My mom makes some absolutely killer brownies. They’re soft and gooey, and they have chocolate chips in them that just melt in your mouth when you eat them. And my dad is a real pro at the grill as well. Whether it’s porksteaks, brats, or burgers, my dad has it covered. And combined with my sister’s potatoes, I think it’s just a little piece of heaven right there. Why is the world would I want to hate these people?
Why in the world would Jesus want us to hate any of our family? This is a line in the gospel that can really shake us to the core. People tend to gloss over this when they’re reading the scripture because it’s a tough passage. But look at his circumstances. Jesus was starting to get pretty popular as a teacher, and was starting to get quite a following, crowds even, as we hear in the Gospel. But maybe he looked up and saw all those people, and wondered if they really understood what they were getting into, what the cost of discipleship really was. You know here in the US, 76% of citizens have identified themselves as Christians. And of those people, a little over 25% called themselves Catholic. In a stat taken from the combined population of the US and Canada in 2008, there were 68,115,001 Catholics out there. That’s how many people are following Christ. Or at least, that’s how many people claim to follow Christ. But do they really know what that means? Do we really know what it means?
We’ve all grown up knowing that loyalty to our family is important. If there’s one thing that we learned from the Godfather that’s appropriate enough to mention in this homily, its that the family is everything. So why would we take Jesus’s word to hate them? What he’s saying here is that we can’t make our family more important in our lives than God. To many people, their religion is just something they have to do, and at best, it’s a hobby or a cultural association to them. But God should be our central concern. Our families won’t last forever, but something else will last forever, and that’s heaven. And so our family should lead us to that thing that last forever. Our familes should be places of growth for all people involved in helping each other to heaven. But if they don’t, if our families lead us away from Christ instead of toward him, then we have to be willing, if we’re going to follow Jesus, to put them behind us. If our families are more important to us than Christ, we’re following our families, and not the Lord.
But then Jesus just twists that dagger further into our hearts when he tells us that we should hate even our own lives. Protecting our lives is something central to us. Isn’t everything out there supposed to be helping us to live better lives? Unfortunately, many people think that is true, and that our faith is simply a sociological tool meant to increase our physical and mental well-being – it’s a coping mechanism for those tough questions, or a remedy for bad mental health. Nietzsche even thought that religion was a tool for keeping some sort of morality around, to keep us from killing each other. But in reality, it’s the other way around. Our lives are completely and totally oriented to God. In theology, it’s what we call “Exitus-Reditus,” that our lives are coming from God as our creator, and then return to him as our final goal. And so everything in our lives, whether it be our family, our possessions, and even our own lives, should be there for the sake of God, for the sake of sharing an eternal happiness with him forever.
Putting aside things that don’t lead us to God can be a real sacrifice, a real burden. But as Christ tells us, we have to carry our own crosses and follow him. The real Jesus, the real Christ, is always walking toward the Cross. And so when we’re saying that we’re going to follow Jesus, what we’re really saying is that we’re going to follow Jesus to the Cross. That’s the reason that as Catholics, we have crucifixes. We don’t have a resurrexifist hanging from the ceiling, we don’t have a buddy Jesus giving us a thumbs up when we walk into Church. We realize that the only way to get to the resurrection, to get to God’s promise, is through the Cross. And so we have to be willing, when we walk into this Church, and when we walk out, to die to ourselves, and to die with Jesus. Jesus knew it was coming throughout his whole ministry, and so he directed his entire life and ministry to the Cross, knowing that it was what the Father had asked him to do to save us all. And so we need to know also why we’re walking to the Cross. It’s not for ourselves, so that we look good. It’s not for other people, or because the person next to us is doing it, it’s for Christ.
We need to look at this faith, we need to look at why we’re here, and know what we’re getting into. Like building a tower, or a highway, or an entrance ramp onto Highway 70 from Mid Rivers Mall Drive, lets say…if MODOT keeps building things the way they’ve been building them, is the highway going to reach its destination? If we keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them, are we going to get to the end that we’re hoping for? Maybe this is an opportunity, a challenge, to look around us in our lives and see where they’re leading us. And if those things aren’t leading us to Jesus, maybe it’s an opportunity to try to help them to do so, particularly among family and friends. Perhaps its an opportunity to build each other up by praying as a family before meals or before you go to bed. Maybe its an opportunity to spend some time in prayer as a family and go to Mass together. Whatever it is, see that it helps your family to lead each other to Christ as your end.
And so as we approach the Eucharist today, as we approach the object of our love and the one that we follow in Christ, let us ask the Lord for the courage to take up our Cross, leaving behind all that doesn’t lead us to him, and to follow him. Let us offer our lives here on the altar with him, and in doing so, to grow in that desire to spend an eternity with him in heaven. Amen.