Sometimes people will talk about reading the Gospels without any pre-conceptions: that is, to set aside popular images and get back to the "real Jesus." If a person truly did that, the results might be surprising, even startling. We see an amazing example in today's Gospel. Jesus tells us point blank that if someone wants to be his disciple, he must "turn his back" on father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters. The Revised Standard Version (which is much closer to the original) translates it this way:
Jesus was speaking to people for whom family was everything, even in an economic sense. They had no social security, health insurance or pension funds. Each person depended totally on his own family. Yet Jesus is telling them that if you do not hate your family, you cannot be his disciple. Even if we admit that the word hate means love less, we still have a pretty shocking statement.
Let me give you a comparison. Suppose that you know a lot about computers and you go over to Redmond to apply for a job at Microsoft. As you are filling out the application forms, who walks thru the door but your great hero, Bill Gates! You are speechless.
Then he says to you, "Forget about those forms. I really want you to work for me. There is only one thing I require."
"Anything!" you say.
"Well," he says. "If you want to work for me, you have to place the company ahead of your family. I have to be more important to you than your dad and mom, wife, children, anybody."
You almost say, "yes," but then you pause and ask, "Do you mean that if my dad were dying and there was a job to be done here, I would have to chose the job over my dad?"
"Exactly," he says.
Now at that point, if you have any integrity, you would tell him just where to place the job. And if he still insisted, you would say to him, "Look, Bill, you may be the richest man in the world, but you are not God. I am not going to put you above my dad or my wife or my children."
Yet...that is precisely the demand that Jesus places on each one of us. But Jesus is different from Bill Gates--or any other human being. He alone has a right to make such a total requirement. The reason he can do it is simple. He is God. It is not for his sake, but for ours that he lets us know us he is more important than our father or mother or anyone else. Jesus by his very nature ranks first. As we say in the creed, he is "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, one in being with the Father."
If Jesus is God, then it follows that we owe him our undivided allegiance. We can only find peace if we surrender--unconditionally--to him. This can seem hard, but the great irony is that the one way we can rightly have any other person, even our own selves, is if we put Jesus first.
Once when I was a child, I caught a multi-colored butterfly. I held it so tight in my hands that by the time I got home it was squished. Instead of being beautiful, it became spoiled.
That's what happens to our relationships if we do not put Jesus first. Some of you remember the movie The Godfather. It was about people who would do anything for their family. I mean anything: cheat, lie, intimidate, kill. They justified violence by saying they were doing it for the family. But in the end their lawlessness destroys the family itself. The Godfather actually winds up murdering his own brother. By exalting family above ordinary morality, he ruined the very family he professed to love.*
When we ignore Jesus' law, we crush what we try to hold onto. The opposite is also true. Putting Jesus first can save a family. Let me give an example which may surprise you. This woman was having trouble with her marriage; there just did not seem to be anything real between her and her husband. One day quite by accident (at least it seemed to her an accident) she came upon Jesus' teaching regarding birth control and family planning. She realized that using the pill was wrong, but she thought she could never get her husband to go along with a natural method. Well, she went to the library and the bookstore and started learning all she could about methods based on self-observation. She even found help from a friend who was using natural methods.
Finally she approached her husband. She told him that he was the most important person in her life, but she wanted to follow what she considered to be God's teaching in their marriage. Very reluctantly he accepted. After a time he began to look at his wife in a different way. They started to have some honest, respectful communication. Little by little it transformed their marriage. I'm not talking here about an imaginary case, but a real couple. In fact, this has happened in many marriages. A doctor who teaches natural family planning to his patients has said that it is not just for the so called "ideal" marriage. It is the prescription he gives when a marriage is threatened. Among couples who use natural family planning the divorce rate is practically zero.
When we put Jesus and his teaching first, the other things in our lives will fall into their proper place. Not that it is easy. In fact, it involves renouncing everything. But have faith. Jesus will give back to you all that you truly need.
*That is really the history of the twentieth century. We have seen men rise to power saying they would create a paradise on earth. But they did not create heaven, but hell on earth--because they disregarded ordinary morality. We are doing something similar in the United States when we disregard the life of an unborn child for the sake of some personal advantage.
By now I have talked with quite a few women who have undergone abortions. When I ask why they did it, the most common response is because they loved the father of the child and hoped to keep him - or get him back. It did not work. The sense of loss and guilt drove an even greater wedge between them. On the other hand, I have known women who have made the beautiful choice for life. For one woman in particular it was such a lonely decision. The only one she had to rely one was Jesus. But she knew what Jesus would want her to do. She now has a beautiful baby girl. Not an easy life, but along with the cross, she has a genuine peace in her heart.
(To avoid getting over-complicated, I omitted the above two paragraphs from the body of the homily.)
From Archives (23rd Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
See also: An Eternally Unbridgeable Chasm
The Fiery Furnace
Jesus Teaching Concerning Heaven
Some Good News on Teen Pregnancy and Abortion
Hitler's Pope: Comic Book Approach to Church History
He Approached the Victim: "It's much more likely one of your relatives will lose his life by surgical abortion than by heart attack."
Germaine Greer on Birth Control
Human Cloning: A Catholic Perspective (How the Unthinkable Became Inevitable)
Boston Globe's Misleading Article on Catholic Church
Deflating Darwin's Dangerous Idea
Stephen Jay Gould: Gorbachev of Darwinism?
Test Tube Offspring Want to Know Father
Erickson vs. Bartell Drugs
Call No Man Father
What is Original Sin of Sex?
Bicentennial Man (Hidden Assumptions)
Bogus Knights of Columbus Oath
Ossuary of James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus
Seattle Columnist Joel Connelly Responds to Anti-Catholic Stereotyping: "On issues from AIDS to stem cell research, Catholic teaching and 'the Vatican' get described as medieval obstacles to 21st century progress. Archbishop Alex Brunett is wondering whose agenda and what purpose is being served."
Catholic Evangelization and Dissent by Fr. Jim Northrop (well worth reading!)
Germaine Greer on Birth Control
St. Mary of the Valley Album
Personal Reflection on New Roman Missal English-Language Translation
My Vocation Story (23 minute video, made at Everett Serra Club on August 14, 2010)
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