I’ve mentioned that I’ve been reading Gerhard Lohfink’s book Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was. In the first of his chapters addressing the “Who He Was” part of the title, Lohfink addresses Jesus’ statement in Luke’s Gospel that “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”
Lohfink makes the important point that this is not just, or even primarily, about the surrender of life in death. Human beings, he writes
are also desperately engaged in “saving” their own desire and dreams, their own guiding images and plans for their lives. But these very rescue actions cause them to lose their lives – namely, the true lives that existence under the rule of God would give them. “To lose one’s life” therefore refers not only to martyrdom but in given circumstances to the surrender of one’s secure bourgeoise existence for the reign of God.
This is important because if we put the focus on martyrdom, it is easy to let ourselves off the hook – Oh, I’m not being called to lay down my (physical) life for God. Even when we understand Jesus’ words more broadly, we want to resist them. Lohfink continues
Such radicality for the sake of God’s project is not everyone’s thing. Normally we want not “either-or” but”both-and.” In particular, people familiar with the Gospel and desiring to serve God can be deeply conflicted here. They want to be there for God, but they also want space for themselves. They want to make a place for God in their lives, but they also want to have free segments in which they decide for themselves about their lives. They want to do the will of God, but at the same time, they want to live out their dreams and longings.
That description pretty much sounds like many, if not most, of us. And Jesus is clear in his reaction to that way of thinking: “No one can serve two masters.” That is, Lohfink paraphrases, “when it is a question of God an the reign of God, there can be nothing but undivided self-surrender.” And that, suggests Lohfink, is a central part of Jesus’ message.
I can see the tagline of the commercial: Discipleship in Christ – It’s Not for the Faint of Heart!
Jesus’ statement in Luke’s Gospel that “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it,” was as prophetic then as it is today. . .
This morning’s first reading may possibly be as prophetic. . .
Woe to the shepherds
who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture,
says the LORD.
Should not His warning also be recalled, replayed and reflected upon by the Curia, Teaching Office and many Cardinals of our Roman faith?
As justifiable as Scripture and the ‘presence of’ the Holy Spirit have been declared foundation that the history of doctrine has been built upon, do not certain encyclicals, some ‘ex cathedra,’ continue to undermine the very foundation?
As divisive a social issue as abortion remains, Catholic slogans and demonstrations organized often do more to ‘scatter’ the Lord’s flock than all of the wonderful pastoral outreach, counselling and services performed daily that receive little, if any, recognition. Good shepherds never demean and scold; they embrace, continually encourage and in love – lead the way. . .
Would any living and breathing human being ever come before the Lord and wager their eternal soul by declaring artificial contraceptive use is a grave sin AND leads directly to “. . . marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards,” and “. . . a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”? (Humanae Vitae, Paul VI).
Are marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards issues of concern? To be sure. Though, one can imagine where empirical data, health providers and professionals would rank contraceptive use as a causal influence. . .
Same-sex unions (marriages) remain a most challenging conundrum. As community and peace and comfort therein often precede growth, blessings and (a day uncertain) Sacramental grace, what justification has been established for a parish to not welcome a same-sex couple and their children? Tolerance of, forgiveness extended and mercy prayed for are routinely offered to ‘straight’ individuals or spouses who, in the hearts of many parishioners, purportedly live ‘in sin.’
As society recognizes gay and lesbian individuals and same-sex couples, more and more of our Lord’s flock have begun to accept and embrace His children who in life have also, more often than not, been ‘Christ’s presence in the world.’ Occurring is an evolution of the heart that is slowly changing the face of the GLBT community from a chronology of disgusting Pride Parade depictions to the previously unseen (closeted) members of our Lord’s flock who continue to lovingly serve others in ‘undivided self-surrender.’
“ ‘Then the Lord said, the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.’ As our father Abraham posed numerous scenarios to the Lord culminating in, ‘May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?’ He (the Lord) answered, ‘For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.’ ” (Genisis 18: 20–21, 32)
How many Roman Catholics believe, like many in positions of authority proclaim, that religious freedom is under attack? Is our faith so weak? Many of our Lords flock are encouraged that although more will continue to leave the western church, a smaller, more like minded, membership will prevail that will speak the ‘Truth’ and minister to the ‘misguided sheep’ bringing forth a resurgent church in western society that will ‘light the way’ locally and promote the continual expansion of the faith in Africa and Asia.
Though the Lord’s shepherds are commissioned to forgive sins on His behalf, are they also called to ‘cull’ our Lord’s flock(s)? Are we all not called to shepherd; some for a moment, some for days, some – for a lifetime. . .
“Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD.”
Prayers please as Pope Francis continues to ‘shepherd’ his bishops. . .