Luke 14:25-33
Don't Blunt Jesus' Words
 by Rev. Joseph M. Rampino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus, and he turned and addressed them "If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.  Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion?  Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself unable to finish the work the onlookers should laugh at him and say, 'This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.'  Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?  But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.  In the same way, anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple."

This weeks' Gospel presents one of the beautiful moments in which Christ shakes us.  His teaching is sharp, demanding, unsparing.  When we read, "If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother . . . he cannot be my disciple," we can be dismayed.  When e hear "anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple," we might despair of real holiness.  Thus, we rush to find explanations that will help us accept what the Lord says.

We have heard before, perhaps, the clarifications that make this set of Christ's teachings easier to receive.  Maybe we've heard the explanation that Christ is not saying we really need to hate our family, but that he is using a Hebrew expression, saying that we must prefer God even to our own loved ones.  Perhaps we know the distinction between renouncing and leaving our possessions, namely, that while some are called  to leave all earthly things in a total consecration of poverty, all of us must remain detached from our possessions, holding on to God himself rather than what we own.  These explanations are certainly true.  Christ is aiming us toward the kingdom of the Father, not necessarily commanding us all to abandon all family ties and sell our homes immediately. 

Yet, we can sometimes use these ways of understanding the gospel to rob it of its force.  In getting past the original shock too quickly, without having the courage to wrestle with what makes us uncomfortable, we can render the Lord's teaching entirely ineffective in ur lives, absolving ourselves of the responsibility to choose God first in actual fact.

If Christ is simply teaching me to love the Father and desire heaven first, then maybe I don't really need to have a difficult conversation with a family member about their choices of my Catholic beliefs.  It it is simply detachment of the soul that I need, then perhaps I don't need to question how much I own, or how much and what kind of comfort I keep.

The truth is that if we do not choose God fist in practical ways, we will not be alb e to avoid slavery to things here in this life.  The health of our soul is not something separate from our daily life.  The soul is not an isolated and unassailable thing that remains how I wish it to remain, free so long as I say it is free.  Our soul is shown in each of our actions, and our actions have an effect on our soul.  When I choose something over God in a small way, I prepare myself to choose that thing over God in big ways.

This is why church tradition gives us methods to practice loving God first, as Christ commands: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  In taking the time to pray, rather than spending it elsewhere, we say with both body and soul that we live for heaven, and the friendship with God that then grows sets us free from care for the opinions of others, the tyranny of public opinion, and even our own self-approval.  By giving up food or other legitimate pleasures voluntarily, even a little, I pick up the cross with Jesus and follow him, from this world into the next.  In giving what I have, not only do I help my neighbor, but my own soul is set free, and I have the strength to make the journey home to my Father.  In this week's sharp teachings, Christ in his great love shows us the way to true thriving.  All we need is the courage to listen to him.