The Gospel this Sunday is jarring. Aren't we supposed to "honor" our mother and father?
Jesus said to his apostles:“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;and whoever does not take up his crossand follow after me is not worthy of me.Whoever finds his life will lose it,and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Some passages from Sacred Scripture—and especially the Gospels—have the power to really catch us off guard, particularly when they go against our most closely held values. The Gospel for this Sunday is certainly one of those texts.
After all, how can Jesus question our love of our families, especially those family ties that are most essential? How, we might ask, can this be part of God’s plan when we’re told to “honor” our father and mother in the Ten Commandments? To really understand what Jesus is saying to us this Sunday, however, we have to read these words in light of the rest of the 10th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.
As I noted in my reflection on the Gospel for last Sunday, this section of the Gospel of Matthew focuses on the theme of discipleship and we have to keep that in mind as we read these beautifully challenging words. Jesus is inviting his followers—including us—to ask ourselves what relationships are most important to us and to reflect on where and how we focus our energy and attention. As disciples, that is, as students, our priority has to be learning from our Teacher, so that we can not only learn his words but also follow his example. Discipleship is a kind of lifelong apprenticeship. We can never stop learning or listening to the voice of the Master. And so, in a sense, Jesus is asking us this week, “How well are you listening?” and “Who are you listening to?”
To help us understand what’s at stake for us, we might look to the example of the saints. In my own reflection on this passage, two very different saints come to mind: Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and Saint Aloysius Gonzaga.
When Elizabeth Ann Seton converted to Catholicism after the death of her beloved husband William, she could never have imagined that she, the mother of five children, would eventually become the founder of a new religious community, the first of its kind in the United States. And yet, as she grew in her own commitment to Christ and her relationship with the Catholic Church (remember that she had been raised in the Episcopal tradition), she recognized that God was calling her to a unique form of discipleship.
And so, while she continued to fulfill her responsibilities as a mother, sister, and aunt, she made the pursuit of her vocation her primary focus. Did she love her children less? Absolutely not. However, the way she loved them took a new form as she became the “mother “of countless religious sisters and students.
In the life of the young Aloysius Gonzaga, we see this dynamic lived out in reverse. Aloysius was the eldest son and heir of the powerful Gonzaga family of Castiglione and Mantua in Italy. As a teenager, Aloysius discerned that God was calling him to life as a religious; this would mean setting aside his title and inheritance and lead him into a bitter conflict with his father. He had to take a stand against the expectations that were placed upon him by both his family, society, and many in the Church. Aloysius continued to honor his father and mother—and his mother was an important presence throughout his brief life—but his relationship with his parents and siblings changed as he set aside his past life to begin his life with the Society of Jesus.
Years later, when the behavior of his younger brother threatened to destroy the family, Aloysius returned home to help negotiate a peaceful resolution. In the end, this wasn’t a rejection of his family ties or responsibilities but he had made God’s will the touchpoint of his life and, as with Saint Elizabeth Seton, all of his other relationships were lived within the light of his primary love and commitment as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Take time this week to reflect on the relationships that are most important to you. How is God at work in these bonds? How are you able to love your family and friends in God? Ask yourself the two essential discipleship questions: “How well do I listen?” “To whom do I listen?”Ask Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and Saint Aloysius Gonzaga to help you make your commitment to Christ the primary focus of your life so that you can be free to love others in and for him.
Words of Wisdom: “Think of those most precious to you, such as your parents or your children. Just as your love for them has expanded your heart in such a way that you would do anything for them, even more does love for Jesus fill us to overflowing, so that those who follow him could pour out their very lives for Christ’s little ones.”—Barbara Reid, O.P., Abiding Word