13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – June 26, 2022
St. Paul – Lyons, KS
1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21; Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62
“…our hearts are restless…”
I think an experience we have in common is going after something we want, working hard to achieve what we want, but then realizing it didn’t quite give us what we were looking for. I’ve already admitted to you how much of a nerd I am, how one of the things I did a lot growing up was play the cello; hours of practicing and lessons and performances. When I was a junior in high school I auditioned for a spot in the Wichita Symphony, the professional symphony in town, and failed. So that next year I worked my face off. And the next year, seventeen years old, I got the spot; there I was, playing in the professional symphony in Wichita. And it was a blast…but the question was immediately, “Ok, and now what?” In seminary, I played on the soccer and basketball teams. And we would go to the national tournaments with other seminaries. So we practiced a bunch beforehand. And our teams won! And literally as I was still on the field or the court with the team holding the trophy my thoughts were, “Ok, and now what?” Another nerd moment: I worked really hard in school, even got straight A’s here and there—but every time I got that report card, my immediate question was, “Ok, and now what?”
St. Augustine gave us a great insight into the human experience when he said, “Our hearts are restless.” Dante, the medieval Italian poet said, “Everyone vaguely pictures in his mind / A good the heart may rest on, and is driven/ By his desire to seek it and to find” (Dante, Purgatorio). What they’re getting at is this feeling: we have all of these good things we go after, all of these goals and ambitions and desires, and yet even when we get what we were looking for, even when we find the “good” that we were seeking, so often we are still restless, still left asking, “Ok, and now what?” Again, think in your own life: is there something that you have gone after, worked hard for, have busted your back trying to help your kids achieve…and at the end of the day been left thinking, “Ok, and now what?”
Parents Want Their Kids To Be Happy
If you were to ask my parents what their goal for their ten kids is, they would tell you, “We want our kids to be happy.” But their idea of “happy” is much more than being successful and making money and all of that. In fact, they were accused of that: that they did certain things because they were just trying to raise kids that could make a lot of money. But when my parents said that their goal was for their kids to be happy, what they meant was their goal was to help their kids reach their destiny, a destiny we did not invent or decide, but a destiny that was part of the fabric of who we are. There is something we are made for, there is something that will bring us the fullness of life and joy, that will satisfy us, that will fulfill us. There is something that will not leave us asking, “Ok, and now what?” And that’s what we call destiny.
Other parents, though, when they say that they just want their kids to be happy—when they say that, usually what they mean is, “I want my kids to have a good job, one that they like and that pays well, and be able to take care of themselves, and to not have to suffer any hardships,” and on and on. It’s this attitude of, “I want them to do whatever makes them happy.” It’s this bland, “Oh just do whatever you want, just be a good person and be kind and loving.” And that is not what my parents meant. They constantly helped us to judge what would lead us closer to our destiny, not just what would make us “happy” for a time. I distinctly remember a conversation with my dad about how I wanted to be a doctor, and to my surprise he didn’t say, “That’s great! What a great goal! Work hard and you can do it!” Nope. What my dad said was, “Why do you want to be a doctor? Do you think that’s what God wants you to do?”
My parents knew (they knew!) that there are plenty of good things to do and good goals to have in life, but that those good things and goals only matter if they are based on following the plan, following the path that God has designed for us! The freedom you seek, the fullness of life you want for yourself and your children—it comes from following the path given to us by God.
Franz Jägerstätter vs. John Philanderer
I once had a woman come into my office, and she was distraught, holding her young child, and she told me, “Father, my husband has left me.” I was like, “What? What happened? Were you fighting?” And she said, “He fell in love with this other woman. And he left. And when he told me he was leaving, he was crying and upset, he kept saying he knew he shouldn’t leave but that he couldn’t help himself because he was in love, and he kissed our daughter goodbye, and then he left.” Now, when we hear that story, we are probably like, “What a scumbag!” And yet, this is the logical consequence of saying, “Do what makes you happy!” None of us would ever say it’s ok to do what this man did! And yet we live it on smaller scales every day, we encourage our children to live it on smaller scales every day! We teach people to “do what makes them ‘happy,’” not what will lead them to their destiny. We lose sight of destiny, of our destiny, a destiny that we don’t make up but is given to us, and all of a sudden all of these smaller things become more and more important. “Yes, yes, I know this is important, but let me first go and do this other thing! Yes, I know God is important, I know I should pray and go to Mass, but first let me go to the grocery store, first let me take my kid to their sports, first let me…” And just like that, on a much smaller scale, we turn away from the one thing that is most important, we turn off the path of our destiny, and we go after something else.
There is a movie I would highly recommend called A Hidden Life which is a true story about an Austrian farmer during World War II named Franz Jägerstätter. And Franz, like many people of the time, was drafted into the German army, conscripted to serve as a Nazi soldier. And he refused—he refused to swear an oath to Hitler. He was arrested. During his imprisonment and trial he was continuously offered to simply sign an oath to Hitler, with the promise that he could then work as a medic or some other non-combatant. They said, “Sign this, and you can go free.” Even minutes before his scheduled execution! “Sign this and you’re free.” But he calmly and decisively replied, “But I am free.” When you are on the path to destiny, when you are on the path given to you by God—even in the midst of trials and suffering and hardship and persecution, you are free, you are at peace, you are not restless.
Rich Young Man vs. Peter
There is that very famous story in scripture of the Rich Young Man. And he comes to Jesus asking what he needs to do to follow the path to destiny, to find this freedom and fullness of life. And so Jesus tells him, “Well, have you tried following the commandments?” And he’s like, “Yeah! Every one! Ever since I was a child!” And Jesus tells him, “Well, there is one thing you are lacking. Go, sell what you have and give it to the poor. And then come, follow me.” And what does this man do? He walks away. He had many possessions, and he walks away. And he’s described in a very particular way: sad. He walks away sad. Just like the people in our Gospel today, Jesus makes this invitation, “Follow me,” and everyone starts giving their excuses, “Oh yeah! I would love to follow. But first, let me do this. But first, let me do that!” We have these preconceptions of all of these things in life that we think are more important, things that will make us happy, things that will finally give us happiness, “a good our heart may rest on,” some experience that is more emotionally appealing, that we think will make us free. And yet, those are the experiences that leave us restless—not feeling free, but feeling like there is so much more we need, leave us asking, “Ok, and now what?”
Once Jesus has spoken to the Rich Young Man, Peter pipes up and says, “We have left everything to follow you!” Right? On one occasion, everyone walks away from Jesus, they think he’s crazy. And he turns to the twelve and asks them if they’re going to leave too, and Peter responds, “Lord, you’re right. We don’t totally understand you. But to whom else would we go? You have the words of eternal life. You have the words which correspond to my destiny. To whom else would we go?” And so here Peter reaffirms, “Hey! We’ve left everything to follow you.” And Jesus reassures him, “Those who have left everything to follow me will receive one hundred times more now, even now, with persecutions, and in the age to come, eternal life.” Following, following the path to destiny, following Christ—this is what leads not to restlessness, but to rest; not to feeling like there is so much more we need, but to freedom; not leaving us asking, “Ok, and now what?” but leaving us saying, “You have the words of eternal life, you are the one who satisfies and fulfills me, you as my destiny. I am at rest. I am free. To whom else would I go?”
What we hear in the beginning of our Gospel is that Jesus “resolutely determined” to journey to Jerusalem. He “resolutely determined” to walk the path to His destiny. Even though that destiny involved persecutions, and betrayal, being abandoned by his friends, tortured, unjustly condemned, crucified—even though the path to destiny included all of this, he followed that path, because that path was the one given to Him by the Father, designed for Him by His Father—it was the path to our freedom, our rescue, the defeat of Sin and Death, the birth of a new life.
The reason we come to Mass each and every Sunday is not to hear a nice message, or to get some good advice. What do we usually hope on Sunday? We hope that Mass isn’t too long, that the priest is kind of funny and has a point—and that’s about it! But what we’re doing here is participating in His life. We receive Him in the Eucharist, we literally share in His life, we unite ourselves to Him, to his act of resolute determination to follow the path to destiny. We resolutely determine to follow Him. To follow the path to destiny. To be strengthened along this path.
“Our hearts are restless,” St. Augustine tells us. But the whole quote is, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord. And our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” Again, when my parents said that their goal was for us to be happy, what they meant was that we would find our happiness through following Christ, through following the path to destiny, whatever that looked like. They didn’t say, “Do whatever makes you happy in the moment,” but, “Follow the One that can lead you to happiness, that can fulfill the desire you have for happiness. Follow Him.” The Lord has made us for himself. So long as our response is, “Let me first go do this. Let me first chase this goal. Let me first…”—as long as we keep doing that, our life will be nothing but restless, frantic searching for the next experience of something…always with the question, “And now what?” We must resolutely determine to follow the path to destiny—embracing whatever lies on that path—because that is the path of freedom, that is the path to fulfillment and peace, that is the path to rest. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord. And our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”