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The Cost of Discipleship

By Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds
July 1st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Discipleship means following Jesus rather than accommodating oneself to the demands and pressures of civil society.

SUGAR LAND, TX (Catholic Online) - In 1945, the Nazis executed a German Lutheran Pastor for his opposition to their regime.  His name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  In the late 1930's, Pastor Bonhoeffer published The Cost of Discipleship, a classic of Christian spirituality, which explores what it means to follow Christ even while living under corrupt and unjust governments. 

By discipleship, Bonhoeffer means following Jesus rather than accommodating oneself to the demands and pressures of civil society. Without this radical kind of discipleship, Christianity risks becoming a mere veneer; a collection of customs that have little or no power to serve as a catalyst of conversion.  In short, Bonhoeffer asserts that Christianity without discipleship is Christianity without Christ. 

The Gospel of today's Mass dwells upon the cost of discipleship.

St. Matthew recounts how two of Jesus' hearers express a desire to become disciples (see Matthew 8:18-22).  The first approaches Jesus and says, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go."  Wouldn't we like to be able to make such a generous offer!

The Lord accepts this man's sincerity at face value.  He does not question it.  But Jesus wants this scribe to know what he is getting into, and so responds, "Foxes have dens and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head." 

Jesus' response might remind us of some of the recruitment techniques of the Marines.  The few. The proud.  The Marines make no bones about the fact that their Corps attracts the elite, those who are in top-flight condition.  They want potential recruits to not only understand and accept, but to actively desire the hardship, challenge, and discipline that are a necessary part of Marine life.

Jesus seems to be doing the same.  "You want to be my disciple?" Jesus asks;  "Then get ready.  It will be tough.  There will be few material benefits.  You may even have to sacrifice what you have in order to persevere in faithfulness.  Yet it will always be worth it, because you will have me."

"Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come" (Mark 10:29-30).

The next potential disciple receives a personal invitation from Jesus, "Follow me."  But this man had asked to be excused from the Lord's company for a time, "Lord, let me go first and bury my father."  We are almost given the impression that the Lord's path has crossed a funeral procession and that he calls this man from the midst of that task.

We recognize that to bury the dead is a corporal work of mercy (see The Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2447). Why, then, does Jesus ask this disciple to set aside this holy task?  "Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead."

At first glance, Jesus' words can seem harsh, but that is because he is trying to expand our understanding.  Jesus teaches us that the best time to respond to him is when he calls us.  It is easy to put things off, especially when one has serious and important obligations, as this man had.  But the best time to answer God is now, not tomorrow.

The Gospel challenges us to say "yes" to God right away, without delay and without compromise.  We should never be afraid of the cost of discipleship, because Jesus will make it a sweet and light burden.  And the Blessed Mother will be nearby, helping us to find happiness in doing the will of God.

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Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds is the Pastor of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land, Texas. You are invited to visit them on the Web at: www.SugarLandCatholic.com.

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