30 September 2009

One goal, one direction, no distractions

26th Week OT (W): Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Holy Rosary Priory, Houston

Those who study leadership will tell you that a great leader is made great by a combination of charisma and political skill marshaled to meet to the challenges of a crisis. Pope Pius V was made great by Luther's rebellion and the reforms of the Council of Trent. Churchill was made great by the Nazi bombs that dropped on London. Great leaders remind us of who we are. What we are about. And how the naked truth of each united for a single purpose gives us hope for surviving impending disaster. The cultural and economic hangover bequeathed to us after this nation's twenty-year flower-power binge set the stage for Reagan's greatness. John Paul the Great stood against the revolutionaries celled within the Church after Vatican Two and pushed Lenin's legacy in eastern Europe into a much-deserved grave. All of these men gathered talented followers and powerful enemies. And despite their world-class leadership, each had his deeply seeded flaws—some tragic and some comical. What drove them forward? What got them up every morning and put them to bed at night? What was it that concentrated their gifted hearts and minds and saved them from distraction? They put their hands to the plow and never looked back.

It's rare that we hear Jesus described as a great leader. He was charismatic and gifted. He drew crowds and inspired devotion. He was called a prophet and a teacher. He drew followers from among the elite and the poor. Like most great leaders, he was welcomed with cheering fans as often as he was confronted by jeering critics. He found it nearly impossible to escape those who adored him and those who loathed him. He was feared for he said and might say; loved for what he did and promised to do. But his enduring legacy as an earthly leader is found in his unfailing drive toward fulfilling one goal: announcing the arrival of the Kingdom of God. He put his hand to the plow of preaching and teaching and laboriously tilled the ground where he found it so that the Word might be fruitfully planted. One goal, one direction, no distractions.

Jesus says to one man along the way, “Follow me.” Excited but probably a bit flustered, the man replies, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” Another man along the way says, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” But first. But first. How often along the way of today and tomorrow will we say to Christ, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you. . .but first. . .”? What is it that comes before Christ that keeps you from following him first and then doing what needs to be done in his name? Is he asking us to abandon our families, our jobs, our moral obligations? Yes and no. No, not literally; but yes, if they come first—if they come before him. Meaning what exactly? Love your family in his name. Do your job in his name. Meet your moral obligations in his name. Set your heart and mind on one goal, one direction and entertain no distractions. Put your hand to the plow and do not look at what is left behind.

For most, this is a spiritual admonition, a exhortation to seat Christ in the center of your being and make him King of your life. For some, this needs to be a literal command, an order to actually set oneself aside away from the world while remaining in the world. If circumstance makes great leaders, it also makes great followers. If the challenges of a crisis bring great men and women to their fullness of their gifts in the service of others, then the daily work of living in the name of Christ can bring the rest of us to humility and thanksgiving. Do you need an exhortation or an order? Jesus says, “Let the dead bury the dead.” Set your face like flint—one goal, one direction—and plow toward the Kingdom. Follow Christ. Everything else is a distraction unworthy of his sacrifice.


  1. powerful......nice way to step on toes too.

  2. Father,

    I really liked this homily. Very clear and to the point. This verse was rather tugging at me recently and you gave me some things to think upon. Thanks.

  3. Flambeaux12:20 PM

    While I don't disagree, I do object that one can't set one's hand to the plow when one doesn't know where the plow is or what direction to plow.

  4. "Let the dead bury the dead?" What's that suppose to mean? Don't do what's important in life? Let the government do it?