Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The happiest and most perfect vocation? To be a monk or a nun!, Sermon of September 5th

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.
September 5th, 2010
Luke 14:25-33, The cost of discipleship

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes after me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple … Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

Of all the saints of the Church’s history, excepting the Blessed Virgin Mary, perhaps none is more beloved than St. Francis of Assisi. The joy of this great Saint was a light to the world in his day, and has shown through these 800 years even to illumine our own times. St. Francis may well be the happiest and most joyful man of the past millennium.
And yet, if we ask from where this joy came, we must affirm that St. Francis found his joy in hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life … in renouncing all his possessions and following Christ!

When still a young man, Francis renounced his father and mother, his brothers and sisters, his family inheritance, and followed Christ. He would no longer be bound to his earthly family, but to God above. In this he embraced the vow of obedience, by which all other relations are subjected to our relationship with God.
Moreover, Francis took upon himself the vow of poverty, renouncing all his possessions in order to imitate Christ who became poor for our sakes. Francis became known as the poor man of Assisi.
Finally, we must recognize that St. Francis can be said to have hated wife and children, when he vowed himself to perpetual chastity – becoming celibate for the sake of the kingdom of God.

It was these three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience which made St. Francis to be the happiest man of his age – through living out these vows, Francis followed Christ in the most perfect vocation.

We may be a bit surprised by the words of today’s Gospel, which speak of “hating” father and mother, wife and children, and even one’s own life. There is a great cost to being a disciple of Christ, there is a real sacrifice which must be made. Now I am sure that you have head in past homilies of how this word “hate” does not mean hate in the usual modern sense – our Lord, of course, is advocating that we love God above all and that all our other loves must be ordered to this love of God. We do not hate anyone, but our love for others must always be seen in relation to our love for God
Yet, you have probably also heard that Jesus is speaking in a hyperbole here, that he is exaggerating. In fact, it is true that most of us are not called to renounce all human relations and follow the words of Christ to the letter, but we must never forget that there some who are so called – this is not a case of pure exaggeration.
Consecrated religious– that is, monks and nuns – do take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. And, just like St. Francis, monks and nuns really do live out the radical discipleship of which Christ speaks in the Gospel today.

Now you might wonder, “Can anyone really be happy, living such a life?” We need only look to St. Francis for our answer – there was none more happy, more full of joy than he, and yet he found his joy precisely in these vows. We affirm not only that one can be happy as a monk or a nun, but (what is more) there is no life happier! There is no life more joyful than consecrated life – the life of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Do you doubt the truth of this? Even statistically it can be proven! It is a very sad fact that about 50% of marriages today end in divorce – but I assure you that not nearly 50% of priests, monks, or nuns leave their vocations. If it is true that some particular monks or nuns have been unhappy; it is also true that, on the whole, they are among the happiest people in our country. I am speaking scientifically now: Those who have consecrated their lives to God through these three vows are, on the whole, far happier than married persons. Statistically, the happiest life in the United States right now is religious life!

And so, to you young people here, I ask: Have you thought about religious life? Have you thought of becoming a priest or a monk or a nun? There is no happier life. If you are called to be a religious, there is no life greater! Why, the life you live on earth will become a foretaste of heaven!

And to you here who are parents and grandparents, I ask: Have you encouraged your children and grandchildren to consider religious life? If they mention the thought to you, have you supported them? What are you afraid of? If you want your sons and daughters to be happy, help them to discern a call to become a monk or a nun, or perhaps a priest – there is no life happier, there is no surer road to joy!
But how can young people even consider the possibility of religious life, if they are never given an opportunity to see monks or nuns? It is a bit easier for them to have some encounters with diocesan priests, but you must work to give your children an opportunity to meet consecrated religious. There are a few monasteries and convents in the area – there are Carmelite monks in Wyoming, and Benedictines in North Dakota. Why not take a family trip some time? Especially, as your children come into their high school years, it will be important to give them some exposure to religious life – how else will they be able to discern if God could be calling them to this most precious and most joyful vocation?

May the joy and the love of Christ dwell in our hearts this day and, as we come into a more intimate union with his Most Sacred Heart, may we be drawn away from the cares of this world and begin to rejoice in the foretaste of life everlasting.