I’m very jealous of the prophet Elisha. When Elijah called him to continue his own ministry as prophet, Elisha took his “yoke of oxen, slaughtered them; he used the plowing equipment for fuel to boil their flesh, and gave it to his people to eat.” (1 Kings 19:21) I have been preparing for my upcoming move to Clearwater, and after three weeks of packing books and belongings, I’m still not ready for the move. It’s very tempting to burn it all, and walk away, as Elisha did.
In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) It’s a fairly demanding requirement. Over the centuries of the Christian faith, some people have gone to great lengths to put these very demanding words into action. Those of us who don’t go to the same great lengths are not excused from the demands of Jesus’ words.
Throughout most of Christian history men and women have dedicated their lives to God’s Kingdom by embracing the monastic lifestyle. A student who was a year ahead of me in Seminary had an older sister who joined a contemplative religious order. It was somewhat traumatic for the family. The young lady never left the convent, and was not allowed to speak except during the occasional, scheduled visit by family members.
Others have given their lives in service to the Kingdom by doing missionary work. From the very beginning of the Faith, brave women and men have left behind home and family, and traveled to foreign lands in order to spread the Good News. Even today, there are Catholic missionaries who will die in foreign countries, far from loved ones, because of their fidelity to Jesus’ words.
Long before people make such radical commitments in order to live Jesus’ demanding words, something happened that changed the course of their lives. It is of the utmost importance that you and I appreciate how this same event has changed our lives, even though we might never make the radical choice of being monks or missionaries.
At our baptism our lives were altered permanently. We were bound to God in an unbreakable bond, and our lives were given a direction that leads through this world but not into the world. At our baptism the perennial questions that occupy people’s minds were given answers. It is natural for us to wonder about the meaning of life, the nature of our destiny and the purpose of existing things. Every generation asks these questions, and every generation offers its own answers to these questions.
There is one, enduring answer to the riddle of human existence and the mystery of personal destiny. God’s offer of forgiveness remains unchanged by centuries of human history and countless millennia of human longing. That offer of forgiveness is ours in the Baptismal covenant. When we are faithful to God in the way that God is faithful to us we find answers to our deepest questions. These answers are not so simple and straightforward that they can be reduced to words or formulas. Rather, the answers that God offers come to us in the experience of being loved and forgiven; this is “lived” Truth rather than spoken truth.
This Sunday is the last time that I will preach a homily at the Catholic Student Center. I have given a great deal of thought to my parting words to you. The best that I can do is to repeat the words of one of my Seminary professors. At the end of each semester, when we would return home for Christmas break or summer vacation, he would say, “Keep the Faith, never mind the Commandments, but keep the Faith.”
This was not a man who would disregard the commandments. His half-joking words were an expression of his conviction that it is faith alone that leads us to holiness of life; nothing else can help us reach knowledge of God or of ourselves. It has been a tremendous blessing to walk in faith with you for these past seventeen years, and now our paths will diverge. I will always treasure my time here, and love this community. It is my prayer for this faith community that all of us will always be grateful for, and faithful to, the bond that holds us together and holds us close to God. Keep the Faith!