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June 30, 2013

A Catholic doctor, Francis, spent a lot of time tending the sick and dying inmates in a concentration camp. It’d been five years now and he missed his wife and children so much. He just wanted to have some freedom and join his family members who were in Canada at that time. He and a companion devised a way of escaping. He began to collect his few possessions: a food bowl, a pair of torn mittens, notes for a book he hoped to write. Then he took a last visit to his poor patients who lay on rotten planks of wood on either side of a hut. He walked to a man who came from his own village. The man was very near to death. Francis did his best to hide from him the fact that he was escaping. But his friend somehow guessed it and in a tired sad voice said, “So you too are getting out.”

Francis quickly denied with a lie but the words cut him and accused him, “So you too are getting out.” After finishing his rounds he came back to the man. Again he was greeted with a look of despair that went right through him. He felt he was betraying this man. Suddenly he decided to take his fate into his own hands with some trust in the providence of the Lord. He ran out of the hut and told his friend to leave without him. He decided to stay with his patients. At once the unhappy feeling of betrayal left him. Even though he had no idea what the days ahead would bring him, he gained an inner peace that he had never before experienced and hoped for the best. Somehow he survived the camp and re-joined his family in Calgary ten years later.

Today’s Gospel begins with the announcement that Jesus turned his face resolutely towards Jerusalem. He knew well what awaited him there: rejection, betrayal and death. But for him there was no turning back. His Father gave him a task to bring salvation to humankind. He would carry that task and his Father would help him to be faithful. He was convinced that there was light at the end of the tunnel. What would have happened if Jesus had turned back, if he opted out when he saw where the path was leading? What would have happened if Jesus died, not on the cross, but on a beautiful beach with a heart attack?

We carry our own and each other’s hopes and dreams in our hands. If I quit perhaps I shatter the hope of someone, maybe even many who are depending on me or who just have hope in me. But if I persevere, their hopes will be realized and their dreams will come true. Life’s most painful choices are not always between good and evil. If that were so there would be a lot fewer quitters. No, the most painful choices are between the good and the best. In other words, the things that tempt us to abandon our goal are not always bad. More often they are good and that is what makes it so hard to resist them.

One day I talked about the former priests who ministered in different parishes around the diocese before and now have moved on to another vocation. A lady told me, “I’d like to call you “Father Le.” It sounds right to me; but calling you “Mister Le,” it doesn’t sound right at all.”

I didn’t say a word because I’m still on my journey of the priesthood. I observe that some parishioners quit their church because of their priest. Come on… You are smarter than that. You practice your faith because you love God, not because of some good looking man like me! Then I observed how many teens have quit their church and even their God; how many adults have abandoned their faith; how many husbands and wives have quit their spouse, children and family?

We should think about our decisions or choices. Few really important decisions are made without some regrets or hankerings after the alternatives which had to be foregone, particularly if the choice made leads to difficulties or hardship. Some decisions are made once for all (e.g. to eat this cake); others have to be reaffirmed constantly (e.g. to love one's spouse). Our decision to follow Jesus is never without such hankerings after the alternatives, and it must be constantly reaffirmed. Seldom do we really slaughter our oxen like Elisha in the first reading did to follow a call; seldom do we co-operate fully with the Holy Spirit so as to be free from slavery to our weak humanity.

The response to the invitation 'Follow me' has to be total and irrevocable. There can be no 'buts'. The dialogue of invitation and response is not a static 'once upon a time' event. Day in and day out, in many different ways, the invitation is renewed. On each occasion Christ invites us to respond more generously. Our initial commitment needs daily refinement and renewal. As the implications become clearer we may begin to waver.

Some young men and women from our parish graduate this year. We congratulate you for the past twelve years you have worked hard on your studies. Some other religions have a custom to introduce their young members to a new faith community. If you would like us to do it, don’t be shy, come and talk with us. We have Catholic communities everywhere in the world. Everything has its own time. It is a time for you to go out into the world. Some of you will go to a new school, some will choose a career, some will be the leaders in this society or in this Church; you will make new friends. Wherever you go, whatever you do, keep your ears attentive to the call of Christ, “Follow me.” Be proud of yourself because you bear the name of Christ in your life. I wish that, with the blessings of God, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, with the help of your parents, your friends, your teachers and your Church, on your journey, you may reach the goal your Creator has planned for you: “To be his faithful children.”