In 1521 when Cortez landed on the Gulf Coast and set out with 500 men to conquer Mexico, he ordered his soldiers to burn all their boats so they'd know there was no going back. Either they'd defeat Montezuma and his pagan gods, or they'd die in the attempt. It was all or nothing: retreat was not an option.
In today's Gospel Jesus says the same is true also for all who follow him: we have to burn our boats. Since his is the path of sacrificial love, any response other than love is not an option — even in the face of hostility. It might have felt good to destroy those hateful Samaritans as James and John suggested in the verses that immediately precede the passage you just heard, but Jesus reminded them that they've already burned that boat. And not only is love the only acceptable response, following Jesus is an all or nothing proposition, as you Brothers and Sisters of Charity know all too well. One guy in our Gospel wants to postpone responding to God's call, once his father is dead and gone but Jesus says it's now or never: Let the dead bury their dead — you go proclaim the kingdom of God.
Another wants to take time to say all his farewells first, but Jesus says burn your boats and don't look back: No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.
These words are meant for us too. Once I said yes to God's call to the priesthood, I burned my boats and did not look back: no what ifs about girls I once dated or kids I will never have.
Once a couple gets married, there can be no looking back for them either, no daydreaming about others they might have married instead — they have to burn their boats if they want their marriage to succeed.
And the same thing is even more true for all who follow Jesus as Brothers and Sisters of Charity. You have had to burn your boats, which includes the ongoing effort to eliminate any behaviors or attitudes that are compatible with Jesus' invitation to a life of sacrificial love.
Today I look around this room and see a whole community of people who are committed to following Jesus with all your heart and soul — some in the monastic expression of this spirituality and some in the domestic expression out in the world, and for this I commend you.
Our little contingent is just about the same size as the tiny army with which Cortez conquered what was then the most powerful empire of the western hemisphere, so don't underestimate how much good we can do with God's help, especially since our weapon is love, not swords, and we are at the service of God, not some puny little king of Spain.
If you've burned your boats, your good attitude and inspiring behavior will touch the hearts of all those you meet. God calls you to serve him and you proclaim your charism of charity in the very name of your community, Brothers and Sisters of Charity, which commits you to following Jesus down his path of sacrificial love. In today’s Gospel Jesus says it's all or nothing and now or never. Do you still have any inappropriate emotional baggage you need to get rid of? Any boats you still need to burn?
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Oct. 4 for the 45th anniversary of Little Portion Monastery.
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