need.
(I Kings 19:16, 19-21; Gal 5: 1, 13-18; Luke 9: 51-62)