by Msgr. Joseph Calise
Several years ago while I was ministering as one of the part-time chaplains at the Newman Center of Queensborough College, I received a call from a former altar boy who asked if I was available to meet him for a while.
As is the case on many campuses, there was a time when little was going on outside the classroom so arranging a time to meet was not difficult. The young man was obviously concerned about something so I did not want to delay. When he began to open up, he explained that he had just ended a relationship that he thought might be “the one that would last forever.” His worry was that he might never find his true partner for life. Wishing I had something more to offer, all I could really say was that he was blessed not to have entered into a relationship in which they could not give themselves fully to one another and accept the other’s gift of self without judgment. It is often obvious when we are with the wrong person and I could only assure him that when the right person came along he would know. I did not promise that there would be lights and fireworks with music suddenly playing in the background but suggested that he would one day feel a simple sense of comfort in another’s presence that invited him to be more fully himself. He was polite, but I could tell that his worry was winning the battle with my wisdom. The basic dilemma remained: Would he ever find that person with whom he could exchange a gift of self?
I imagine everyone has gone through those times of wondering if he or she would ever find the right person to be with and what it would be like afterwards. It is certainly not a decision to be entered into lightly. Our diocese is blessed with an excellent Pre-Cana program that challenges couples to look all ways before taking the proverbial leap. They need to look back at their own individual histories, what they bring to the relationship, as they look forward to see how they can accept their partner’s history and form something new. Can they enter into the unknown which awaits them, confident that they can support one another in good times and bad, sickness and health, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer? As they seek to offer themselves as gift to one another, is anything holding them back? And, of course, can they see marriage as the fulfillment of a vocation, a making present the presence of Christ in their life together.
This process of discernment is not limited to the choice of life partner in marriage. Priests, religious and consecrated laity all have to make the same decisions. As a matter of fact, that spirit is very much operative in the second reading today Paul writes to Philemon about Onesimus. Paul, aware that he was aging, wanted Onesimus to help him in his work but could not accept him because of his history. Onesimus had been one of Philemon’s slaves in Colossae. He had run away and later met Paul in prison. Paul baptized him, and he became a faithful companion. But, there was a catch. He had run away from Philemon and so was not completely free to offer himself as a disciple to Paul nor could Paul accept him knowing that he had this stumbling block to his freedom. Reading Paul’s words is actually amusing. He basically tells Philemon, “I am returning Onesimus to you because of your history together but I would rather keep him with me so I am asking you to treat him kindly. As a matter of fact I would have liked to keep him but felt you deserved the respect of me sending him back to you but it would also be fine if you chose to simply forgive and free him so he could come back and work for me with no strings attached.” Paul knew what he wanted, but he also knew that Onesimus could not fulfill his needs unless he was ready to offer himself completely to the work at hand. He simply had to clear up the wreckage of his past in order to face his future freely. Before committing himself totally to Paul’s service in the service of the Gospel, he had to look all ways and make sure there were no obstacles to completing the vocation he was to receive.
Jesus invites those who want to be His disciples into a similar process in the Gospel. He tells stories about building towers and entering into battles that have a common denominator: the need to look both ways. Anyone building a tower is going to assess whether or not he has the means to complete it, any king marching into war is going to calculate his assets and the demands of battle before marching. To pledge discipleship in any form demands that we be ready to do whatever it takes, whatever He asks. This readiness can only be accomplished when we have looked all ways – at our gifts as well as at the challenges discipleship presents. We cannot follow Christ half way just as we cannot be part time husbands, wives or priests. To be a disciple without a willingness to give the direction of our lives over to the care of Christ will ultimately lead to frustration and dissatisfaction in whatever vocation that discipleship is manifested. We need, at least, the desire to give ourselves fully to Christ if we are to enter with Him into the unknown.
A few years ago, I had lunch with that same former altar boy, but the tone of the conversation was very different as he invited me to officiate at his wedding. He had met the right person, and, fortunately, she felt the same way about him. He admitted that he was not very confident after our earlier discussion but conceded that he understood better now what I was trying to communicate then.
“When we met,” he said,” I knew she was the one I wanted to be with forever and we are ready to do whatever it will take.”
[hr]Readings for the 23nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Wisdom 9: 13-18B
Psalm 90: 3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17
Philemon 9-10, 12-17
Luke 14: 25-33[hr]
Msgr. Joseph Calise is the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, Williamsburg.[hr]