12TH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME–6/20/10
READINGS: GAL 1: 13-18; LUKE 9:18-24
by Msgr. Eric R. Barr, STL
THE STORY OF ST. MARTIN
St. Martin lived a long time ago when the Roman Empire was still strong. But even though he lived long ago, in a time that is really lost to us, you would have liked him. He was a friendly, kind, generous and compassionate man who was a Roman soldier. When he was twelve, he became a catechumen--that's the first step on the road to being a Christian. Unfortunately, he just couldn't bring himself over the years to take the final step and be baptized.
One day, in the bitter, biting winter, he met a poor man who was dressed in rags. He was filled with compassion but he also knew it was very cold. So he dismounted, took off his cloak, took out his sword, and slashed the cloak in half. He gave half to the beggar and clothed himself with the other half, because it was a bitterly cold day.
When he got back to his post, his fellow soldiers laughed at him, for he looked rather silly dressed in half a cloak. That night, Martin had a dream. He dreamed he saw the poor man walking toward him, wearing half his cloak, but when the poor man got close to him, he could see it was Jesus Christ. And Christ said, "Martin, who is still just a catechumen, has done this for me."
Now, I know you've head this story before and we always have thought Jesus was complimenting Martin on his charity to the beggar, but Martin didn't see it that way. Oh, he knew Jesus was pleased that he had helped the beggar, but Martin also knew what else Jesus was saying: "Martin, you only gave half your cloak, and you've only come halfway the distance to Christianity--you are still only a catechumen. The beggar should have had your whole cloak and I should have all your dedication, love and commitment."
That's what the vision of Christ was really saying. And the next morning, Martin ran--he didn't walk-he ran to be baptized. And he became one of the greatest Christians who ever lived.
I. Jesus says, "Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self, take up his cross each day, and follow in my steps. Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."
A. What in the world are we to do with that statement? Is Jesus serious? In the Gospel today, Jesus tells us clearly that he wants our whole dedication, our whole commitment, our whole love. Not half a cloak--a whole one. Not half our love--all our love.
B. And I think we would agree with that. I think we even want to do that. After all, we try to do good, we come to Mass, we worship God. And yet, most of us really only give Christ half our love. That's pretty good; after all, Jesus was happy that Martin at least partially clothed the beggar. But Jesus wants more. He doesn’t want half a Christian; he wants a whole one.
C. He wants people who are willing to speak his message. He wants people who will belong wholeheartedly to his Church. He wants people who are willing to die for him. That’s what picking up our cross every day means. Being so committed to Christ that we would do anything for him–even die for him. And here’s where the difficulty comes in. Many of us find it hard to do just that.
1. To believe as Jesus asks us to believe is a difficult thing for a lot of Catholics. Many are not sure the Church really speaks for Christ. Many think they can pick or choose–even among basic beliefs–what they will believe or hold. As a priest, I am supposed to explain the faith–I love doing that. But now I find that I often have to defend the faith–to Catholics, including some professional Catholics who work for the Church. I’m shocked at that. I don’t mind defending my faith to Buddhists, Moslems, other Protestant Christians or even atheists–but to Catholics? Some people think they can dissent from major teachings of the faith saying: "I’ll believe what the Church says about Jesus but I won’t follow what it teaches about sex. I’ll believe what the Church says about capital punishment, but I won’t believe what Jesus says about marriage. I’ll believe what the Church says about concern for the poor, but I’ll make up my own mind on abortion, euthanasia, etc. The Church ought to be up to date, cast aside some of its older views, embrace the modern age." One of the great theologians of our time, Cardinal Avery Dulles writes (America 6/20/98) "The world has no need of a religious body that simply mirrors the dominant values of the society. A religion that lays claim to a divine revelation ceases to be credible if it teaches only what people would be inclined to believe without it." In other words, the Church and her teachings never intended to seek popularity. The Church would forfeit all credibility if it taught only what people wanted to hear. It’s job is to teach what Christ taught. To paraphrase Avery Dulles, "The Church has got to stick constantly to the Gospel of Christ, to figure out its implications for the present day and to proclaim it confidently, insistently, in season and out of season, eve at the cost of becoming a sign of contradiction." When it comes to what people actually believe about their faith, many are wearing just half a cloak. They are willing to walk part of the way with Christ, but they are reluctant to walk carrying their own Cross. It’s too much commitment, and it would cause them to change the way they act in the world.
2. To act as Jesus asks us to act is a difficult thing for a lot of Catholics. Translating our beliefs into action means we have to stand for one thing and not another. And acting like Jesus asks us to act means being counter cultural. It’s very hard to do that. The most visible example of this for Catholics is the 75% of us who do not go to Mass on a given Sunday. We’ve made a deal with the culture–soccer is more important, vacation is more important, leisure is more important, and, we say, God will understand. We constantly try to make our religion fit our culture instead of vice versa. We condone living together before marriage. We wink at our kids cheating or trashing property. We seldom say, "I wonder how Jesus would handle this problem?" because it might mean we couldn’t act like we wished. When it comes to how people actually act on their faith, many are wearing just half a cloak, willing to walk part of the way with Christ, reluctant to walk carrying their own Cross. It’s too much commitment and it would cause them to be noticed and commented upon by the world.
3. We fall into this spiritual wimpiness not out of malice but out of weakness. We really want to be good. Like Martin, we would take pity on a poor beggar. But like Martin, we’d weigh the cost. I might be cold if I give him all my cloak, so I’ll just give him half and keep the other half. That’s kindness with a hitch. That’s compassion with a reservation. That’s Catholicism with a but. And guess what happens when we act in our faith lives like Martin acted with that poor man? Christ is happy that we are trying, but our efforts are not enough. Why? Martin’s effort with the beggar ended with mixed results. In the end, because he did not give completely, the net result was a cold beggar with half a cloak and a cold soldier with half a cloak, and that’s so ridiculous that Martin’s soldier friends laughed hysterically at his comical appearance. Do you think the world looks at us any differently? I think the world laughs at the Catholic who only kind of believes, or kind of acts Catholic. Dressed in half a cloak of religious faith, the sometime Catholic looks like a fish out of water, belonging neither to the faith nor to the world. That’s a cold and lonely place to be.
II. What To Do?
A. Evaluate Your Commitment. Just how committed to our faith are we? Do we believe what Catholics are supposed to believe? The only good Catholic is one who believes the major teachings of the Church. When Jesus told the rich young man what he had to do to get to heaven, and the young man decided he couldn’t do that and walked away, Jesus didn’t turn to his friends and say, "There goes a good follower of mine." No! Jesus was sad, because the man rejected him. If you say, "I don’t know if I believe everything the Church teaches then you have to spend some time finding out what the basics of the Catholic faith are. If you can’t hold the major teachings, it is impossible to be a good Catholic.
B. Be Proud and Convicted About What You Believe. If you believe what the Church teaches, then be proud of it, not apologetic. Make that belief your own and act on that belief. It’s great to hear people speak boldly and publicly about how much they love their Catholic faith.
C. Live Your Faith, Consistently and Publicly. To act as we think and as we believe is the mark of a courageous person with great integrity. This is what carrying the Cross means. To be willing to endure humiliation and mockery each and every day by trying to live as Christ asks, is to imitate Jesus.