A reflection on the readings for Sunday, June 26, 2022 — The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
About 40 miles from Rome on the Tyrrhenian coast is the little resort town of Nettuno. Nettuno is home to the shrine of St. Maria Goretti and is unique among Italian cities in that you’re more likely to see kids walking to the park with a baseball glove than a soccer ball. Nettuno has scenic beaches and a beautiful medieval town square. It is also home to a small plot of sovereign US soil, the final resting place of 7,800 Americans. In Nettuno, you will find a military cemetery home to the men and women who died during the Allied liberation of Italy during the Second World War. Like all US military cemeteries, it is meticulously landscaped and lined with tombstones of white crosses and Stars of David.
Foreign US military cemeteries like Nettuno serve as memorials for those who have died, of course, but they also do something unique—they represent something left behind; they represent the home that these men and women would never see again. While standing on a small patch of foreign soil, one can’t help but think of the last time these men and women stood on US soil, likely in tearful goodbyes to mothers, fathers, spouses, and friends as they set off to fight fascism in Europe. I often reflect on Nettuno when confronted with one of the most perplexing and challenging of Jesus’ interventions—his instruction that his would-be disciple must not return home to bury his father but set his hand to the plow and not look back. At first glance, it seems callous and uncaring–how can the God of love instruct his followers to abandon the people and places they care about to follow him?
The sacrifice Christ calls us to is not in competition with the love we hold for our families and our homes; it is instead the supreme manifestation of that love. The men and women buried in Nettuno did not leave their families because they didn’t love them, but because they loved them enough to offer everything they had to fight against Naziism and fascist world domination. They left their families to save their families. Likewise, the prophet Elisha did not slaughter his oxen and follow Elijah in our first reading because he hated his home and family, but because of his deep love for God and the people of Israel. He left them to save them.
It is easy to fall into the trap of seeing love as something comfortable and safe, that love somehow manifests itself in maintaining the status quo. The reality Jesus points to in the gospel today is something very different. Christian love looks different depending on one’s vocation, of course. The Christian call to love is a call to sacrifice. Priests and religious are called to offer their plans and needs in service to the People of God. A single person may be called to lay down their time and energy to service a particular mission. A married couple is called to offer everything they are and everything they have in love for another. Parents likewise sacrifice the fulfillment of their own needs for their children. No matter your vocation, though, the Christian vocation is a call to be willing to lay down everything, give up everything, and leave behind everything in our devotion to God and the people we care about. This is the love that will fulfill us. This is the love that will save.
Image: Pope Francis walks through the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial grounds during the Italian holiday Tutti Morti, Nov. 2, 2017. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams/Released). Public Domain.
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Fr. Alex Roche is the pastor of St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Laflin, Pennsylvania and serves as the director of vocations for the Diocese of Scranton. Ordained in 2012, he has a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Lateran University. He went to college with a girl who went to high school with the niece of the guy who played Al in Quantum Leap.
You can listen to his podcast at www.wadicherith.com.