It is good to be back at St. Mary’s parish! You may remember me from the time I was here as a seminarian about four years ago…or maybe not. Certainly much has taken place since that time.
I dropped by the parish just a couple of weeks ago and Fr. Angelo took me to a local restaurant to eat. While at table, a gentleman came over and welcomed me back to the parish. He said, “You look like you’ve lost some hair since the last time you were at St. Mary’s.”
While I was still recovering from that comment, he added, “And the hair that is left looks like it’s starting to turn gray.” I tried to make excuses and said, “It’s the priesthood! Three years as a priest and this is what happened. The priesthood will do that to you!”
But if we look at our readings for this weekend we can see that it is not only the priesthood that is tough. Discipleship itself is tough. It is not easy to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. It requires sacrifice. Discipleship can be demanding.
Jesus, in our Gospel today, is demanding! One would-be follower says to Him:
I will follow you wherever you go.
Jesus responds to that wide-eyed enthusiasm with the sobering reality of His own personal life:
Foxes have dens and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.
Jesus is saying, essentially, “Get ready! Being a disciple is not easy. You will encounter difficulties. You will have to make sacrifices. You will have to make God the top priority in your life, above your own desires and even above the people you love.”
As He says to another would-be disciple:
Let the dead bury their own dead;
but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.
Does that sound harsh? Christ is not saying that we should ignore the needs of those we love, nor is He saying that we should take no heed to bury our deceased loved ones (to bury the dead is, in fact, one of the Corporal Works of Mercy). He is simply saying that the kingdom of God takes precedence even over that! Discipleship places God and His kingdom as priority number one.
But the good news is that when it comes to following Christ and being a disciple, however demanding it may seem, we are never alone. Tertullian, one of the early Church Fathers, said “A Christian alone is no Christian.” We need each other; we are called to encourage and strengthen one another.
The communal aspect of discipleship is one that we see beautifully expressed in our first reading from the First Book of Kings. Elisha the prophet is being called by God to succeed the prophet Elijah. To be a prophet in Israel at that time was demanding! The prophets called the people, and especially the king, to account for their decisions and actions. As one would imagine, they were often quite unpopular. It was a difficult and demanding ministry.
And so when God calls Elisha to be a prophet, He does not give him a letter of appointment. He does not send him an email! He sends him, instead, the prophet Elijah. Very beautifully, we are told how Elijah approached Elisha and “threw his cloak over him” (1 Kings 19:19).
Elijah “clothes” Elisha with his prophetic office. He will remain with Elisha in the days ahead to instruct and encourage him in this new and challenging role as a prophet of Israel.
If you have ever been to a priesthood ordination before then you know how moving the ceremony can be. Four men were recently ordained in our diocese just a month ago, and as they entered the Cathedral they were each wearing a white garment called an alb. Immediately after the priest is ordained he is clothed with the chasuble, the outer vestment that is worn whenever the Eucharist is celebrated.
When I was ordained to the priesthood three years ago, the alb that I wore was a personal gift to me from Fr. James Verdelotti, the pastor of this parish. The first chasuble I ever received was from Fr. Angelo Carusi, the priest who I am replacing here today. There are no coincidences in the work of God. These two men, who have served the parish of St. Mary’s faithfully for the past five years, were instrumental in “clothing” me in the priesthood. They supported me in my time here as a seminarian, as did so many of you. Today it is a joy for me to be your new associate pastor.
Let us continue to pray for and encourage one another as we grow in our own discipleship. Whatever the demands and sacrifices God is calling us to make, might we experience the fullness of what it means to be a follower of Christ as we walk with Him on the way to eternal life.