we share with family is only the beginning
in Ordinary Time
Sept. 5, 2010
Philemon 9-10, 12-17
“In the writings of the desert fathers there is much emphasis
on renunciation and detachment. We have to renounce the world, detach
ourselves from our possessions, family, friends, own will, and any form
of self-content so that all our thoughts and feelings may become free
for the Lord. I find this very hard to realize . . . instead of excluding
I could include all my thoughts, ideas, plans, projects, worries, and
concerns and make them into prayer. Instead of directing my attention
only to God, I might direct my attention to all my attachments and lead
them into the all-embracing arms of God.”
— Henri Nouwen, The Genesee Diary
The writer in the Book of Wisdom pleads, with a hint of desperation, “.
. . who can discern what the Lord wills?” He laments, “For
the reasoning of mortals is worthless, and our designs are likely to fail;
for a perishable body weighs down the soul, and this earthly tent burdens
the thoughtful mind.” I understand the frustration and sadness present
in these words. Discernment can be difficult.
A warm summer day, and as hummingbirds swoop and hover, I sit and ponder
the lives of my adult children. I miss and love them with a sense of loss
accompanied by a sudden longing to grab hold again, to assert a modicum
of desperate parental control. As I then gather myself to contemplate
the liturgy, I’m confronted in Luke’s Gospel with Jesus’
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate their father and mother,
spouse and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even their life itself,
cannot be my disciple.” We know that a literal translation of the
Bible can be dangerous, and as I think about my family, loved and cherished,
these words seem harsh and uncompromising. This is the same Jesus who
teaches us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. With this talk
of hatred, what can Jesus mean?
Perhaps, gazing at the fickle crowd, his motive is to jolt them, like
a plunge into cold water, into an unmistakable sense of the real and unavoidable
cost of discipleship. He is, in essence, dispensing with the niceties,
telling them in no uncertain terms, “I’m not fooling around
here. Pay attention!”
Jesus continues, “Whoever does not carry their cross and follow
me cannot be my disciple . . . whoever of you does not give up all their
possessions cannot be my disciple.” At this point I’m tempted
to pour a fizzy drink, preferably alcoholic, put the scriptures aside
and work on my suntan. But I resist this temptation.
Hate my family, my own life? Carry a cross of suffering? Give up all my
possessions? Does Jesus shock in order to push us out of comfort and complacency?
Do we listen to Jesus with hearts open to the expanded vision presented
within his radical pronouncements? Nestled in my comfort zone, can I shift
my perspective, set out to follow Jesus, this Son of God, into a vast
unknown where, even as I continue to possess things, love my family and
cherish my life, he remains my most significant point of reference? Can
I let go of all remnants of crippling attachment?
When our bonds to people create a self-serving attitude, we lose perspective.
We might name our desire to help and give advice to others as “love
and devotion,” but these can become attempts to control, to keep
people in our debt or in our thrall. We place conditions on our love,
imposing these on parents, siblings, spouses and children. If we treasure
life to the point where every decision we make is about “me”
and “my” needs or wants, then we’ve tipped into narcissism.
We need to let go. Letting go hurts, and it’s scary. Releasing our
grip on people and possessions, on our need to dominate, requires us to
be vulnerable, to take up our cross. We may lose the comforts and reference
points — often illusory anyway — we’ve come to rely
upon, and yet Jesus asks us to trust in his healing presence. When, as
individuals or institutions, we actually put Jesus first, we might finally
be on the way to becoming authentic disciples.
The love we share with family is desirable and good, but it’s only
the beginning. Can we cultivate a more all-encompassing and radical love
with a daily, concrete commitment to serve others in this world as we
attempt to follow Jesus all the way to eventual crucifixion and ultimate
I love my parents, spouse and siblings. I love my children as much as
I love the gift that is my own precious life. Jesus doesn’t exhort
us to “hate” anyone. Nor, perhaps, does he so much ask us
to place him ahead of our relationships as to give him primary importance
from within these very relationships. Perhaps when Jesus is the priority,
that’s when our human connections will, with all their burdens and
challenges, finally flourish in truth and authenticity.
What, indeed, does the Lord will for us? This desperate prayer uttered
in the Book of Wisdom is answered: “And thus the paths of those
on earth were set right, and people were taught what pleases you, and
were saved by wisdom.”
Jesus — wisdom personified — asks us to listen to him from
our place deep within the crowd. His words challenge; he exhorts us to
love, and never to hate. His sanctifying presence encourages us to discern
our way into a deep and everlasting vision.
married with three children and lives in Nakusp, BC. She is a Benedictine
Oblate with St. Peter’s Abbey in Muenster, SK., and a member of
the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild.