Hi everyone, thanks for checking in and reading my homily for SEPTEMBER 5, 2010, the 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME given at the NEWMAN CATHOLIC CENTER @ MONTCLAIR STATE UNIVERSITY. The readings for today can be found at: . As always, thanks for reading and you’re feedback. God Bless Father Jim

A few weeks ago, a polling firm reported a finding of theirs from a survey they had conducted which made headlines and sparked extensive discussions all across the country. The survey asked a sampling of the American people “what religion is President Barack Obama?”

Whatever the political leanings each of us has, its curious that a company would ask the question in the first place, because it appears to be provocative. It’s one thing to ask whether you approve of the job the president is doing… or even to ask “do you believe the President shares the same values as you do?” One might suspect that asking this question was designed to stir up a controversy, in effect creating a news story or event, especially since this happened in August which is one of the slowest months for news. If that’s the case, then the polling firm succeeded. The President has said that he became a Christian over 25 years ago. Yet the survey reported that a decreasing number of people identified him as such and an increasing number of people identified him as belonging to another faith or that they were simply unsure.

So many debates have gotten spun out of this issue and there’s been so much ugliness and extremeness in these discussions. Some seem to be using this topic to make political points, personal attacks. In some ways, this has created more division among the American People who are already seem very polarized. It’s hard for people to talk about issues without getting into arguments (which maybe that’s the reason so many chose to zone out on the news altogether and tune into the antics of“Jersey Shore”)

But there’s a teachable moment here. Putting all of that polarizing stuff aside, an interesting and difficult question that emerged from this debate and discussion on the President’s religion. What makes a Christian a Christian? What makes a follower of Jesus Christ a disciple? That’s the core of this entire issue. Does my simply saying “I’m a Christian” make me one? Is it when I fill out a registration form to a particular parish or Church? As Catholics, we know that being Baptized, Confirmed and receiving the Eucharist are essential, but is that enough? There’s a lot of people who went through those sacraments that don’t seem to be very interested in Jesus Christ…

What makes a Christian a Christian? In today’s Gospel, Jesus seems to be hitting that issue pretty directly. At the start of the passage, we hear that there’s “great crowds” of people who’ve been traveling with him. If we were to be able to time travel and come upon the scene there and see these groups of people all walking behind Jesus, more than likely we’d assume they must be followers of his. Yet, with a closer look, in that crowd are people who would betray him, plot against him, deny even knowing him, even shouting for his death.

Jesus knowing their hearts (as well as ours) realizes this, and makes it clear that simply being in his presence or in proximity to him does not make them (or us) a follower. Nor does being able to identify Him or recognize Him for who He is, the Son of God, the Savior, the one sent to redeem us make us a disciple.

“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.”

Oh, that’s all that’s required, phew, I thought it was difficult!

That’s pretty demanding stuff. It’s hard to even consider that Jesus is asking us to “hate” anything as a way of showing our love. It’s hard to consider that Jesus is asking us to suffer the weight of a Cross to demonstrate our following Him. Especially since I do love my family, I do love my life. And I try to avoid suffering at any costs (first sign of a headache I’m popping Advil)

Jesus isn’t telling his followers to go and break all of our family relationships saying “Yeah I hate all of you”, nor run out of here saying “OK How Can I suffer today” (“YIPEE!”) He’s basically saying, to truly come to Him, we need to recognize who he truly is. And if we really believe that He is who He says He is – then there’s no way that He can come second to anyone or anything.

If Jesus is the Son of God; If Jesus is our Savior, our Redeemer; If Jesus is our Hope for eternal life; then logically, we have to love Him even more than even those we love the most on this earth. We have to be willing to endure being mocked at by those who don’t believe. We have to suffer with the crosses that come when we decide to live the life He’s calling us too when many in the world around us seem to be going in a very different direction.

Because to be selfless as Jesus is. To care about the poor, the lost, the sick and the dying when people are stepping over those individuals to make sure they don’t end up in the same spots (which, inevitably, as people of this world – we all will eventually) threatens the “balances of power” in the world. When Jesus did these things, they killed Him. And those of the world continue to be threatened by the name of Jesus and his radical Gospel.

That’s some stark realities to be faced with. The thing is, the crowd initially start following him because they were fired up. They saw some pretty awesome miracles. They heard some tremendous preachings and teachings. Something drew them to Him. Something still does. But fear entered in. Maybe they went home to their Mothers and Fathers; their husbands and wives; their brothers and sisters and when they told them what they saw, what they experienced, what there hearts felt when they were in Jesus presence they were laughed at. Maybe when they went to work or school and people asked them “where were you today” and they told him they spent time with Jesus they got suspicious looks, passed over for jobs or positions of honor. And they couldn’t handle that. They were upset with those reactions. So they ended up being part of the crowd that had travelled with Jesus, but didn’t become a disciple.

Something continues to draw people, draw us to Jesus. Something within us knows that He’s different. Knows that he heals the worst fears the turmoils that we experience in those dark nights of our souls. Knows that He touches our hearts and minds and taps into the deepest longings (promising us eternal life can do that to people who’ve seen and experienced death). And He continues to call out to us, inviting us to go deeper, drawing closer, trusting Him more. Calling this community to gather, to come and hear His words, experiencing the miracle of His presence in the Bread and the Wine becoming His Body and Blood – so selfless is He that He’s not demanding us to be obedient to his demands or else, but nourishes us with Himself when we chose to.

What makes a Christian a Christian? It’s somewhat easy to speculate, and debate that question as we’re holding the President or any public person up for scrutiny whether they truly are a Christian or not. Yet, Jesus’ answer to that question – as he looks at you and I leaves us with a different one – are we ready to claim that we are?