Year C – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

On our Deepest Longings

(Wis.9:13-18; Phlm.9-10, 12-17; Lk.14:25-33)

In his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton recalls that he’d just converted to Christianity and was walking through Greenwich Village with the poet Robert Lax. Lax asked him, ‘What do you want to be, anyway?’

Merton hadn’t much thought about it.  He replied, ‘I don’t know; I guess what I want is to be a good Catholic.’  But Lax wouldn’t accept that.  He said, ‘What you should say is that I want to be a saint’. 

‘How do you expect me to be a saint?’ asked Merton.

‘By wanting to,’ Lax replied.  ‘All that’s necessary to be a saint is to want to be one.  Don’t you believe that God will make you what he created you be, if you’ll let him do it?  All you have to do is desire it.’ [i]

Napoleon Hill said something similar in his book Think and Grow Rich (1937).  He said that the starting point for all achievement is desire.  Keep this constantly in mind, he said, because weak desire brings weak results. But he wasn’t just talking about money; he was talking about living a rich, fulfilling life.

It can be hard to understand our own desires, because there’s often so much noise, pressure and control around us.  It can be hard to read our own hearts.  This is where we need to find time for silence and prayer (Mt.6:6).

And desire itself comes in many different forms, from simple wishes through to sudden impulses and our deepest longings.  A wish is a desire that’s unlikely to happen, and an impulse is something we haven’t much thought about.  But a longing is a strong and continuing desire, especially for something that’s hard to achieve.

Peter van Breemen SJ says that if we could all realise our most authentic longings, then the Kingdom of God would already be here.  He says the will of God isn’t something strange and terrible that gets laid down on top of us and to which we must blindly bow.  On the contrary, it corresponds to our true deepest being.

‘Just as … God is the deepest foundation of our nature … so in the realm of the will, God’s will is identical to our own deepest personal will (Jn.15:8).  God wants to see the unfolding and true fulfilment of our person – much more than we ourselves want to …  (His) will for us to live is stronger and more authentic than our own.’ [ii] That’s why Jesus says, ‘I came that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (Jn.10:10).

So desire is where sainthood starts. But as St. Philip Neri once said, ‘One should not wish to become a saint in four days, but step by step’.  

Today’s Gospel is useful here, for Jesus outlines some of these steps.  He says, ‘If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple’.

Now, Jesus isn’t encouraging us to actually hate our family, because the 4th Commandment [iii] tells us to ‘honour thy mother and father’.  Jesus’ language, Aramaic, didn’t have a word for ‘prefer’.  In Aramaic, if you preferred one thing over another, you’d say you ‘loved’ one thing, but ‘hated’ the other.  But it doesn’t mean ‘hate’ as we use the word today. [iv]

So, what Jesus is saying is to get our priorities straight.  Put Jesus first.  Be prepared to leave people and things behind when he calls us, because they can distract us.  They can stop us doing what we should be doing. 

Similarly, Jesus tells us to hate our own lives (Lk.14:26).  In other words, be prepared to resist our own human failings, because pride, laziness, selfishness and fear can stop us doing what we should be doing.

Jesus then talks about a man building a tower, and a king going to war.  The point he’s making is that before doing anything significant, we must first think carefully and then make a decision.

He’s talking about our faith.  If we’re serious about being Christians, then we need to reflect on it and make a decision.  Our Christianity isn’t just a label; it’s a way of life.  It’s a relationship with Jesus, and we must put him first.  That’s why Jesus says ‘you cannot be my disciple unless you give up all your possessions’ (Lk.14:33). 

The French novelist Marcel Proust wrote that desire makes everything blossom, but possession makes everything wither and fade. 

This is great wisdom.  If we want to achieve our deepest longings, we must be prepared to let things go.  Mother Teresa left her family.  St Therese of Lisieux gave up a comfortable life.  St Katherine Drexel gave up a huge inheritance.

Jesus Christ sacrificed his life.

What are you prepared to let go?

[i] Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain. Harcourt, Orlando, 1998:262-263.

[ii] Peter van Breemen, The God of our Deepest Longings.  Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, IN. 2009:11.

[iii] It’s the 4th Commandment in the Augustinian system, but the 5th in the Philonic (Protestant) system of counting.

[iv] Brendan Byrne, The Hospitality of God. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2000:125.