Fr. Michael Schleupner, frequent celebrant at Mass, retreat presenter and spiritual director at our Center, offers another homily to our readers today. How do we make Jesus the priority in our lives?
Is Jesus the Priority?
When I am about to respond to someone who has been offensive, do I first think about: what would Jesus say and how would he say it?
When I become aware that I am holding a grudge and maybe not even talking to someone, do I think about: what does Jesus teach about this? When I feel drawn into a conversation that is bashing somebody, do I step back and think about: how would Jesus act here?
The point behind these questions is probably clear: is Jesus not just a focus in my life, but the focus? Is Jesus not just a priority, but the priority?
This is the point that Jesus is hammering across in today’s gospel. He is talking about discipleship – about what it means to really follow him. He is not talking about just being a Sunday Catholic or being a Christian in name only. Instead, Jesus is talking about our fully embracing his way, and he calls this discipleship. In this passage, he sees this as relating to three dimensions of life: myself, family and friends, and possessions.
So, Jesus says, “Whoever does not carry their own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Here Jesus is not saying that our whole life needs to be a cross – doing stuff that we don’t like. And he is not saying that self-care – taking care of ourselves by getting enough rest and some exercise and good nutrition – he is not against this.
Instead, Jesus is saying that if we want to be his disciple, we need to be willing at times to let go of our preferences and comforts. For example, we let go of having an easy evening at home and instead take our neighbor to Urgent Care. Or we hold off on buying something for ourselves so that we can provide back-to-school necessities for our children. We need, at times, to carry our cross in ways like these to be Jesus’ disciples.
Regarding Family (and Friends)
And then, Jesus says: “If anyone comes to me without hating their father and mother, wife and children, brother and sister, they cannot be my disciple.”
This is a tough one. It sounds crazy – even inconsistent with other teachings of Jesus. So, we’ve got to be careful and understand this correctly. This saying about “hating” was a Jewish idiom. It is hyperbole – an exaggeration to make a point. So here, Jesus doesn’t want us literally to hate family and friends or even turn our back on them. He’s just making a point that even with those closest to us, we are to make him the priority – to make him first. Here’s a real-life application of this that I, as a priest, have advised on.
Imagine that you are a Catholic and your son or daughter or someone close to you is going to get married. They are also Catholic but are not going to get married in a Catholic ceremony. Considering Jesus’ words – or a correct understanding of his words – what do you do? My guidance has usually been in the direction of having a conversation with the person – and I mean a conversation and not a monologue. Respectfully, share your point of view and your hope that they would be married in a Catholic ceremony. And then listen – listen respectfully to them.
They may end up not changing their minds, but then just be with them, keep the relationship intact, and make sure they know of your love. This is a good response to Jesus’ entire teaching – keeping him first and yet still loving family.
Finally, Jesus says, “Anyone of you who does not renounce all your possessions cannot be my disciple.” Well, once again, there is hyperbole, some exaggeration here to make a point. And Jesus’ point is not to give away our home and car and clothing and bank account. Instead, he wants us to realize that possessions and money are not what will bring us true happiness. He wants us to know that sharing some of what we have with others, especially with those in need, is important.
This will enrich us. The freedom and willingness to share what we have will make us disciples.
So, 1) myself, 2) family, and 3) possessions – in all three dimensions of life, we are to make Jesus the priority if we want to be his disciple.
~ Fr. Michael Schleupner
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