Thursday, September 1, 2016

September 4 - Take up your cross and follow me.

The 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C

First Reading: Wisdom 9: 13-18b     Response: Psalm 90
Second Reading: Philemon 9-10, 12-17     Gospel: Luke 14:25-33

When we hear today’s Gospel, sometimes we are taken aback when Jesus says, “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.” Didn’t Jesus tell us to love our neighbor as ourselves?

Fr. John Foley, SJ, notes that the word “hate” was probably an oratorical way to say “love them in proportion.” We sometimes forget that the first great commandment is to “love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole soul and with all your strength.” Often a person, an animal, or a thing can become a God for us. It can even be something like money, or success, or reputation, which engages all our interest and time. We need to prioritize.

A powerful example of this is seen in the life of St. Thomas More. A husband, father, and favorite of King Henry VIII, he was the Chancellor in the King’s court. King Henry, disappointed that his wife had borne him no male child, asked the Pope for an annulment of his marriage. When he was denied, he declared himself the head of the Church in England. He required that his subjects sign a declaration that he was now the head of the Church.

Thomas More refused to sign and was punished in many ways which affected not only himself, but also his family. How difficult it must have been when he was in prison and unable to support or be with his wife and children. When even that did not persuade him to go against his conscience, he was beheaded.

You can see, beside his picture above, his famous words just before he was executed when he was dying: “the King’s good servant - but God’s first.” What anguish, what courage, what integrity he displayed!!!  It would have be so easy to give in and please his family who were dependent on him! However, he gave example of “love in proportion” for them and for all the world.

Only God’s special grace could enable him to love as he did. When I wonder if I would be able to withstand the suffering he bore, I just pray that the Lord would give me the strength. I know that I would be too weak to do it on my own. However, the Lord has promised to remain with us.

Another challenge Jesus gives us is the following: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” In James Martin’s book,  Jesus, A Pilgrimage, he suggests that by taking up our cross daily, we can find a deeper life.

There have been many instances when I have seen this in my own life and in the lives of others. Tragedies, losses, and hardships can cause us to turn to the Lord for help. In the midst of these circumstances people often develop a closer relationship with the Lord. Also, many times they become more aware and sensitive to the crosses that others bear. Often, they reach out to help others when they may have just looked the other way before.

I can recall my own mother telling me what to do if I were feeling sorry for myself. She said to look around and see that there were others worse off than I was. Then, she encouraged me to help them in some way.

Also,  I met a woman who had just been through a divorce. Her mother-in-law, who was a good friend to her, encouraged her to volunteer in a hospital. By doing that she was able to put her own situation in perspective, while helping others.

I have seen parents who have lost children through illness, drugs, and other tragedies reach out to help other parents going through similar circumstances.

If flowers are to grow, they must have sunshine and rain. Each of us is a unique, special flower in the Lord’s garden. He knows what each of us needs. Let us trust that he is with us so we do not have to carry our crosses alone.


  1. As we contemplate the inspiring story concerning the martyrdom of St. Thomas More, we realize that this marvelously brave saint must have been guided by spiritual wisdom, an inestimably precious gift of God. The following is an excerpt from an address by Pope Francis:

    "The wisdom the Holy Spirit grants is the grace of being able to see things through God's eyes. It is seeing the world, situations, problems, everything, with the eyes of God; and obviously this derives from intimacy with God, from the relationship of a son with his Father. When we are in communion with the Lord, it is through the Holy Spirit that our heart transforms and we are able to perceive all its warmth and predilection. ...

    The heart of the man who is wise in this way has the taste, the flavor, of God. We have the Holy Spirit inside us, in our heart: we can listen to it, or we can choose not to listen to it. If we listen to the Holy Spirit, He will teach us this way of wisdom and will give us the wisdom to see through God's eyes, to hear with God's ears, to love with the heart of God, to judge with God's judgment. This is the wisdom that the Holy Spirit gives us, and all of us can have this."

    Pope Francis
    General Audience
    April 9, 2014

    1. Dear Sr. Therese Mary,
      Thank you for providing the beautiful spiritual reflections of Pope Francis.

    2. Thank you, Sr. Therese Mary, for sharing this lovely message with us.

  2. Sr. Annette,
    Your posts always have a comfort element built into them. I love your reference to our being flowers in the Lord’s garden and how He knows our needs and shares our burdens. My favorite images and stories of Jesus are the ones where He is kind, merciful, and loving toward us. I prefer those warm, fuzzy tones to the strong language in today’s gospel. The word “hate” is so powerful that it stings. Jeannine K. Brown, in her commentary on Luke 14:25-33, writes that we like to hear about God’s grace and His “covenant loyalty to redeem and save us but we should not neglect the covenant loyalty that is expected from us in return.”
    Similar to Fr. Foley’s interpretation of hate referring to loving in proportion, Rev. Brown points out that Jesus’ stark language of “hate” refers to “primary allegiance.” That is, our primary allegiance must be to Jesus rather than to family. “Jesus is not calling his followers to hate their families in terms of emotional response; instead, he calls for undivided loyalty to himself above family loyalties.”
    Unrelated to Luke’s gospel, Rick Warren recently wrote, “God made you to be you. If you’re going to become all you can be, you have to refuse to be defined by others.” He invites readers to consider who they allow to determine their identity – parents, friends, social media, culture, the competition? He reminds us that the Bible says, “Our purpose is to please God, not people.” In order to withstand the potential pressure these conflicting sources could create, it is of the utmost importance that we are clear that our loyalty is with Jesus. This clarity frees us to say “no” to anything that could compromise our relationship with the Lord.
    Jesus emphasizes the high cost of following him in the two brief parables about the landowner building a tower and the king who assesses the number of troops he has against the greater number of troops the enemy possesses. Brown sums the teaching, “Jesus extols a commitment to finishing the discipleship journey once begun or not beginning it at all.”
    Our relationship with Jesus, is at heart, a covenantal relationship – intentional and loyal. “The one who redeems us also calls us into costly discipleship, Jesus’ command to ‘Follow me’ is both gift and demand."

  3. Dear Pat,

    Thanks for Rick Warren's reminder that we are called to be our true selves and to please God, not people." That is a reminder that we need to hear again and again.