The Cost of True Discipleship

August 31, 2016 - 2:12pm
Reflection on This Sunday's Mass Readings

September 4, 2016

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C


First Reading

Who can ever know God's counsel unless God gives wisdom and sends the Holy Spirit from on high? (Wisdom 9:13-18b).


In this text from Wisdom we can see clearly the Church’s teaching that we are subject to certain effects of original sin, the sin that we have inherited from our first parents, Adam and Eve. In the beginning, in our unfallen state, the human person would have been possessed of a sublime integrity, the right ordering of our passions or emotions under the direction of an intellect and will that had the gift of supernatural virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as a special gift of infused knowledge. In that original state, which would have followed upon our having been made by God in innocence and grace, we would have easily had concourse with him and been at peace with each other.

Because of the first sin, however, we find that our emotions are often at odds with reason. As St. Paul says; “For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind” (Romans 7:22-23). Our minds, although still capable of rational reflection, are subject to a darkening that came upon them when Adam and Eve revolted against God, and our wills are weakened too. And our own personal sins can leave us weakened still more. In this fallen state we need grace from God to be able to return, in some measure, to that original clarity of soul and mind and to be able to integrate our emotions and drives into an ordered human life, one marked by a self-mastery that is the foundation for all real love.


Second Reading

Paul asks Philemon to accept back his slave Onesimus, not as a slave but as a brother (Philemon 9-10, 12-17).


The letter of St. Paul to Philemon is one of what are called the Captivity Letters, written while Paul was a prisoner in Rome between 61 and 63 A.D. It is the shortest of Paul’s letters (notice that it has no chapter numbers but only verse numbers, since it is only long enough to comprise one chapter). It is a very touching personal letter to a propertied man from the city of Colossae. Unfortunately, part of his “property” included human slaves, which would have been an acceptable part of the Greco-Roman culture of the time. Although Paul does not condemn slavery in this letter, he reminds Philemon that he and his slave, Onesimus by name, are united as brothers in the Christian faith they now share. And that common Christian dignity—which is based upon their common human dignity—should transform the master-slave relationship they have had into something else, Paul suggests. Apparently Onesimus had run away from his master after having stolen some of his property and had then become a Christian in Rome.



To be a disciple of Jesus one must carry one's own cross and renounce all possessions (Luke 14:25-33).


In this Gospel passage our Lord explains how we overcome the problem of that effect of original sin that our first reading describes, the loss of integrity in our powers. Jesus uses here what scholars call a Semiticism in this text, in this case a hyperbolic statement or a wild extreme to make a clear point. In saying that we should “hate” our family members and even our own lives, he does not mean that we should really hate them. That would overturn the fourth commandment to honor father and mother, which Jesus himself upholds in Mark 7:10-13 and his own command that we should love our neighbor as ourselves.

He means rather that we must put everything in its proper place to reorder our lives and our loves. Since our emotions, which are bodily in origin, tend to try to override our higher faculties as an effect of the fall, we tend to love lesser things above those higher things that should mean the most. We tend to prefer our own bodily comforts, even when it may hurt others. And even our laudable love for family members can get in the way of the highest goods of the human race at times. Think of the man who refuses to go to war because of his love for his family, when it is precisely to protect them that he ought to go. All lesser loves can get in the way of that love which is most important, our love for God. And, in fact, all lesser loves will be made stronger if we get that highest love right.


For Meditation & Discussion


In today’s Gospel reading, great crowds are going along with Jesus when he gives three conditions for true discipleship. Imagine yourself in this scene and Jesus speaking directly to you about these conditions. Jesus tells you that you must prefer him above anyone else.

Is there anyone in your life that you are placing before God—for your approval, your sense of fulfillment, your sense of self-worth?  Next, Jesus tells you that you must take up your cross and follow him. What cross might he be asking you to bear now?  Finally, Jesus tells you that you must renounce your possessions. What thing or things are you holding onto that is holding you back from true discipleship? Share your responses with a trusted friend.



Dedicate some time this week for quiet prayer, perhaps before the Blessed Sacrament in the Adoration Chapel.  Contemplate the questions above, or write in your journal. Tell Jesus that you don’t want to just be a traveler. You want to be a disciple. Ask him to show you what you can do this week to “follow” him more closely as a disciple, rather than to merely “travel with” him.

Opening the Word offers prayers and insights for the Sunday Scriptural lessons. Featuring videos designed to facilitate thought and discussion for faith formation, Personal Prayer Journals and a Group Leader’s Guide, Opening the Word helps you to make the most of the Sunday readings. Opening the Word is one of many programs available at


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