You have to love Jesus more than anything and anyone on Earth.
What is it in me that likes the difficult sayings of Jesus more than the easy sayings?
Everybody loves Jesus who says, “Let the little children come to me” and “Neither do I condemn you”
But have you read the gospels lately? Jesus’ teaching is much more forceful and strident than we like to remember. He’s calling his enemies the “Sons of Satan,” “whitewashed tombs full of dead and decaying bodies” and snakes. He’s saying that the way to heaven is narrow and few get in. Most are on the wide easy downward slope. He talks about hell as the place where there is weeping and wailing and grinding of teeth. It is Gehenna—the great trash heap where “their worm does not die.”
Then get this one from Luke 14:
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
The simple meaning is that you have to love Jesus more than anything else, indeed more than anyone else in your life—even your family members.
This hit home not long ago when a friend was in tears because her dear little sister was heading off to an enclosed convent. There still are such convents by the way (and they tend to be the ones with young vocations, but that’s another story). Her little sister was headed off—and not only was she giving up her family for the convent, but her family had to give her up.
There’s the line in The Death of a Salesman where Willy Loman’s wife Linda says, “Life is a casting off.”
I love that line.
Life means casting off and leaving everything behind, not clinging to everything. That stands things on their head, yes?
We do the opposite we cling to our children, cling to our spouses, cling to our houses, cling to our status, cling to our possessions, cling to our security, cling to our friends, cling to all these things.
But life is a casting off.
It is also a casting off as in casting off from the shore. Casting off from the dock. We’re on the long voyage home, across the Western Seas until we meet the dawn and wade in the warm shallows to the real Narnia.
Do you have to cast off even from your family?
‘Fraid so. I remember talking to my dying father who said, “I have tried to show how to live for Christ. Now I want to show how to die in Christ.” He was casting off.
What about families here and now? I sometimes think this verse has a bearing on the difficult decisions we face when family members and friends depart from the way of following Christ.
What do you do when a family member divorces, remarries, goes down the path of an addiction or in some other way behaves in a way that is intolerable? If they are repentant and want to return they are always welcome, but if they persist in a life that is contrary to the gospel and their choices threaten your own walk with Christ and the example and witness and purity of your family then to be Christ’s disciple you may have to “hate your father and mother, brothers and sisters, wife and children” to be his disciple.
It’s a tough one, but sometimes you have to simply walk away—not because you condemn anyone, but because you are simply walking on a different path to a different destination. It’s not so much that you hate them, but that you love Christ more.
This choice has been made countless times by countless disciples down through the ages. It was made by any young man or woman entering the religious life. It was made by countless missionaries who went abroad never to be seen again by their families. It was made by many who sought to follow Christ when they converted to the fullness of the faith in the Catholic Church.
It’s there in the True Grit version of the gospel. If we ignore it our expectations will be skewed and when the separation is demanded we will be resentful and perhaps disobedient.
If we realize that demand is there we may face such separations with a bit more fortitude, faith and resilience.
My friend asked that I pray that she not break down and cry uncontrollably when the baby sister went inside to become a bigger sister.
I advised that she cry her eyes out, for that was the healthy response, and after that to dry her tears and thank God for the great graces that will be unfolded as her sister’s life is yielded to that Divine Mercy which is at once tender and severe.