This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 14:25–33:
Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, ‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’ Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
Today we get a chance to remember two saints of the church, separated by centuries but similar in their dedication. Earlier today in Rome, Pope Francis canonized Saint Teresa of Calcutta, a modern saint known for her service to the poor. It is also the feast day of St. Rose of Viterbo, at the time a small village within the Papal Stares, who preached penance and served the poor in her community, as well as working the conversion of many before dying at 28.
Not long ago, I went to Viterbo while traveling through Italy. The town dates back five centuries before St. Rose, and at times had been a favorite refuge for popes. In fact, the term conclave for the election of popes, a derivative of cum clave (“with a key”) comes from a 1269 election that took place in Viterbo. The residents of the town got so frustrated over a 32-month delay in electing a new pope that they besieged the building in which the cardinals were staying, even removing the roof to force their hand. After that experience, the newly elected Pope Gregory X imposed strict rules on papal elections, restricting the number of attendants and eventually the food, ordering that cardinal electors were to be locked away in seclusion until an election concluded. Viterbo gave us the modern conclave.
Here is the hall in which that took place. Note, of course, that the roof has long since been replaced:
The story of the Viterbo conclave, and the stories of both St. Rose and Mother Teresa, give us a practical application of today’s Gospel reading. The problem in Viterbo (and similar if less dramatic previous papal elections in Rome and Perugia in the 13th century) was that the cardinals were not committed to the process as much as they were to their own needs and desires. That is the same issue that faces all of us when we try to form ourselves to Christ’s will, and why we fall back into sin despite our aspirations of discipleship.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus makes it clear that following the Word of God is not a pastime, or a part-time pursuit. It takes preparation, calculation, but most of all it takes commitment. One has to put all of their heart into it, and cannot split his affections between the Lord and earthly pursuits. In order to prepare for this commitment, Christ tells the crowds that they have to abandon their attachment to material pursuits: “anyone of who who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”
But note the connections Jesus makes in His instructions. Renouncing possessions is not the end-all, be-all of faith; it is preparation for it. What are the parallels Jesus draws to this statement in today’s readings? Calculating the costs of a tower before it is built, and calculating the differences in strength before launching a battle. Getting rid of our attachments to material pursuits allows us to prepare for discipleship — it is not discipleship itself.
The lives of St. Rose and St. Teresa demonstrate discipleship beyond preparation. They actively proclaimed the Gospel to their communities, but more importantly, put the Gospel into practice. Rose of Viterbo served the poor, the community into which she was born, but also traveled in the area preaching penance and conversion. Teresa of Calcutta traveled from Albania to serve the destitute of Calcutta, those whom no one else would assist, and challenged the world to see their suffering. Both of them had to dispense with their own material desires to prepare themselves for their missions and callings.
As for myself, I wish I could say I was in the same league as Rose and Teresa. Unfortunately, I find myself more in the conclave hall at Viterbo in 1269. Too often, I find that the food and comfort of this life distracts me from the mission, even while the world beats down the door and even tears off the roof demanding attention. This world and its pleasures seduce and anesthetize us to pain and suffering of others until it’s too late — for them, and for us.
This is what Christ warned the crowds to recognize. It takes preparation to come to discipleship, and discipleship to come to discernment. We must prepare for our discipleship by eliminating the distractions, or at least the seductions, of material comfort and wealth in order to form ourselves to the Lord.
Addendum: This is the outside of the conclave hall in Viterbo.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.