Sunday, August 7, 2016

NEVER LOOKING BACK


Homily for August 8th, 2016: Luke 9:57-62. [Lectionary No. 457]

          Three potential disciples come to Jesus. The first pledges total loyalty: “I will be your follower wherever you go.” The man’s good will is obvious. With his unique ability to read minds, Jesus sees a potential defect in the man’s stated willingness to serve. He may find the road more difficult that he has reckoned: “The foxes have lairs,” Jesus tells him, “the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 

          The next recruit responds to Jesus’ call, “Come after me.” There is something he wants to do first, however. “Let me bury my father.” An important duty for Jews, burying the dead has been taken over by Christians as the last of the seven corporal works of mercy. When Jesus calls, however, this takes precedence over all else. “Let the dead bury the dead,” Jesus tells him. “Come away and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

          The third recruit, like the first, volunteers for discipleship: “I will be your follower, Lord,” he says. But like the second man, he sets a condition: “First let me take leave of my people at home.” With seeming coldness, Jesus tells him he is not truly qualified: “Whoever puts his hand to the plow but keeps looking back is unfit for the reign of God.” Jesus’ message to all three is the same: the Lord’s call takes precedence over all else. Is that possible? For some it is. Let me tell you about one.

          She was born in Albania in 1910 and baptized with the name Agnes. As a young girl she was fascinated by stories of missionaries in India. At age 12 she decided to join them. A Jesuit told her that the Loreto nuns, based in Dublin, worked in India. At age 18 Agnes, not knowing a word of English, journeyed to Ireland to become a Sister of Loreto. She would never see her home, or her mother, again. After only 6 weeks, she was sent to Calcutta, where she received the religious name Teresa, after the then recently canonized French Carmelite Ste. Therese of Lisieux,  In the years following she became a teacher and later Principal of a girls’ school.

          On a train journey in 1946, she received what she called “a call within a call”: to leave the security of the convent to live among and serve the poor. Slowly former pupils and others joined her. At her death in 1997, at age 87, the Missionaries of Charity, whom she had founded, numbered over 3,800 in 122 countries – and that in a day, when in the United States alone, over 1000 Sisters left the convent to pursue other paths. Another thousand have joined the order since.

          Toward the end of her life Mother Teresa summed up her life in a single sentence: “I am but a small pencil in the hand of a writing God.” Happy are we if we can say the same.