Sunday, September 4, 2016


"There Is No Gain Without Some Pain"
Rev. Ronald Knott
September 4, 2016

This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.
Luke 14:25-33

Six years ago, I was invited to go to Ireland to lead a retreat for the archbishop and priests of the Archdiocese of Tuam in the very western part of the country. It was not a vacation in any sense of the word. They were quite demoralized and I had to deliver eight conferences, lead a Penance Service and preach at several Masses.

They did have time to drive me around a bit and show me the countryside and a few small towns. It was picturesque enough, but what shocked me time and time again was the number of big half-built houses that had been left abandoned. They were simply everywhere! For the last several years Ireland had one of the fastest growing economies in Europe until a few of years ago - and now, like here, the housing bubble has burst big time!

Obviously, Jesus has witnessed similar situations in his day - men with big building projects who ran out of resources and had to face the scorn of onlookers, "Look at him! He began to build but did not have enough to finish his project! With wars and scarcity of resources being as they were back then, the landscape might have been littered with such unfinished projects.

The gospel tells us today that "great crowds" were traveling down the road with Jesus. They were new disciples, filled with enthusiasm, brimming with new hope and the promise of a kingdom to come was right there in their mind's eye.

Passing one of those unfinished towers on the side of the road, one that some man started out so enthusiastically to build, but had to abandoned because he did not have what it took to finish, became a show-and-tell for the group. Jesus turns to the crowds and says, "I know you want to be my disciples, I know you are excited about a new way of living, but I need to tell you something. It's not just about walking down the road together and listening to wonderful stories about the kingdom to come! To go all the way with me, to complete the walk, you will have to be ready to let go - sometimes to some of the attachments you hold most dear. If you don't, you will drop by the wayside, one by one, until only the strongest will be standing - and they will be few.

My fellow Catholics, I have baptized hundreds of beautiful babies, held by adoring parents and all wrapped up in antiques baptismal gowns. Their parents looked me right in the eye and "promised to raise them in the practice of the faith," but many of them never followed through. They probably intended to do it, but in reality they didn't have the internal resources or the personal faith to carry through on that commitment.

My fellow Catholics, I have witnessed the marriages of hundreds and hundreds of wonderful young couples, surrounded by their family and their friends, who will look dreamily into the eyes of their new spouses and promise, in front of God and two witnesses, to "be true to each in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, till death do they part." They no doubt, intended to do just that, but about 50% of the time one or both of them didn't have the internal resources or personal faith to carry through on those commitments.

The subject of today's homily comes at a critical time for those who will be going off to college or leaving home for the first time. Almost 90% of Americans believe in God, but only 38% of college students attend church once they are away from home. That rate drops to only 29% by graduation, the lowest rate of church attendance for any age group in the United States.

One of the great parts of being a college student, or just moving away from home, is a new-found personal freedom. Without Mom and Dad waking them up, prodding them to get dressed and get in the car, they have a personal choice to make. They have to decide whether they want to maintain their Catholic faith so that it can be the glue that holds their future sacramental marriages together and so that they can pass the Catholic on to their own children someday. The very word "tradition" means to "hand on." Many today, after centuries of their forefathers and foremothers "passing it on" to them, drop the ball in this generation. How sad! What they died to hold onto, we so casually let slide from our grip merely because we find it "inconvenient!"

To "hand on" the faith, we must be strong enough to be counter-cultural and able to stand up to our own lazy streaks and sometimes no doubt, the judgment of others. I am proud to say that I had the privilege of accompanying many young adults over the last 17 years when I was chaplain at Bellarmine University. I tried to help them not be one of those college students, about whom it is said, "He started out well in his first semester, but he did not have the inner resources to finish at graduation!"

Being a priest these days is also counter-cultural. Sometimes my vocation is ridiculed on TV, sometimes we are lumped into cruel pedophilia jokes and sometimes it gets tiresome trying to swim against the popular current. Most of the time, however, it is more than worth it. I am always amazed at how many appreciative and loving people support me with their faith.

I remind myself all the time that at my baptism, I was adopted by the church as a "child of God" and committed myself to always "walk as a child of the light." At my ordination, I believed it when I was told, "you are a priest forever." When I die, I do not want the words "former Catholic" and "former priest" used about me. I would hate to have people walk past my grave and say, "This man used to be a "catholic" and he used to be a "priest," but he did not have what it took to finish!"

It’s almost always easy to start something, but very difficult to finish. The newspapers and news reports tell us every day, all day, about people who cannot finish their commitments: neglected children, abandoned animals, unpaid debts, adulterous marriages, school drop-outs, absentee parents, unpaid child support and on and on.

Jesus is so right today when he spoke to his would-be followers. It is easy to commit to something, but hard to carry through. In my little book for seminarians leaving the seminary and enter priesthood, I begin with these words: “It’s one thing to pledge one’s life to a high purpose, but it’s another thing to carry through on that pledge.”

Weddings are easy, marriage is hard! Ordinations are easy, but priesthood is hard! Being baptized is easy, but living like a Christian day after day is hard! It’s easy to borrow money, but it’s hard to pay it back! It’s easy to have a baby, but hard to be a parent! It’s easy to brag, but hard to deliver! This is the truth about things, but every day the world keeps selling us the lie that we can have gain without pain and that there is a quick and easy way around honest work.

Meanwhile, human disasters are stacking up all around us, chaos is overtaking us and self-inflicted suffering is swamping us! What’s missing here? In a nutshell, I believe the decline of personal discipline – the ability to make a commitment and follow through on it – is our worst enemy as a culture. This, I believe, is what Jesus was teaching his would-be followers in today’s gospel – there is no gain without some pain, no matter how you cut the cake! It’s pay now or pay later!

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