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Jesus tells us today that when it comes down to it, we need to follow Him and Him alone. Our loyalty cannot be with political parties before Jesus, nor can we say "blood is thicker than water" if it means losing Jesus. We cannot have other things share the throne of our heart. We can only have one altar in our souls, reserved only for Christ. This is the cost of discipleship: everything is His because He is sharing His everything with us. The cost is real, and the cost is worth it.
A common phrase we hear in conversations: "I really appreciate it." We have heard and said this a lot when thanking someone. The word appreciate means to know the price of something, to be aware of the cost. So when we are thanking someone, we are saying, "I know what it cost you to do what you have done." It means we are aware of the sacrifices someone made for us.
Sometimes we say we appreciate things without truly noting the cost of something, without registering the price another person paid. Instead, I think we often use it in a different way, simply to say something like "it means a lot to me" instead of the original meaning, "it meant a lot to you."
We can only truly appreciate something when we realize that we needed something, that we couldn't do it on our own, and that it was done by another at great cost to them. We got something we didn't deserve but needed, and it was a sacrifice for someone to make that happen. And when we really appreciate something, we don't just say it - we show it by living differently.
Ultimately, the greatest act of appreciation should be in our spiritual life: we should appreciate what God has done for us. We should register in our minds what it costs God to make it possible that we, slaves of sin, can be welcomed into God's family and attain heaven. We need to look at that cross and let it sink in. We need to think about the story of God's faithfulness in the Bible to a people that are so stubborn in their old ways that it must break God's heart. Then we need to think about how we so often spurn God's love again and again, about how we reject His invitations to come deeper, and how easy it would be for us to give up on someone if they rejected us that many times. Yet God doesn't give up on us. If we think of these things, then we will begin to appreciate the gift of His Love, the miracle of His Mercy, the blessing of prayer.
Saint Paul asks Philemon for forgiveness to Onesimus. Brother needs to forgive brother, Paul encourages, because he should appreciate the great forgiveness we have all received in Christ Jesus. If we think of what we have been forgiven, and we sincerely realize all that God has done and still does for us every day, then forgiveness is easy, acts of mercy and charity are easy. It's simply paying it forward.
This is the challenge for us this week: who have I failed to forgive at all, or only forgiven partially? Who or what is it that the Holy Spirit, God Himself present in my soul by baptism, is asking me to graciously get past so that I can share in my part of the forgiveness he has shown me. How do I show my appreciation for what He has done? May the Lord speak to our hearts today in this Mass with a name, a face, or a situation that needs His healing, and inspire us with the grace to bring His Merciful Love into that part of our life. Amen.