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Homily for 13th Sunday Ordinary Time, Year A, 2023

This Gospel reminds me of CS Lewis’s famous statement about Jesus’s identity. There are only three options: he is a liar, he is crazy, or he is God? Only God can say what Jesus says in today’s gospel. Only God can demand that we prefer nothing before him. So, first and foremost, our gospel is a pretty good examination of conscience in respect of our relationship to Christ. Do we prefer anything to God?


This is a question that goes deeper and deeper the more we stay with it. I actually came across a good analogy for this kind of spiritual experience the other day.


As you can probably guess, being my height I had have a few back problems. A few months ago, I was told I needed to do some rehab. The person who helps me gets me to do certain exercises, but every once in a while, has to manipulate some muscles that are causing problems.


The other day he said something that seemed very apposite to prayer. He said that I am quite good at compensating. That where there are problems, other muscles work out what to do. This gets round the immediate issue in the short term, but long-term it does not work; hence, the rehab.


What’s interesting, though, is that in order to treat certain issues, I have to relax even though the treatment is agony. In order for the specialist to get to the deep tissue, I have to resist the instinct to protect myself from the pain.


I wonder how many others know this experience, but in the spiritual life. We have made a compromise somewhere. We have not placed God at the top in some area of our lives, and overtime we have learned how to cope. Our life has twisted itself around this problem, and we have got used to a defective way of living. But now, through a moment of grace, through an ongoing problem, through a malformed relationship or a personal loss, we have seen that things are not where they should be.

More than that, we can see how much it is going to hurt to get our lives back in order. What a strain it is going to put on certain relationships. What it is going to mean for my work or my social circles. What it is going to mean for my spare time and my spending habits.


But let’s make no mistake about it: Jesus is demanding this of us. He is demanding that we place him at the top of the pyramid. But he is making this demand because he knows it is the only way we can be truly happy. Jesus is telling us that he needs to come first, because he knows that that he is alpha and omega. He is both the foundation, the life and the meaning. There can be no loving of anything else, if we do not get love itself right.


So, how might we set about this? Perhaps we can find one approach in our first reading.


In our first reading, we have a family setting aside part of their home for the prophet Elisha. You probably know of the Jewish tradition of, on certain occasions, of keeping a seat free for the prophet Elijah. There is also a Polish custom of keeping a seat free for a guest, which some say is based on the Holy Family not finding accommodation on their flight to Egypt.


One of my grandmothers used to have a special alcove in her house where she had a statue of our Lady with pictures of all the grandchildren. And there are a lot of us. Whenever one of us was travelling, she would light a candle in front of our Lady. We always knew she was praying for us.


The Church also has its own way of keeping God at the centre. The Liturgy of the Hours obliges all priests, deacons and religious to sanctify the day by praying at set times. Our bell also rings out during the day to remind people to pray the Angelus, even though the times are not quite right to keep our neighbours happy.


All these are ways of making a room for Christ. Carving out some space in the day to remind myself that God is Lord of my life. That God can speak whenever God wants, and that my life and the lives of all around me flow from this Word.


And so perhaps today at Mass and for the rest of the week, we might pray for insight in two areas. We might ask God to show us where we are not placing God first in our lives; which parts of our lives are not reaching for the Son?


We might also pray for wisdom to know how to set up some practices in our daily life, that can act as little alarms to put first things first, trusting that this not only brings us life but is the life of the world.

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