by Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
recting a Matt Talbot retreat for men at the Cormaria Retreat House in Sag Harbor, L.I. The retreat is for men recovering from alcoholism and trying to live according to the spiritual principles of the Twelve Steps.
These steps, which serve as guideposts to recovery from addiction, are based indirectly on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola and invite the individual to first acknowledge the presence of a loving God in his life. Then, trusting in that love, to look within and see where behaviors need to improve, change or be eliminated and to pray for the strength to put that into action. Finally, the steps call for dedication to a new way of living.
The 11th step reads, “ (We) sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.” I believe this step is at the heart of a genuine understanding of today’s Gospel.
Jesus invites the crowds to follow Him but also cautions them that they have to calculate the cost before agreeing. He uses the examples of a man who wants to build a tower and of a king who wants to oppose an enemy. Both men, Jesus says, will examine carefully whether they have the resources to bring their plans to completion before beginning. If not, they will surely face consequences that range from ridicule to destruction.
It wouldn’t make sense to start such a task without knowing whether you are equipped to get the results you want. That principle can be applied to everything from buying groceries to taking tests to applying for a new job.
The logic, however, is tested when Jesus talks about the preparations we need to make to follow Him. Instead of telling us what we must have, Jesus tells us to renounce possessions, turn our backs on family and even be willing to part with our own lives.
Rather than tell us to stockpile necessary tools, Jesus announces the renunciation of hindrances as necessary for discipleship.
As the first reading from the Book of Wisdom puts it, “The corruptible body burdens the soul … the earthen shelter weighs down the mind.”
So, one can rightly ask, what are we left with to complete the task of discipleship?
The 11th step mentioned above suggests praying for “knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out” as a lifetime practice. That reminds us of two basic principles in the spiritual life.
First, we don’t automatically know God’s will. I can set all the plans I want for today or tomorrow, but they can all be changed by one phone call informing me of an unexpected obligation. A day at the beach can be canceled by sudden rain, sickness can end plans for a visit.
Today’s reading from Wisdom begins, “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?”
All of our plans are subject to change. Discipleship invites us into the unknown with the trust that as long as our hearts and minds stay open, God’s plan will be revealed. But it doesn’t end there.
The second principle is that we pray for the “power to carry that out.” God will never give us a task without giving us the power to bring it to completion. Jesus doesn’t command His followers to take up their cross and walk, but to pick up their cross and follow Him. He doesn’t send them on a journey, but invites them to accompany Him, knowing that He makes the road passable before them.
Every day is another step in the journey God has planned for us. To get closer to the ultimate goal of salvation, we need to open our minds in prayer and meditation (the talking and the listening) to discern His will for the day and then to open our hearts to the grace He gives that lets us know we are safe in following His lead.
The Book of Wisdom reminds us, “Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight.”
Readings for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17
Philemon 1:9-10, 12-17
Luke 14: 25-33
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Maspeth.