Q: Archbishop J, what has come out of our 40 days of prayer?
Our Church has prayed for 40 days. I want to thank each of you who took this seriously. I know many of you held onto your rosaries and prayed. Together we prayed for respect for life in our nation. We prayed for the sanctity of all life, from natural conception to natural death. We prayed for the wisdom to be Church in this time in Trinidad and Tobago.
First principle of discipleship
At the end of the 40 days, what has God said? Well, on the last day of the 40 days, Sunday, September 8, the readings of the Church, I believe, gave us our answer. The gospel, Luke 14:25–33, gets to the core and centre of discipleship.
Jesus said to the crowds: “If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple. Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
This is one of the more difficult sayings of Jesus. It uses Jewish hyperbole, an exaggerated statement, to make a point of critical importance.
Earlier, in Luke 6:27–36 Jesus taught His disciples to love their enemies: six chapters later, He could not be teaching them to hate their families. This Lucan passage emphasises a first principle: Discipleship demands putting Jesus first; not first among equal demands, but FIRST!
There is no competition that comes even close to the place Jesus should occupy in our lives. This first is by a long shot. Jesus occupies a place that is superior, of highest priority, more important and far more demanding, requiring our all—in time, talent and treasure. Everything else that we do flows from putting Jesus first. Jesus is first, before everything and everyone!
The First Commandments
While still on earth, Jesus makes a claim—an audacious one—about the supreme priority He must have in our lives. Who could make such a claim but God alone? Who could make the demand of being first before everyone and everything? Only God!
The Ten Commandments were written on two tablets. The first was inscribed with the four commandments that define our relationship with God: (1) You should have no other God before me (2) No graven image (3) Do not take God’s name in vain (4) Keep the sabbath holy.
In these four commandments the priority of God is established. God is first, there is no other. Jesus puts Himself in the place which God occupies. Jesus is making a bold claim about His divinity. Jesus is God: He is first. Our discipleship rests on this principle.
No soft option
Our text leaves no wiggle room. If our intention is to be disciples then we need to reckon with this first principle. Can you say that you are living it? Is God first before everyone and everything in your life?
In our age, we have sought to dumb God down to suit our priorities and lifestyle. This is a serious challenge.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed because of his resistance to Hitler and his madness, coined the phrase “cheap grace” to indicate our easy accommodation to things that suit our wishes and desires. We want “cheap grace”!
This is not an option for a disciple of Jesus Christ. We need to beg for the grace that moves our hearts to where He calls us. We need the grace to bend our hearts to His will, not the other way around.
Congress is an opportunity
If God is calling us back to first principles, we have a great opportunity in the AEC Mission Congress. A missionary disciple is first a disciple—one who puts God first; then missionary—one who goes out to bring the Good News to others.
The Congress which takes place here in Trinidad & Tobago during the next week, September 17 – 22, flows directly out of our 40 days of prayer. It is the answer to the question God is asking us: Are you willing to put Me first?
Pope Francis has called the whole Church to dedicate October 2019 as Extraordinary Missionary Month. He wants the whole Church to focus on mission. The AEC Bishops, therefore, have called for a missionary congress here.
If we are to take seriously the Word we have heard from God after our 40 days of prayer, then we need to see the Congress as a golden opportunity for the Church in the Caribbean. We need to see this gathering as an incredible opportunity for us in Trinidad and Tobago.
On Tuesday 17, hundreds of youth will come together at St Joseph’s RC Church, Scarborough, Tobago and, on Thursday 19, over 5,000 young people will gather at the Centre of Excellence in Tunapuna for a rally. They will be offered a rich exposition of the gospel and its demands for discipleship.
On Friday 20 and Saturday 21, we will gather from every parish, religious and ecclesial community to explore and reflect on the demands of missionary discipleship.
On Sunday 22, I ask every Catholic to come to the Grand Stand, Queen’s Park Savannah, for the day. It will be a rich formation in missionary discipleship. With your bishops and brothers and sisters from the Caribbean, we will explore necessary steps and the demands for us and our Caribbean Church, to make the shift to missionary discipleship.
“If today you hear God’s call harden not your heart”. God is calling us to discipleship in a most unique and radical way. This is the fruit of our 40 days of prayer. Now, God gives us an opportunity to live discipleship and to learn its demands.
Let us all pray for the Congress. Let us all participate in it. Mark off next Sunday on your calendars and come with your families, friends and fellow parishioners. This is an extraordinary moment of grace.
Key Message: God has called us to missionary discipleship. This means living the first principle and putting God first above everyone and everything.
Action Step: Consider the cost of discipleship and consider whether you are willing to use your time, talent and treasure in accordance with the demands of God and God’s Kingdom.
Scripture Reading: Luke 14: 25–33