Luke 14:25-33, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
A few years ago, my younger brother and his family flew over for a visit. They came to San Jose Seminary where I live. So I gave them a tour, which culminated in showing them my room. They entered, and looked up, down, and around in unusual silence. It was my sister-in-law who fumbled and found the words. “Ang liit ng kwarto mo, Kuyz. Lahat ba kayong pari ganito kaliit ang kwarto o ikaw lang (Your room is so small. Are all the priests’ rooms this small)?” I told her that priests’ rooms are equally as big…or well, in her eyes, equally small. “In fact”, I added, “the rooms of the seminarians are the same size”. Then my brother said, “It’s not much larger than your room in Loyola House years ago, is it?” Nope, I said; same size, I think even smaller. And my nephew said, “And your bed, Tito, is so tiny. Was this custom-made for you!?” I said, “No. All the beds are singles.” Then he tried my bed for size and he actually fit. He just couldn’t luxuriate in it.
It didn’t take very long when my sister-in-law finally said, “Ang hirap talaga ng buhay nyo, Kuyz. Kaya ang lapit-lapit talaga ninyo sa Diyos (You really lead a hard life, brother. That’s probably why you’re so close to God).” She wasn’t the first one to make that connection between difficulty of life and proximity to God. To many of our friends who get to see how we live, religious life is holy because it is difficult. Many people see us as faithfully living out today’s Gospel : that we’ve left father and mother and family and even ourselves to follow Jesus. They imagine how we are constantly carrying crosses of loneliness, of the vows, of tiny rooms and tiny beds, to the Lord’s disciples. Ang hirap talaga ng buhay nyo, Kuyz. Kaya ang lapit-lapit talaga ninyo sa Diyos – you really lead a hard life, brother. That’s probably why you’re so close to God
In view of my sister-in law’s comment and also of today’s Gospel, it’s not religious life that pops into my head when I read of Jesus challenging the crowd to follow him. When he says “Let go, let go of your family, let go of yourselves, pick up the cross and follow me,”, I think about the lay. I think about dad and mom who are lay like you, and my brothers and their wives who are lay. And can say as much as much of you : Ang hirap talaga ng buhay nyo, Kuyz. Kaya ang lapit-lapit po ninyo sa Diyos. Faithfulness to the Lord must often be quite a challenge, given that you’re out in the world. I’m not saying that we religious have no struggles in being holy, we do. But I realize we are furnished with all the opportunity, the environment, the time – to precisely devote ourselves to a close following of the Lord: we have prayer time, days of apostolate, we study theology, we counsel and give retreats, etc. In that sense, the choice to follow the Lord is virtually made far easier because of the environment and the tasks we’re expected to do, yes, despite a tiny room and a tiny bed, as my sister-in-law noticed.
So as for mahirap ang buhay (a hard life) and being malapit sa Diyos (close to God), I am convinced that in many ways, you are much holier than we in religious life in that case, more than you care to admit. You’re out in the world! You’re quote-unquote “exposed”. Unlike many of the places and company we move around in that’s pretty much sanitized, you are constantly surrounded by forces that pull you hither and thither. I remember my dad and mom, and I think about you: how many times have you found yourselves caught between a rock and a hard place, where you need to decide not just between the good and the better, but between the holy that’s so difficult, and the unholy that’s so easy. Like the crosses that Jesus tells us to bear, I have seen it with my own eyes that the cross that the lay bear can often be much heavier than those we bear in religious life. For you need to make ends meet, you have debts to pay, your children wait to be fed and schooled, many of you need to deal with your teenager’s overall apathy on one side and on the other, your mom or dad’s worsening dementia. I think of my own brothers and sisters-in-law, and I think about you, too: how you must forgo your own need for care so that your children may have the lion’s share of the comfort. And just as my friends have protected me, I am overwhelmed at how many of you easily offer to shield your loved ones from harm, and come out with backs bleeding and broken hearts. Yet you are still so patient and kind and loving and prayerful in spite of all this. You must be so very close to God. You might not even know it, you might not even feel it.
For here you are every Sunday, filling up this church. Whether your hearts are heavy or light, here you are every Sunday, still singing Alleluia and giving thanks, still listening and hoping and believing. And like my family and my friends, some of you here are still waiting for God to answer your prayers. Still, you come and lay your crosses at the Lord’s feet even when your heart says, “Lord, I am tired of my crosses. It would help if sometimes, you could give me a break. But Your will be done.” And so you keep walking after the Lord’s footsteps. Kaya ang lapit-lapit ninyo sa puso ng Diyos (That’s why you are so close to God’s heart), or better yet and truer maybe, ang lapi-lapit ng Diyos sa inyo (That’s why God is so close to you).