Hesitant Discipleship

Homily for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time Farewell Homily for HNJ

In the Rite of Baptism, in the prayer that accompanies the anointing with the Sacred Chrism, we are reminded that we become like Christ in a particular way through that sacrament. Through it, we are called to embrace the threefold mission of being priest, prophet, and king. It’s an invitation for us to “live always as a member” of the Body of Christ, the Church,[1] and to accept that mission of going out into the world, bringing others to an encounter with the Lord. We are called to “make disciples, by bearing witness to Jesus Christ the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father.”[2] Everything we do, everything we say should be directed to that purpose. And yet, we know that we often fail at following through on that mission of evangelization. Our readings today remind us of that.

In our first reading from the First Book of Kings, we have an example of how the Lord calls us to embrace a new mission and how we are called to respond to it. We hear about the Prophet Elijah selecting Elisha to be his successor as the prophet to the people of Israel. “In the early history of salvation, the mission of being a Prophet was passed on from one prophet to another. Sometimes the prophet had a token or symbol of his ministry”[3] that he would pass on to the next person chosen for that vocation. In this case, Elijah places his cloak over Elisha; that symbolizes Elijah “passing over the mantle of authority upon [Elisha] and calling him to take on” that new responsibility.[4]

What we see though is that Elisha was initially hesitant to respond to that calling. He would only follow Elijah if he was first able to say goodbye to his family…and he was challenged for it. Essentially, with the rebuke, Elijah asked Elisha why he was making excuses for delaying his response. When he realized what Elijah was saying to him, Elisha accepted the rebuke and then embraced the new vocation to which God was calling him. He had found the courage to respond positively to that new mission, choosing to give up every part of his livelihood in order to follow where the Lord was leading him.

In our Gospel, we have similar instances where individuals struggle to respond to a certain invitation from the Lord Jesus. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and wants to stop in a nearby Samaritan village to proclaim the Gospel, but he isn’t welcomed. Honestly, it seems like James and John are more offended by that than anything. They were just a bit too enthusiastic in their desire to get revenge by calling down fire from heaven upon the Samaritans. Thankfully, the Lord very quickly put an end to that discussion. Almost as if to say, “Really, guys?! That’s not what any of this is about.”

But as they walked away, Jesus’ invitation for others to follow Him was met with hesitancy. In the first case, the person wanted to follow Jesus but Jesus knew that there was something in this man’s heart that prevented him from dedicating his entire life to discipleship. Jesus was honestly pointing out that the demands of this mission were something this man couldn’t meet. And it was similar in the other examples that we see in our Gospel. Jesus knew that if He allowed for these would-be followers to have an excuse to delay their initial response to His invitation, that they would likely find other reasons to delay their response in the future.

How are we the same? How often do we find an excuse to not respond to an invitation from the Lord to embrace a certain aspect of our own vocations?

Each of us present at Mass today are here because, in some way, we have told Jesus that we would follow Him. We have heard His voice calling us to be His disciples. And we’re trying to respond to that invitation. But that response takes a daily commitment. It isn’t a one-time gesture. If we’re completely honest with ourselves, there may even be a part of us that doesn’t want to respond in a positive way to the Lord’s invitation. In many ways, we are only being partially faithful to that commitment that we have made Him. There are some days when we don’t want to follow the Lord; instead, we want Him to follow us. That would make us just like these examples we have in our readings today.

The fact of the matter is, sometimes the Lord asks us to do something that we don’t necessarily want to do. He asks us to go places that we don’t necessarily want to go, or say things we don’t feel courageous enough to say, or reach out to others who we don’t really want anything to do with. Whatever that invitation the Lord offers us is, do we have the faith to trust that He will be with us in it and give us the resources and the tools that we need to commit wholeheartedly to that mission?

As most of you are aware at this point, this happens to be my last weekend here at Holy Name of Jesus. Admittedly, when I received the phone call from Bishop Noonan on May 16th, I had a moment like Elisha and the would-be followers of Jesus in our Gospel. I was hesitant to respond with enthusiasm to this new mission that the Lord was entrusting to me. Because the reality is, I don’t want to leave you all.

I hope each of you recognize the impact you have had on my life over the last two years. There is such a unique bond that exists between a priest and his first parish – a bond that will never be broken. You all have taught me how to be a priest, and you have challenged me to be a better follower of Jesus. Over the last two years, we have walked with each other on this journey of faith. You have entrusted me with caring for your souls. It has been the honor of my life walking with each of you.

We have shared many memories together. Over the last two years, I have heard thousands of your confessions. I have had the privilege of performing the anointing of the sick over 200 times. I have welcomed 14 children into the Church through the Sacrament of Baptism. I have celebrated 9 weddings, 38 funerals, almost 500 public Mass, and over 200 private Masses. I have found myself praying for you in ways that I never imagined, caring for each of you as a father cares for his children. But you have also cared for me.

When I needed it the most, you have been instruments of God’s love in my life. You built me up when I was struggling; you walked with me through the challenges of priesthood; you have become my family. For all these things, I sincerely want to thank you for loving me; for being patient with me; for showing me kindness, compassion, and mercy. Words cannot adequately express how grateful I am that God chose this time and this place to bring us together. But now, a new mission awaits me and I have to go where the Lord is leading. That is the way of discipleship. And it is the same response that the Lord asks all of us to give.

Today, we will leave this hour of Eucharistic worship and return to the world where there is so much uncertainty and so much noise that it is often difficult to know what the Lord is calling us to do. There are all sorts of tough choices that we are being asked to make; there are so many difficult demands that we are being met with.[5] We can’t know how to respond to the Lord if He isn’t at the center of our lives.

So, we need to pray. We need to ask for the grace to be able to hear His voice and to respond to it with wholehearted commitment. There is no place for lukewarmness – not anymore. Let’s ask the Lord today for strength and courage to respond to Him; let’s ask for forgiveness for the times that we have failed to follow Him completely. As we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, may we renew our determination to walk as His disciples, fully embracing our mission as priest, prophet, and king, going out into the world bringing others to an encounter with the Father. Everything we do, everything we say should be directed to that purpose. Let’s go out and make it so.

Painting: The Calling of Elisha, Jan Massijs. Public domain.

[1] Rite of Baptism, Prayer for the “Anointing after Baptism.”

[2] Kevin DeYoung, “The Mission of the Church.” Accessed on June 24, 2022. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/the-mission-of-the-church/

[3] Fr. Antony Kadavil, Vatican News, “Reflections for the XIII Sunday.” Accessed June 25, 2022. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/church/news/2019-06/sunday-reflection-year-c.html

[4] Fr. Gerald M. Musa, Catholic for Life.  “Homily for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C: Don’t Look Back.” Accessed on June 24, 2022. https://www.catholicforlife.com/homily-for-the-13th-sunday-in-ordinary-time-year-c-1/

[5] Fr. Antony Kadavil, Vatican News, “Reflections for the XIII Sunday.” Accessed June 25, 2022. https://www.vaticannews.va/en/church/news/2019-06/sunday-reflection-year-c.html

Published by Fr. Tom Pringle

Priest of the Diocese of Orlando. Parochial Vicar at Holy Family Catholic Church, Orlando.

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