Sunday Sermon for September 4, 2016, the Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Readings: Wis 9:13-18b; Phmn: 9-10, 12-17; Lk 14:25-33

In the first reading the question is asked about who can know God’s counsel or conceive what the Lord intends.  We know that God’s ways are not our ways; we know that God looks into the heart while we look at appearances.  So we see that the way God looks at things is somewhat the opposite of the way we look at the same things.

All too often people try to push our human ways and ideas onto God.  One can think about these people on TV who preach the “Gospel of health and wealth.”  On one hand, this is a lot more pleasant to hear than what we hear in the actual Gospel.  Today, for instance, our Lord tells us that we have to renounce our possessions and that we have to take up our cross and follow Him.   Most people would rather hear about obtaining possession rather than renouncing them; it is easier to say that Jesus did it all for us, so we do not have to carry our cross.

Now, for some of these people who preach this it has become a reality: they are wallowing in money and fame.  Unfortunately for them, it is not what Jesus preached and it is not the way to salvation.  One of the opposite ways of looking at things is that we tend to get caught up in a worldly focus.  We live in this world and we have to function here, so we often do not look beyond this world.  God, on the other hand, has eternity as the focus and He sees this world as the opportunity to prepare for eternal life.

God knows everything perfectly and wills for us only what is the best.  Tragically, our idea of best is often at odds with God’s idea of what is best.  That is why it is far more pleasant to hear to false Gospel instead of the real one: we do not want to hear what the Lord God has to say, but we want Him to do what we say.  Because God created us with a free will, He will not force us to do things His way.  If we want to rebel against Him, He holds our free will in such esteem that He will let us rebel.

The grace will always be present to do what is right and He will offer us the truth, but if we prefer a lie to the truth, that is our choice.  This is why our Lord tells us in the Gospel reading today that we have to calculate whether or not we really want to take on this project of saving our own souls.  God does not want the minimum for us; He wants what is truly the best.  He wants us to be Saints.  Do you want that?

The Saints know that God’s way, the way of the spiritual life, is most often just the opposite of the way of our natural life.  This is why the Saints rejoice in suffering while most of us groan and complain.  This is why the Saints are willing to give up everything to follow Jesus while all too many are willing to give up Jesus to follow fame and fortune.

Sure, like those people on TV we can give lip service to Jesus while seeking after money and materialism, but we know that it does not really work.  Jesus showed us the way to salvation.  He did not carry His cross and tell us that we do not have to carry ours.  No, we have to follow Him; we have to become like Him in all things.  If we truly believe that He is God and that He shows us the way to Heaven, why do we think that a different route can get us to the same place?  It cannot; after all, Jesus told us that He is the way and that no one comes to the Father except through Him.  So, any route other than the one our Lord walked will lead us somewhere other than Heaven.

So, who would have guessed that God would become man?  Who would have guessed that the way to life is death?  Who would have guessed that the way to have everything is to have nothing?  Who would have guessed that we who are made in the image and likeness of God would see things so completely different from the way God sees them?

This brings us to our choice.  Like Oneisimus in the second reading, we were slaves but have now become brother and sisters of the Lord.  We can choose the route of slavery or of freedom.  True freedom is doing the will of God; slavery is doing our own will.  Calculate the cost, then make your choice.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit