Thirteenth Sunday of the Year - C: June 26, 2016.
Readings: 1 Kgs. 19:16B, 19-21; Responsorial Psalm Ps 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11; Gal. 5:1, 13-18; Gospel Lk. 9:51-62.
Theme: The Christian Vocation and the Dangers of Looking Back


Dearly beloved in Christ, Jesus' reply in today's gospel to the man who said: "I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home" namely, "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God" leaves us with a reflection on the cost of discipleship. His response to the second man who was attached to his family and wanted to go and bury his father also demonstrates the seriousness of Jesus' mission and the implication of saying "Yes" to him. The instruction Jesus gave him namely, "...go and proclaim the kingdom of God" shows both the urgency of the gospel message and its oneness of purpose.
                                     
This Sunday provides us with an opportunity to reflect on christian vocation. By way of catechesis, the Church's seven sacraments are divided into Sacraments of Christian Initiation (Baptism, Holy Eucharist and Confirmation), Sacraments of Christian Healing (Penance and Anointing of the Sick) and the Sacraments of  Christian Vocation (Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony).


Today, we would concentrate on the the Sacraments of  Christian Vocation - Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the two sacraments are geared towards the holiness of the people of God. "If they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God" (CCC 1534).                                      
The priestly and religious life as well as the married life have their roses and thorns. The message of the first reading and the gospel are handy recipes for all who are desirous of living the christian life.                                                                                                                                                

In the first reading, (1 Kgs. 19:16B, 19-21) the prophet Elijah hands over the baton of prophethood to his servant Elisha as instructed by the Lord.  The implication of the call was that he would depart from his family (father and mother), wealth (the yoke of oxen) and profession or means of livelihood (plowing equipment). The conditions are similar in the gospel (Lk. 9:51-62) because Jesus makes it clear that detachment from family and profession are prerequisite for would-be disciples. That he said "the son of man has no where to lay his head" indicates the sacrifices that may be expected of a disciple - this is where the message of "take nothing for the journey ... no bread, no bag, no money in your belts" (Mk. 6:8) comes in.

Jesus wanted his followers to be conscious that the mission is heaven-ward not earth-bound. He wanted his apostles to depend on the ministry for sustenance and not be preoccupied with frivolous or mundane affairs. He wanted them not to take advantage of the world. This is where the dangers of looking back star us in the face. Ours is a tempting world where both some clerics and members of the laity are turning back on their vocation to the priestly, religious or married vocation. One of the earliest examples of the implication of turning back is Lot's wife, "Ado" or "Edith" mentioned in Genesis 19 who became a pillar of salt after she looked back at Sodom. Lot's wife is a metaphor for the many cases of those who have compromised their call and mission in life. Christians who look back risk the chance of becoming pillars of salt - shadows of themselves devoid of spiritual ardour and living a life without meaning.

Today, christian marriages are folding up. Sadly too, christian homes are breaking apart as many are beginning to see marriage as a contact and not a commitment for life. What is more, gay marriages are also threatening the sanctity of heterosexual union as the basis for the sacrament of holy matrimony. Questions that readily come to mind are: Why are young people afraid of making the life-long commitment to Christian marriage? Why are some Christian marriages hitting the rocks? Why gay unions? The answer is simple - all those who fall under this category have looked back. Two to three decades ago, it was unheard of for a priest or religious to remove the soutane or veil. What do we see today? Erstwhile clerics and religious who were forthright, dogged and holy giving in to dissenting voices and worldly options. Some have left and I am afraid, others may be on the touch line. This sad reality in the country is a red light for the Nigerian-Church to learn from the Church in Ireland.                              

While we pray to the Lord of the harvest to send more labourers into the harvest, it is imperative to commit those who are already in the fold to God's care. The Church may need to revisit admissions into the seminary or houses of formation in the light of how Elijah gradually guided Elisha to detach from his old way of life, habit and background - family, wealth and profession.                                        

While the disciples left everything and followed Jesus, we appear to be leaving Jesus and pursing every other thing. Perhaps we need to be reminded about Jesus' promise to his disciples: “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age - houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions - and in the age to come eternal life" (Mk.9:29-30).  Little wonder, the word of God in Matthew 6:33 says: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."                                
On their part, all those who are engaged in the evangelising mission of the Church ought to daily do an examination of conscience to search their motives for accepting to be in the mission. This would be a way of rekindling the initial motive and zeal thus, fanning it into flames. We ought to make the refrain of the responsorial psalm "You are my inheritance, O Lord" a timeless song on our lips.                                    

As a people of God, the message of Saint Paul in the second (Gal. 5:1, 13-18) is very powerful. The reading suggests that it is our vocation to serve one another in love while adding that we must not abuse our God-given freedom as an opportunity to live according to the promptings of the flesh. I would like to end with this beautiful quote: "Work for the Lord, the pay is terrible but the fringe benefits are out of this world."
 Have a terrific week ahead!

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