Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time
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By BENEDICT AUGUSTINE
(Click here for readings)
By BENEDICT AUGUSTINE
“’If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple.’”
In explaining the demands of discipleship, Jesus minces no words and makes no attempt to comfort his audience: the Christian disciple must live a life of total sacrifice, period. Nothing can precede service to Him, not family loyalty, not friendship, not financial success, nor even caring for oneself. In themselves, these parts of life, which happen to act as the fundamental bonds of society, mean absolutely nothing.
Few people, Christian and non-Christian alike, take the time to ponder this reality and consider the repercussions. Those who do will often deflect the real meaning of Jesus’ words and claim that Jesus simply tried to make a point by exaggerating what people would have to give up. He preached love, not hate, and He would not contradict Himself by asking his followers to show their love by hating their parents, or their fortunes, or themselves. He simply uses the word “hate” to stress how faith in Him should overarch all other priorities in life.
Although appealing to mild mannered bourgeois Christian, this interpretation utterly misrepresents Jesus’s message. Unlike the superlatively rational moralists of his day, Jesus never bothers to prescribe a good balanced life with a solid set of virtues and a proper liberal arts education. He actively deplores respectability and comfort; instead, he has a very radical message: one must not simply “order his loves,” he must love the Holy Trinity and hate everything else.
On the surface, the logic of this seems to make little sense,particularly if one thoughtlessly demonizes the word “hate,” which most people tend to do. But hate does not have to equate to evil, nor does it even have to contradict love. Most people imagine hatred manifesting itself in some angry person shouting vitriol at another and threatening some kind of abuse and maybe inflicting it, but this is inaccurate—in fact, this is what people in love do, not people who hate one another.
In reality, hatred implies a total absence of feeling, a cold calculated disregard for another. Robert Frost captures this in his poem “Fire and Ice” when he equates fire with desire, and ice with hatred. This kind of hatred is seen in the coldness of abortionists, human traffickers, terrorists, corrupt dictators, and the common masses who ignore them. They do not feel for the other, but completely de-spiritualize their victim (and themselves) to carry out or ignore their atrocities.
Nevertheless, this hatred can also be seen in the early Christian who turns his back on the world. When they hated sins of the flesh and of the spirit, this means they felt nothing in regards to them. They rightly de-spiritualized these activities because these activities would de-spiritualize them. Therefore, one who hates sin does grow excited about it, but rather the opposite. Removing a vice should be done with the passionless disdain of a surgeon removing a tumor, or a judge sentencing a violent criminal to jail.
Likewise, Jesus commands his disciples to have the same attitude towards family, friends, money, and themselves. They must hate, or cease to have any attachments, to these things. This means that they must stop trying to spiritualize their affections and making them into idols. However important these things might be to securing a good life on earth, they will inevitably inhibit one’s salvation. Thus, in order to follow Jesus into Heaven, one must really hate everything and everyone besides Him.
Fortunately, God is so great that He effectively replaces all these attachments with something much greater. He replaces the earthly family with the spiritual family of the Church. He replaces the riches of the world with the riches of the spiritual life and treasure of Heaven. He replaces one’s worldly self with his infinite spiritual self. With God, it is always the case that one never loses, but always gainsbeyond one’s imagination. All the same, the tradeoff must happen; contrary to popular opinion, the two loves cannot coexist.
So, as the ice creeps over the Christian’s old life, a fire enkindles the new one. This does not mean that discipleship is suddenly comfortable, or that it even remotely resembles the old life. The Christian life is still quite scandalous and enormously inconvenient—“comfortable Christianity” is an oxymoron. Yet, these hardships will not seem so bad for the Christian because he has turned away from the goodness of this life. He feels nothing, except the love, a true and pure love, that he has for God and His Children.