We hear in our Gospel this morning that, “when the days for Jesus to be taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). He was completely and totally resolved to go to that place where He would suffer, and die, and rise again.
Yet as Luke continues to describe that scene we discover that it is not merely the iron will of Christ, not sheer determination alone that drives Him towards the Holy City. There is something else which undergirds that will and supports His resolution, His intense desire to accomplish all that the Father has entrusted to Him. That “something else” comes to be revealed, oddly enough, in the midst of opposition.
It is an unwritten law of the spiritual life that when we are resolutely determined and totally resolved to accomplish the work of God in this world, we will encounter opposition. It was no different for Christ. The moment that He “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,” he was literally, even physically so, opposed by the Samaritans. They would not let Him pass through their village to get to the place where His mission would be accomplished.
The response of His disciples is as shocking as it is disappointing:
Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?
Yet suddenly, in Jesus’ rebuke and rejection of this simplistic suggestion, we catch a glimpse of what is behind the resolute determination of Christ. He quickly sets aside any sense of retaliation. The very reason He is making the journey to Jerusalem in the first place is to offer Himself on the cross for the sake of mercy, forgiveness and love. He is resolutely determined to suffer and to die so that the very people who oppose Him can be forgiven and receive a second chance, and a new life with God. The iron will and unbreakable resolve of Christ, therefore, is undergirded, is strengthened and supported, everywhere and always by love.
We come to see this perhaps even more so in His response to the disciples themselves. These are the very men whom He has chosen to carry on the ministry of reconciliation; the ministry of mercy, compassion and love. Yet here they are resolutely determined to carry out the ministry of vengeance; the ministry of retribution, even to the point of violence. It would not have been surprising in the least if Christ had simply rebuked them and cut them loose. He could have easily chosen other men to continue the work He had in mind; He could have built His Church with other stones which would fit more easily in their place. But He did not.
Christ was resolutely determined to use these men, to mold and form and guide these very men to be the foundation on which our faith would rest. In time they would become the very paragon of virtue, living out completely the message which He worked so hard to communicate to them on earth. St. John will later become the “Apostle of Love” modeling perfectly that great virtue and writing magnificently about it. His Gospel will describe it so eloquently in the life and mission of Jesus Christ.
Saints James and John, in the end, got it. They finally understood who Christ was and what He was calling them to, and all of it was made possible through Christ, who was resolutely determined to use them to accomplish great things in this world. Christ was totally and completely resolved, and that resolution was undergirded and supported always and everywhere with love.
This gospel passage is important and instructive for each and every follower of Christ, but in a particular way it is essential for the men here in this seminary whom God is calling to the priesthood; the men who, in a few short weeks will be ordained to the diaconate. A few short months later these same men will be ordained to the priesthood. Between both of those ordinations—to the diaconate and to the priesthood—each candidate will be asked 11 separate times: “Do you resolve to…?”
• Do you resolve to discharge the office of deacon with humble charity…?
• You who are prepared to embrace the celibate state: Do you resolve to keep forever this commitment as a sign of your dedication to Christ the Lord for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven, in the service of God and man?
• Do you resolve to maintain and deepen the spirit of prayer that is proper to your way of life and, in keeping with this spirit and what is required of you, to celebrate faithfully the Liturgy of the Hours with and for the People of God and indeed for the whole world?
—From the Rite for the Ordination of Deacons
• Do you resolve to exercise the ministry of the word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and teaching the catholic faith?
• Do you resolve to celebrate faithfully and reverently, in accord with the Church’s tradition, the mysteries of Christ, especially the sacrifice of the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people?
• Do you resolve to be united more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered Himself for us to the Father as a pure sacrifice, and with Him to consecrate yourselves to God for the salvation of all?
—From the Rite for the Ordination of Priests
The responses to those questions cannot come from an iron will alone; they must come from so much more than a sheer determination to bring oneself into conformity with a series of requirements and obligations. Because if that is all they are, then in more difficult times the priest or deacon will become frustrated and discouraged and may even begin to feel that he is burdened and bound to a life which is lacking in freedom.
But if there is love to undergird that resolution, if the priest or deacon allows himself to be immersed in the love of God and responds generously to that love, then those same promises and resolutions can become a source of great joy, done with passion and fervor, and in a way that will bear tremendous fruit for the Church and for the world we live in. And that is the stuff that transforms the lives of those we are called to serve. That is the stuff that transforms the Church and the heart of one’s own vocation.
Whoever we are and whatever God is calling us to do, may we seek not only to be resolved to accomplish His work and to respond with an iron will to please Him and serve His people; may we also receive the gift of God that allows that resolution to be undergirded with love, strengthened and supported with the mercy and grace of Christ, so that we ourselves may be transformed, and become instruments of transformation in the Church and in this world that so desperately needs God.