The Difficult Path of Discipleship

Homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Jesus makes two things clear in today’s Gospel about what it means to be his disciple. First, he uses harsh language (about hating father and mother, hating sister and brother, and even hating children) to make this point:

  1. Being Jesus’ disciple (one who follows Jesus) is a difficult path.
  2. Because of our fallen nature (because of the sin we carry), even with God’s grace to help us, our path is going to be hard.

This difficult path Jesus lays out before us involves self-sacrifice and suffering. So, he warns us: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

That is the first key lesson from today’s Gospel: Discipleship involves difficulty.

The second lesson is that following Jesus involves more than feelings and vague aspirations. It involves ongoing work on our part.

Following Christ is a life-long process that engages the whole person (mind, body, and soul). Jesus wants us to be “all in” – willing to follow him despite any difficulty. He wants us to open our hearts and minds to grow in knowledge and love as his disciples.

Following Christ demands a choice, serious consideration of the costs involved, and renunciation of the world’s ways. Fortunately, God’s wisdom guides us along the right path.

So, what does that “right path” look like in our lives? While reflecting on that question this week, an example appeared in the Wallstreet Journal (of all places), in an article by Tim Brown about Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Albert is currently six dingers short of 700 career home runs, which places him in history alongside such greats as Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds. When asked about returning to the Cardinals in his final year of professional baseball, Albert responded “It’s a blessing, man.” (That seems to be recurring theme with Pujols. Life in Christ is a blessing. And I agree).

The writer who interviewed Albert for this article identified three things that have helped Pujols achieve Hall of Fame career numbers:

  1. The work he puts in
  2. The faith he carries
  3. His willingness to accept the outcomes

The writer acknowledges that these are great points of achievement which Pujols has been committed to for years.

If you follow the Cardinals on TV, you will see Albert regularly studying film to gain an advantage over the pitchers he will be facing. It’s been reported that he spends hours in the batting cage, working on his swing.

He puts in the work to be an outstanding baseball player. He also puts in time and money helping others across the country through the Pujols Family Foundation and other charitable causes.

His faith is something that is ever-present. Every homerun trot involves a stop at Homeplate to give praise to God. Every interview includes him acknowledging Christ as his Savior. He appears to have a strong faith. That faith he carries appears to guide him through the highs and lows of his professional and personal life.

His willingness to accept the outcomes is an intriguing thought. Albert gets upset when he makes an out – especially a strikeout or soft-hit grounder because he possesses such amazing power and strength. But what happens after making an out? After he “falls” he gets back up again and you see him looking at film again, trying to determine how the pitcher won that battle.

Like the builder in the Gospel, Albert does not want to experience embarrassment or shame. Like the king preparing for battle, he wants to be adequately prepared.

I believe Albert’s approach to baseball mirrors his approach to discipleship. He wants to be prepared for the challenge. The same should hold true for us: We too need to be prepared.

I encourage you to take some time this week and reflect on your experience as Christ’s disciple. Ask yourself:

  • How do you “put in the work” to be a good disciple? (Prayer, spiritual reading, Bible study, etc. to grow in relationship with God.)
  • How do you “carry your faith”? Do you acknowledge your God-given gifts? Are you willing to share those gifts in the spirit of discipleship?
  • Are you willing to accept the outcomes in your life? Are you willing to accept the things you cannot change or control? Are you willing to carry your Cross as a disciple?

Even though following Christ is often difficult, it produces abundant joy and is worth every difficult step. Know that you are not alone in your journey. The Holy Spirit is with you.

Be at peace and know that you are loved.

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