THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP
Cost of Discipleship
War in Syria
23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C
I would like to give tribute to a friend of mine as I share my reflection on this Sunday's Gospel reading. I would like to share with you his life through the letter that he sent to me years back. Here goes,
Dear Bro. Giopre,
When I was first diagnosed with brain cancer in February 1992, it was not the shock of discovering I had cancer that knocked me to my knees, it was the 5 doctors I had telling me that I probably had 8 to 12 weeks survival time, I could not make my self believe this. I needed to find something positive, some bit of hope I could believe in and hang on to. I knew my diagnosis was bad, 2 tumors in my brain is like giving me 50/50 chances of survival. Bad, bad news, but I needed to find a way to believe in a positive outcome. The surgeries and the chemo could take care of the cancer, but I had to start feeling I could survive long term.
As a seminarian aspiring for the priesthood, I cannot but help but lose faith in my vocation sometimes. The thought of an impending death overwhelms me more than the thought of getting ordained after my senior year and eventually become a priest. There are times when at the middle of the class I would feel tremendous pain in my head and would then have seizures. The class would be disrupted and all attention would be directed to me. The symptoms would cause tremendous pain not only to myself physically but to my classmates whose learning is also disrupted because of that. I feel like I am a cause for “hate” when right from the very beginning all I wanted was to become a channel of peace and unity in the priesthood.
When I read this part of the letter, I realized the truthfulness of Christ’s very words in today’s Gospel: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). These are words, which could run contradictory to another demand of discipleship which is to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Noel realized at this point in his life that to be a follower of Christ and to be more than that in the priesthood – a leader of the community, he has to learn what it takes to be one even to the point of being “hated” and being abhorred not only by his classmates but even by those closest to him.
And so he continues …
The fight for cancer was the greatest challenge I ever had and I believe the greatest until I die. I was almost tempted to leave the seminary at some point because of this illness, but the very sufferings of Christ on the Cross move me in some sort of way to understand its mystery. By laying at the feet of the Cross the burdens that had lain heavily upon me, I discovered that I was loved by God. I found the strength that could change my life forever as I await my ordination and yes death which could be sooner than I thought.
The mystery of the cross as Noel mentioned in his letter is indeed part and parcel of true discipleship. Two weeks ago, I mentioned three characteristics of a true disciple of Christ among which are faithfulness and availability. Faithfulness is to stand by Christ whom we follow no matter what while availability calls us to prioritize Christ over anything else. For Noel, it is even more complex since coupled with these characteristics is to bear the burden of his physical condition. But then again, we find the answer highlighted in today’s Gospel as Christ added another important element of discipleship, the element of the CROSS! He clearly said in the Gospel: “Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” The cost of discipleship is pretty much great. But we can only find meaning to it through the mystery of the cross. At times, people wanted to be Christians only because of the name attached to it. But when troubling moments come, they shy away and leave Christianity as if Christianity is totally independent from its founder. The beauty of today’s Gospel is to challenge us of troubling and painful moments in discipleship but at the same time invites us to have recourse on God for without God, we can do nothing.
Brother Giopre, if I give up now, how will I become a good servant of God? Giving up now would mean allowing my physical weakness overpower God’s tremendous gift of grace. I may be weak physically but I am strong spiritually. I will move on as much as I could and persevere just like Christ’s apostles and disciples. If priesthood is so far fetched, I will give my all in order to achieve it with or without cancer. My yearning for the priesthood is great but my love for God is even greater.
Please continue praying for me as I fight for cancer and at the same time persevere in my vocation to the priesthood.
Noel indeed persevered and was ordained a deacon after his senior year not in the Church but in the hospital where he was undergoing his chemotherapy. The first sacrament he ministered was the very baptism of his niece, who was also born in the same hospital where he was. It was a simple but very moving celebration. The Bishop who ordained him with special dispensation was present together with the entire family. Despite the anxiety of his impending death, Rev. Noel managed to smile and to celebrate with his loved ones as they welcome a new family member in baptism. He died two months later in the presence of all his classmates, seminary formators, almost all priests of the diocese which only happens whenever big events occur in the diocese. He battled with cancer with all his strength and has never shown any signs of defeat. He believed that in his weakness, there is strength to carry on. A divine power that enables us to overcome any obstacles as we follow Christ.
As I give tribute to a friend, who persevered in his vocation even until death, I urge each and every member of this community to pray for those in power that they too, would work out ways for peace without violence and call to arms. If Noel was able to do something in spite of his illness, I firmly believe that we too, who are strong enough to make our voice heard could make a change. Let us be one in prayer with our Holy Father Francis in his call for peace.
God bless us all!