St. Hyacinth Church, Amarillo, Texas
Immaculate Conception Church, Vega, Texas
[Author’s note: The theme of this homily and some of its phraseology were inspired by The God of Big Things by Dr. Tom Neal published on-line at The Word on Fire, April 26, 2016]
When Jesus closed the door on the carpenter shop and hit the road heading north out of Nazareth, it didn’t take him long to reach the Sea of Galilee. As soon he got there, he drew a line in the sand and dared others to follow him with lines like, “Sell what you have and come follow me; If you want to save your life, give it away; Let the dead bury the dead; Pick up your cross every day and follow in my steps.”
Again and again, Christ challenged people to leave their way of life behind and, in doing so, He filled their minds with big dreams, dreams of the Kingdom of God where the hungry are fed, the sick recover, the wounded are bandaged, prisoners are released, tears are wiped away and death itself turns out to be nothing more than a bad dream.
Come, follow me and you’ll see big things. And you’ll do big things. Because God is my Father and my Father is the God of Big Things.”
Yes, Christ proclaimed a Kingdom of Big Things. A Kingdom of Hope, Adventure, Excitement and Risks; last-minute rescues and doubled-dares to drop your sin and grab the rope of redemption. A Kingdom of open space and open hearts and open arms…and don’t you love this part of the Gospel? This part of our religion?
I’m talking about rush that flows in the blood of every young man who heads off to join the Special Forces, not of the Army, but the priesthood. To give his all, to give his best to serve the Church and somehow help save this sinking country of ours.
I’m talking about the Call to Discipleship issued to each of us to break out and break free and follow the Lord with nothing holding us back.
I’m talking about the song in the heart of every young woman who turns her back on the bling and glamour of a narcissistic society to take the veil and live out the Gospel in a convent in a slum, in a school, in a hospital; to live in sisterhood and solidarity in a country that’s dirt poor; in a country at war. A young woman such as this, who follows Christ to such a place, puts the haranguing of Hollywood celebrities to shame!
Don’t you love this part of the Gospel that motivates people to reach for the sky and dream the Big Dreams of God? But, keep in mind, this is but one part of the Call to Discipleship. As exciting as it is to hear the call of the Lord: “Come, follow me,” there remain another phase in the Call to Discipleship that completes the first and it sounds like this: Stay here. Remain where you are. Close the door and stay close to home. We hit this speed bump in today’s gospel passage when we hear Jesus say:
[For the Seventh Sunday of Easter: “Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me.”]
[For the Solemnity of the Ascension: “Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.]
With these words, Jesus tells his followers to brace themselves for his departure. Where he is going, they cannot follow. For the time being, they must remain where they are.]
There comes a time when, Come, follow me turns into, Remain where you are.
No doubt, many saints have sailed the seas and discovered lands and continents; learned indigenous languages and blazed trails through the jungles and swamps; built missions in place like Texas and California and hospitals in cities like Calcutta and Manila. But what about disciples of Christ who stay at home and remain quietly faithful in their little corner of the world in places like Amarillo and towns like Vega, Texas? Folks who live in houses with garages full of bicycles and a high-mileage vehicle in the driveway?
What about those follow Christ, not by heading down the road, but by putting down roots? People who stay in one place long enough to allow their faith and commitment to soak deep into the soil of the place where they live in order to sanctify it with stability and reliability? With a one-of-a- kind, tough-it-out-through-thick-and-thin kind of esponsibility?
Do you ever consider how important it is to God’s plan that someone—someone like you—do your utmost to live out your Catholic faith in a society like ours A society affected with cultural A.D.D? Where commitments last only as long as fleeting emotion hold out? Where the purpose and meaning of life is reduced to getting everything you what you want as soon as you want it? Where the concept of good and evil is readily applied to animal rights but has nothing to do with college kids hooking up?
How hungry is our world for stability and commitments! For the sound of a family—your family—singing Happy Birthday off-pitch! How hungry is the world to catch the glint of light form a rosary in the calloused hand of a husband praying for his wife; in the chaffed hand of a wife praying for her husband! How desperate the world that longs to overhear the conversation between a father and son tearing down the engine of a truck in the shop the house!
How is that hunger, but how magnificent our God, who does big things in small places. Places as small as your kitchen, your child’s bedroom; places as plain as the local school cafeteria and as ordinary as a meeting room in your parish church.
Keep in mind that Christ lived most of His life within 100 miles of a town of around 500 people. Yet, His small life in a small place redeemed humanity and all of history.
And so it is that, for many of us: Come, follow me eventually turns into Stay where you are.
Stay. Remain. Hold firm. Sanctify.
Sanctify, by your love and your faith, the place where you live, the family you (and sometimes scream at), the house that you clean, the place where you work, the bedroom where you pray.
“Stay steady and stay strong,” says the Lord. “And help me save the world-at-large… by helping you save the world where you live.”