Deacon Cornellís Homily


1 Kings 19:16, 19-21
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
Luke 9:51-62


June 26-27, 2010 - Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C

For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

Today's readings are about freedom and discipleship. Not exactly two concepts that our culture would put together, unless they were contrasting them. But I would suggest that our culture has pretty dysfunctional understandings of both freedom and discipleship. One of the commentators I read this week told a story of seeing some young people laying flowers on soldiers graves at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day a few years ago. He asked them why they made the effort to come to the cemetery and honor these soldiers this way. The young people quickly answered that they were grateful to these men and women who had given their lives to protect our freedom. The commentator then asked them what did they think about when they pictured the freedom the soldiers had won for them. The young people hesitated and only after a while did one of them say, "We are free to choose the clothes we wear." As lame as that response might seem in this context, I suggest that the predominant understanding of freedom in our culture is the right to choose. This is not the freedom that Paul is talking about. And I think that a look at real life, we can see that too often the ability to choose between many choices quite often looks more like the yoke of slavery.

I got to see the new Karate Kid movie this week with a friend. It was a great movie. I am not about to reveal any plot secrets but if you saw the original you know the plot already. Actually it is a fairly classic plot and the story's greatness does not depend on any plot surprises but rather on the truths revealed in the relationships of the characters.

Near the end of The Karate Kid, the young boy Dre (played by Jaden Smith) is hurt in the semifinals of the competition. If he doesn't come out to fight in the finals, the team of the boys who have been bullying him will win by default. Mr. Han, Jackie Chan's character, and Dre's teacher in kung fu asks Dre why he wants to go back. He tells him that he has already proven his courage and skill and earned the respect of everyone there. Dre responds that he must go out because he is still afraid; he goes on to say that when he leaves this competition, he wants to be free of fear. Dre has a much more fundamental understanding of what freedom is. It is not about having a lot of choices. It is about recognizing and responding to truth. Freedom is not about being able to choose freely among several choices, rather as some one very wise said, "Freedom is being able to do what is right." And that ability has a lot to do with discipleship.

We tend to understand discipleship or religion or faith as first having a belief in a some dogma and then acting accordingly. This is a very new way of looking at faith. For Jesus, and most people up until about 400 years ago, faith was always connected to action, both ritual and then lived action. In the early church, new Christians were not taught dogma and then brought into the church. They first participated in the rituals and community life, for a year or more, and only after they were baptized were they taught any dogma.This is how human beings work not just for religion but for all important aspects of human life. In both versions of The Karate Kid, the teacher starts out by having the young boy do what seem like mundane tasks. It is only after a long process of ritualizing what seem like ordinary actions, that the boy starts to understand what is being taught. Paul says we really only have one commandment: to love your neighbor as yourself. Can you imagine any love relationship that is not lived out in the constant rituals of hugs and kisses and talking and listening and bringing a favorite drink or blanket or toy when needed? Love is not love if it is just thought about. Or think about trying to learn how to drive a car by studying the driver's manual and talking about it and studying how an internal combustion engine and an automatic transmission work. You could do that for years and still you would not learn to drive. From my own experience teaching my kids and grandkids how to drive, some of the rituals we develop when we get in the car, adjust the rearview mirror, adjust the seat, how we turn the engine on, turn the wheels when we park, just don't make sense to people who have not driven. Our faith is no different. You cannot do it partially. Driving a car doesn't work that way, playing a sport or a musical instrument doesn't work that way, love does not work that way, and faith does not either.

Today's gospel is not telling us that we have to abandon our families and skip out on funeral rites for our loved ones to prove we are good disciples. What Jesus is trying to teach his disciples is that being a disciple is, in the first place, about committing to action, to following Jesus. It is not first about rules or theology or dogma. The original meaning of the word we hear translated as believe is to make a commitment to, to put our trust in. Being Catholic is not primarily about accepting dogma and coming to church once a week or less. It is about living a Catholic life; yes, going to mass but participating in it fully and consciously, and praying in our home in the morning, the evening, at meals, during crises, during times of celebration, reading scripture (and I would highly recommend not starting out reading scripture by studying it; first spend a year or two praying morning and evening prayer of the liturgy of the hours; only then will you be ready to start trying to understand it), celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation regularly (that means more than once a year). The teachings of the Church only make sense to someone who is practicing those rituals.

There is only one way to be a Catholic and that is to commit ourselves by full, active and conscious participation in living the life of a Catholic. As I said before, we are not all called to leave family and home to be disciples. If fact some (or maybe even most of us) of us are called to be disciples in our homes and families. But we cannot hold back if we are to be the body of Christ who brings salvation to the world.

This is the freedom for which Christ set us free; stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.


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