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As we come to the end of the liturgical year, we end right where we began. Discipleship. This story has been used by authors like Sherry Weddell as the illustration of intentional discipleship. Andrew and Simon drop their nets and leave their old way of life. While they do not fully know where that will lead, they do know it will always be with Jesus. They have turned over their lives to follow, and to emulate, this person of Jesus.
What do you make of your state of discipleship? Are you closer to Jesus, or are you further away? Do you know Jesus more clearly, or are you more distant in what you know? The good news is that even after his decision to become an intentional disciple, Andrew was not perfect. Andrew did not always understand Jesus, and sometimes he made Jesus angry. As you reflect back upon this past year, where do you need Jesus in your life?
Sometimes the Christian life is presented in such a way as to make it seem easy. Jesus is the kind teddy bear, and not only does he never demand anything of us, he makes all things feel good. While this type of feel good religion is tempting, Jesus never embraced such a religion. Persecution. Division. Not Peace. Conflict. Even Death. The life of one who follows the gospel is not automatically good. In fact, some would call the age we live in today the age of the martyrs, as Christians are being persecuted and killed all over the world.
The good news is that for people who have total trust in Jesus, like the widow a couple of days ago, the grace and love of God can see them through anything. Jesus mentions the difficulties so that we do not go into intentional discipleship blindly. Rather, he wants us to know that while it will not always be easy, we will also face whatever comes in the power of this relationship with Jesus.
My aunt and uncle had a vineyard behind their house. It was not very big, but it produced tasty grapes. I really liked them. And while my childhood memory may not be great, I do not remember sour grapes. To be clear, there was care for the grapes that I did not see. They required care. They needed to be tended to in order to be tasty.
I cannot imagine what would have happened if in spite of the hard work there were no grapes to be had. Or, worse, if despite hard work the grapes were sour. And yet that is what we hear in the readings. Despite the loving self-gift of Jesus to save us, we do not always bear good fruit. We turn away. We disrupt. And sometimes even, we kill. The call today is to be the disciple that does not disrupt, but bears fruit.
This feast has its roots in a battle. As the story goes, the praying of the rosary led to victory. That is why the original name of this day was Our Lady of Victory. But as wonderful as the title is, I prefer the name the celebration has today: Our Lady of the Rosary. Why?
The biggest reason is the way in which the rosary itself gets highlighted. The rosary is such a powerful prayer of contemplation. While it is true the victory of God is constant in the contemplation of the rosary, the connection to the events of our salvation, and to Jesus, seems clearer when compared to the rosary.
The rosary is the pathway to contemplation. In its truest form, the rosary leads us to Jesus. We reflect on his life, death and resurrection. The rosary also leads to discipleship. Just as the disciples responded to Jesus, Mary’s responded perfectly to God. She too was sent. She too was a devout follower of God. Her constant yes is worthy of our imitation.
Today’s gospel in many ways is an initial stage of discipleship. Herod is trying to figure out just who Jesus is. Has John the Baptist been raised from the dead? One of the prophets? Herod is curious about Jesus. This is the same Herod who felt some attraction to the words of Saint John the Baptist. We are told that Herod kept trying to see Jesus.
That may very well provide a goal for today. Do you keep trying to see Jesus? Maybe you could spend a little time reading the bible. Or maybe spending some time in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Or perhaps it is finding silence, repeating a phrase, or praying a rosary. Whatever you do, keep trying to see Jesus.
I had a little bit of a challenge when I took a psychological test called the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, or the MMPI for short. The test is a long (very long) series of statements that are either marked true of false by the person taking the test. The test is constructed in such a way that it can be determined whether or not someone is trying to lie on the test. I found one of the questions a challenge. The sentence read, “I am fascinated by fire.” Well, the truth is, well, yes. Yes, I am fascinated by fire. But would the test scorer read too much into this? While I am fascinated by a campfire or a fire in a fireplace, I am not fascinated by a building fire. I have no interest in arson.
The response to the psalm today mentions being filled with fire. Fire is a powerful image of faith. There is the fire at the Easter Vigil. Saint Catherine of Siena said that if we became what we were created to be we would set the world on fire. When looking at a campfire, we realize its complexity. There is an interesting chemical process in a fire. There are many different temperatures. There are many different chemicals. There is a power in fire. And today we realize the same is true for us when we experience the fire of faith in our soul.
What type of God do you wish? One who is the “Hollywood Special Effects” God, or one who does what is best for us at all times, even in ways that might seem quite ordinary. Poor Naaman. He would have done anything had is been spectacular, and not involved and “oh so ordinary” river. Nothing magic. Nothing spectacular. Just go and bathe. Fortunately for him, Naaman had servants that cared for him.
“If the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, ‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.” While it is true that in the sacraments we are surrounded by the extraordinary, they look very ordinary. Water. Wafers. Oil. Words. Laying on of hands. Our worship, our praise often appears quite ordinary without faith. But with faith, it becomes eternal. It affords us eternal life because the extraordinary Jesus becomes present in ordinary ways.
We can be too much like Naaman. Expecting God to do something extraordinary. This is a common temptation. In a few weeks we will hear the people wonder why the one who opened the eyes of the blind man could not do something for Lazarus, or those who mock Jesus by telling him to “come down from that cross”.
The psalm reminds us that authentic discipleship means being athirst for God, to be longing for that relationship with Christ that fulfills more than we can possibly imagine, not by magic, but by the profound love Jesus has for each one of us.