Whoever keeps looking back is unfit.
We all admire people who do their duty, come what may. Even pagan poets, like the Roman Horace praised the man who was “tenacious of purpose.” After all, countless others depend on us to be steadfast. They lean on us, and if we fall, they will fall.
Our Lord reminds us in today’s gospel that our very salvation depends on constancy: “Whoever puts his hand to the plow but keeps looking back is unfit for the reign of God.” (Lk. 9.62)
Naturally everybody fears he may be unequal to duty. Today, however, people seem almost paralyzed about committing themselves. Some avoid the formalities of marriage so as to avoid its obligations. Some seek divorce because their marriage vows inhibit their “freedom.” Many priests and sisters have recently abdicated their vows. Have some of them “kept looking back”?
The story of St. Noel Chabanel reminds us that God expects our commitment and intends to help us live up to it.
Father Noel was a 17th century French Jesuit who volunteered to work as a missionary to the Huron Indians in the present province of Ontario, Canada. It was a wild and difficult mission for even the most adaptable of missionaries. For Noel, the assignment ran completely against his tastes. He could not master the difficult Huron language. He found the country barbarous, the lifestyle of the Indians repulsive, and their food revolting. Nevertheless, he made a solemn personal vow that, much as he hated his surroundings, he would remain there until his death. After all, he had come to seek souls, not pleasure.
God answered his commitment with a marvelous reward. On December 8, 1649, one of the Indians, acting out of hatred for Christianity, slew Father Chabanel. On June 29, 1930 Pope Pius XI canonized him and seven others as the North American Jesuit Martyrs.
St. Noel’s steadfast commitment was perfectly in keeping with the idea of constancy expressed by the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius Loyola: “Lord, teach me to be generous, teach me to serve You, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to seek reward, except that of knowing that I do Your will.”
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q430: Jesus seems a bit harsh in replying to people who want to follow him, but first want to clean up some “loose ends.” What is going on in this gospel (Lk 9:51-62)?
Today is the only time we hear about people in Luke’s gospel “volunteering” to follow Jesus. But he warns them about the difficulties of being a disciple. Serious choices have to be made, and the commitment to Jesus has to be unconditional. There is no “fine print” in this contract or covenant with Jesus; it is simple and straightforward.
One is reminded of the life of St. Augustine. He was even a “heretic” at one time, as he struggled to find meaningful answers to life. But the strength of his commitment to Christ, as he tells us in his Confessions, was not initially solid and strong when he embraced Christianity. “God, give me chastity and continence – but not just yet!” [Book 8, Ch.7]. That was before he made the “full plunge” into Christianity. But once he made his decision, commitment was total. There was no turning back.
We all go through that “not just yet” struggle on our journey back to God, don’t we? We are so reluctant to give up those things that get in the way of a good spiritual life. The virtues I want, yes; but do I have to give up those attractive vices right now, immediately? How about tomorrow at the latest?
This is what Jesus is getting at in today’s gospel. We need to be absolutely sure about what we are getting into, when we join the Catholic bunch! We very rapidly discover that there are no “not yet” clauses in our covenant with God! It is all or nothing. Jesus wants to conquer our entire heart; are we ready to surrender, or do we still want to “negotiate” terms? Are we ready to follow his appointed bishops and magisterial teachings, or do we want to “pick and choose” what fits our life style?
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Jesus gave us an example of total commitment to mission, “setting his face” to go to Jerusalem and guaranteed death that awaited (CCC #557). The response of faith to the invitation of Jesus is our consent and total commitment (CCC #1102).
Come Follow Me
Elisha sacrificed his oxen and answered the call to become Elijah’s disciple. The young man called by Jesus put a higher priority on other demands, good though they may have been. St. Paul reminds us that we are free; we are not disciples of Law which only defines the minimum required. We are free but we must learn how to use that freedom: the way of love, which never asks what is the least I have to do, but rather: What else can I do?
Lord, sometimes I take your call to discipleship too casually. Sure I want to follow you, but not just yet. Later when I have all these other demands on me wrapped up, I’ll get around to it but not just now. Help me to understand that the call, whatever form it may take, must be answered today.