29 Jun 2014
“‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me …’” (Matt. 10:37a)
In the name …
Over the years at Youth Retreats and Sunday School Seminars I’ve seen a lot of Jesus movies. They usually have a handsome, physical Jesus with flowing hair and they tend to pick out the nicest stories and sayings from the Gospels. What I’ve never heard a movie-Jesus say is what I read for today’s Gospel: If you love your mother or father, if you love your son or daughter, more than you love me, then you are not worthy of me. Where did that come from? What do you do with that in a sermon? Kevin and Megan out there in the pews are getting married in six days. Should I use that reading at their wedding? I don’t think so. And the saying can’t be dismissed. Because it’s so difficult it has the aura of authenticity. As I’ve mentioned many times before, the hardest Gospel-sayings are likely the most historical because no one would have a reason to make them up. Therefore, this is what Jesus actually said.
According to the Gospel, Jesus is speaking to His followers about persecution: “Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child. Children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.” (Matt. 10:21) Another perfect reading for Saturday’s wedding. But through it all, says Jesus, do not be afraid. And the reason for this courage, He says, is the love of God. No matter what happens, even when family turns into enemies, even when everything you trust the most fails, when life is in disarray and you don’t know where to turn, there is always the love of God.
This still doesn’t erase all of the tension and uneasiness of Jesus’ statement about loving Him more than mother or father, son or daughter, but it starts, at least starts, to put it into perspective. What Jesus is trying to get across with some shockingly forceful language is that we are to try to love Him above all else because Jesus loves us beyond all else. And I think Jesus sometimes tries to shock us so that we really pay attention. What I have a problem with is the either-or language of the statement. It’s the either you love me more than mother or father, son or daughter, or you don’t love me enough. That’s where my head starts to erect road blocks, but those road blocks are also what force us to think and re-think what has just been said.
Yesterday I attended Richard Dallas’ funeral down in Holyoke. On the way home on Route 5, they had closed the on-ramp for 91. It’s no problem for me to drive all the way through Northampton to get onto the next 91 on-ramp because I live here. But there were no detour signs posted anywhere. They simply closed the on-ramp and had a sign that told travelers to seek an alternate route. If you’re not from around here, just imagine how hard it would be to find your way back to 91. Roadblocks force us to think. We can get so used to traveling our normal routes that sometimes when we get home we can’t even remember the ride. We’re on auto-pilot. Road blocks make us think. And Jesus has thrown up a huge roadblock with His statement about loving Him more than father or mother, son or daughter. And it forces us to think and re-think what it means to try and love Jesus as much as Jesus loves us. Sometimes we can talk about the love of God on auto-pilot. This is our roadblock.
So let’s try and work our way around the roadblock of the either-or language. And I’d like to try by talking about our acolyte-retreat-visit this past Thursday to the USS Massachusetts battleship. It’s permanently docked in the Fall River harbor. The ship had a crew of over 2,000 sailors. It fought in the North African campaigns at the beginning of World War II and it finished off the war fighting in the South Pacific. And for as impressive as the 16” and the anti-aircraft guns were, what really impressed me were the electrical cables coiled in different parts of the ship. In battle, enemy artillery or aircraft could hit parts of the ship and knock out the power. That’s when these guys would grab the coils of electrical cables, run through the slippery wet decks and passageways, go to the part of the ship that had just been hit, and while the battle was still going-on and water flying all over the place, they would hook up emergency electrical power so that the guns could continue to get loaded.
These were not nameless guys. There is a list of the men who served or who were transported on the USS Massachusetts in one of the museum rooms. They break the names down by state and even county. There were a slew of familiar sounding names under Franklin County, one of which was Myron Orloski, who I’m wondering if he was the young man from this parish who died during the invasion of Italy. These guys loved their families, but they left their families behind and put even their own lives in danger because they loved this country. They left their family for their country. The needs of the country were most important at that moment in time. This doesn’t mean in any sense that they loved their families less because they loved their country more and went into battle for her.
Maybe that’s the way we can understand what Jesus is trying to say. He will love us no matter what. His example is that even if the bedrock of family collapses, the love of God is still there. So then He asks, how much do we love Him in return? During Mass today I am privately remembering four families who are suffering. Jesus is with them and they are relying on Him. When times in our lives are desperate, Jesus is so real. But on a beautiful summer Sunday morning it’s so easy to forget how real He is. That’s when our faith can go on auto-pilot and we don’t think about the blessings that are this country, the blessings of enjoying this kind of a day. And so with His words Jesus puts up that roadblock that makes us think and rethink what it means to love God as much as He loves us. That we may never take Christ’s love for granted, for that may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo