Last week I was visiting my father in a town near Nashville, Tennessee. We were golfing in beastly, humid heat and we had one man join us during our round. When he found out that I lived in Utah, he shared that he was once stationed at Hill Air Force Base in Layton in the 70s. Then when my dad told him that I was a Catholic priest, he shared that he was a retired Baptist pastor.
Later on in the game, I asked him if he had been a chaplain in the military, and he replied at that time in his life, he was not a Christian and now he was. How he said this revealed that he was a different man, saw the world differently, and did not miss his former self. It reminded me of the second reading on Sunday the 19th, which is from Galatians. Paul talks about how the Christian puts on Christ and that the Christian is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, man nor woman …
Pope Francis has said frequently that Christians should not be sour faced or dour. We should be hopeful in the sense that we know that God is all powerful, all loving, and is our Father, so that we should not fear. All that we should fear would be separation from God or sin. He has also said that when we call God our Father or recite the prayer, the “Our Father,” we should imagine God looking at us with love as a father would gaze at his baby.
This same Sunday’s reading had the Gospel reading from Luke 9, where Jesus describes what it is be a disciple. One must deny him or her self, take up the cross, and follow Him. To put on Christ means continuing with the work of Jesus or his ministry. Some do this in extraordinary ways. Some give up all that they have, join a religious community, take vows of poverty, obedience, and celibacy, and do ministry full time.
I just finished a biography on St. Dominic and his idea of ministry was to get going and let God take care of what you needed along the way. To be an early Dominican, you had to beg all the way until you reached your destination on foot (only rich people had horses).
Some of the early Dominicans thought St. Dominic was out of touch, since it stated in canon law that the religious superior was required to provide funds so traveling friars didn’t starve or freeze on the way.
St. Francis and St. Dominic were contemporaries and both started their respective religious communities, not even on a shoestring, but barefoot. They were both described as mendicant, which means to beg. St. Francis required his friars to only accept food (not money) and if they had too much food for the day, they were to give it away.
For them to put on Christ meant to live their lives with complete trust in God. They did not have any reserves, and if they did, they were required to give them to someone who was more needy. St. Francis additionally did not want to establish houses for his friars. To him they should always be on the road and should not be allowed to become too cozy in one place.
One can get romantic about how beautiful this sort of life was and how it exemplified trust in God; however, it often meant going to bed hungry and being cold at night. For Francis this did not matter. In fact, when he was dying, the friars who were taking care of him had the awkward duty of finding him a new coat or a new blanket since he was always giving away what he had to whomever he felt was needier then he.
For some, to be a Christian means to be willing to give up all things to be true to the Gospel. There are many examples of holy people who have spoken out for the poor and the oppressed because it was the right thing to do regardless of how this impacted their reputation, their career, and their safety. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King had just planned to be a pastor of a Baptist church. Dorothy Day just planned to be journalist. Gandhi just planned to be a lawyer. Fr. Daniel Berrigan, who died recently, just planned to be a Jesuit priest. The list is countless for those who in great ways gave what they had to build the kingdom of God and have spoken humbly but truthfully about injustice.
To put on Christ means something different for each one of us, but it cannot be done according to Pope Francis without being in solidarity with the poor and to fight against the now all-too-common tendency to exclude those who are deemed as non-desirable from our community. To quote him again, the Christian is one who builds bridges and not walls.
I remember what Fr. Andrew, a Carmelite priest and professor, who taught at the seminary I attended, said that to be a Christian should be a step down, not a step up, in society if one is doing it correctly. The great Christians are those who suffered persecution from inside and outside of their churches. The essential difference between those who suffer from their sins and bad judgment (most of us) and those who suffer for good works is that they are following God and not because of their own weakness, sinfulness, and/ or ego. They are also motivated by love for God and their neighbor, opposed to love of self and feelings of moral, spiritual and/or intellectual superiority over others.
As any of us read over what it takes to be a saint, it is humbling when we realize how many of our lives are led by our misguided, yet powerful passions and willful desire to protect our ego. Every one of us wants to think of ourselves as righteous; however, few want to admit that we are sinners in a real way. This is why Jesus’ words are still applicable to us regarding discipleship: to deny self, pick up your cross, and follow Me.
Rev. Dinsdale is the priest at St. Marguerite Catholic Church in Tooele.