XIII Sunday Ordinary Time
St. Mary’s Cathedral Parish
Coming upon today’s Gospel, we hear one of the more startling and straightforward teachings of our Savior. Whoever loves father or mother, or son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Matt 10:37). If this statement were not strong enough, recall the sentence immediately preceding it: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household” (Matt 10: 34-36). With these demanding lines, much like William Barret Travis did at the Alamo Jesus draws a line in the sand; you’re either with me, or not.
Context, of course, is always important for understanding such sayings of our Savior. Chapter 10 of Matthew’s Gospel, from which we read today, begins with the naming of the original 12 disciples, that small group of men who would become Jesus’ closest confidants. After naming the 12, Jesus sends them off on a little mission, a trial run. This practice would be essential to prepare them for that great commission at which time they would become the 12 Apostles sent to baptize all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The rest of chapter 10 consists of Jesus’ parting speech, His marching orders for the 12 in this little mission of theirs. The scene is not much different than that before a great battle, like the Alamo, the commander rallying the troops with a stirring speech, for God, for country, for glory! Thus, Jesus speaks today to the original 12, to those chosen by Him for a particular mission. These words, therefore, fall today on those called to be priests and religious, those successors to the Apostles in that special mission to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Men, boys, consider being a priest. As I mentioned already, the joys of the priesthood are great. Yet, the life of a priest is not without sacrifice. Long days, sleepless nights, the dramatic heroic moments stopping to anoint someone dying on the scene of a car accident, but also the monotonous hours of confessions or routine. Here Jesus is very clear: “whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:38-39). Men, deep down in your hearts is a desire to do something great. This desire compels us to offer our lives as a sacrifice for others. It compels a man to enter the military, give himself in marriage, work for his family, and serve his neighbor. Christ is asking that you do something great for Him, to lay down your life as He did for the salvation of the world.
Yet, if this Gospel applies directly and specifically to those called to leave everything behind even family, it most certainly applies indirectly or by association to all of the faithful. Like “oil upon the head, running down upon the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes” (Ps 133:2), the teachings of Christ to his disciples fall upon those shepherds who stand in the person of Christ the Head and trickles down upon the rest of Christ’s Mystical Body, His Church. So, what can be said of those lines: “Whoever loves father or mother, or son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:37)?
These lines are best understood in reference to all if they are inverted. For if it is true that Whoever loves father or mother, or son or daughter more than Christ is not worthy of Him, then so is the inverse; you do not truly love father or mother, son or daughter if you do not love Christ more. That is to say, the love of our family will not be true if we do not love God first. And this is especially true if we consider that God is love. For if God is love, then how could there be true love among our families without Him? If God does not come before family, inevitably we will do one of two things. Either we will cling to our families making them into god. In this way, we expect our parents, our spouses, our children, and sometimes even our older siblings to be perfect for us. We hold them to impossible standards and when they fail become disappointed and embittered. Or, we will try to control our families as if we ourselves were their god. In this way, we try to dictate the lives of our children, our spouses, our siblings, and, yes, sometimes our parents. You have never seen a parent running around to please their children? Here expect our family members to follow our own plan set before them and when they fail or simply do not want to accomplish it, because they are not who we think, then we feel betrayed and become quite angry. The good news is that if we love God first, as Jesus is exhorting us to do today, we will see our family members, parents, children, spouses, parents, and siblings as gifts from the Lord, for that is what they are.
A very concrete way to begin a “God first household” is by creating space in our family structure, space in our busy schedule for family prayer and a place in our homes to do it. We make time and space in order to eat (a kitchen and dining room), to sleep (a bedroom), and to entertain (a living room), but do we make room for God? Does God have a place in our household? We hear in the first reading how this “woman of influence” created a space for the prophet Elisha, a holy man of God, and was blest with a child for it. Create a space for devotion in your household, and use it. As simple as a kneeler, a cross, and some candles, as great as a chapel-like room for meditation and prayer, find a place for prayer in your home. This is not simply Catholic feng shui, but a good way to begin a “God first household,” which abides in gratitude for the love of God present in the gift of each other.