The call to hate one’s mother and father, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even one’s own life is so startling that for most it provokes an immediate and natural protest. “I love them; so I WILL NOT be your disciple!”
To a few, though, this invitation may come as a welcome sacrifice, an indication that natural affections and a proper sense of self-regard are severely damaged. “Discipleship” in this case may be the advancement of a psychological pathology. Indeed, hyper-religious laity, clergy, and religious are particularly vulnerable to this distortion. This is why “vocations” should be tested again and again, supervised and guided, and, in some cases, revoked altogether.
Where is the truth in the hard words of Jesus? Is it only the case that loving people won’t follow him, and those who hate their families and their own lives will?
Here a long pause and a second look and contemplative consideration will help. The world in which we live is the world that rejected Jesus Christ, rejected his life and being. The world is in death and moving toward death. And death casts a pall over all the people, over every relationship. Families, however beautiful and good, are not exempt from this sad story.
Jesus calls us to leave the world, turn from it, not to look back; but this “turning,” this “repentance” is the means by which the world is transformed into the life of Christ. We leave the world, we follow Christ alone, we carry our cross, we are buried with him, we rise with him, and we ascend with him to that “place” where the world is already perfected, though not yet in us. Moment by moment, we receive in Christ the grace and life that suffuses and transfigures every human relationship and all of creation. Christ makes all things new.
We are not, therefore, called to a literal and visceral hatred of the world and our families. We are called to recognize that sin and death distort every aspect of human life and every human relationship. Turning to Christ, we turn to our life and love and hope and joy. In Christ, we find the world anew, find our family anew, and find creation simmering with divine presence. “For you yourself created my inmost parts,” the psalmist says, “you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps. 139:12). In Christ, we see most deeply the presence of God “in secret” and in “the depths of the earth,” “in limbs yet unfinished in the womb” (Ps. 139:14,15). Do we not owe love to our mothers? What do we owe our fathers and brother and sisters? The secret and deep love owed to them is never quite achieved. Difficulties and tensions infect family life, even when love is naturally deep and strong.
We are not yet perfected, but, following Christ, we receive from him a love that surpasses all understanding, a love for our families and the world which is his love. We leave the world to find it new again in Christ.
The New Humanity is more truly humane. We find more love, more joy, more peace, more patience, more kindness, more gentleness, and more self-control. We become icons of lovingkindness as we look upon the face of Christ and are transformed into his image.
Leave everything, find everything anew. Leave home, return home. Die to yourself, find yourself. Walk into Christ and be Christ walking in the world.
Look It Up: Deut. 30:16
Think About It: Love the Lord your God and love anew your family and friends. Walk in his ways, and walk home. Live for God and live in your land and possess it. Set your mind on things that are above, keep your feet on the ground.