By this time in our history, what Catholic doesn’t know when Jesus states “You must hate your father, mother, wife, children, brother, sister if you are to follow me” he used hyperbole / exaggeration to express that we must love God first above all others. If not, we tend to love family and friends selfishly, manipulatively, with jealousy or envy or with inflated pride or too much criticism. Following Jesus first, we see our loved ones as Jesus sees them, love them as Jesus loves them, support them as much as we can mirror Jesus’ support—i.e., loving them while insisting on the Two Great Commandments which foster honesty, humility, forgiveness, and courage to repair any damage that we’ve done. As for “hating even our lives,” of course, we must always be GRATEFUL for our lives, for being invited to share in Jesus’ life, his mission, cultivating his perspectives in how we interact with the world. What we need “to hate” is our tendency to default to society’s ways of valuing us – our looks, our possessions, our neighborhoods, our needs for other’s approval. Grateful that we may have these things but not resentful that we may not.
In the NYTIMES Sunday Arts section today, there’s an insightful interview with Linda Ronstadt, a very popular recording artist of the 1970 and 80’s , now retired and, it seems, living gracefully with Parkinson’s disease. Regarding her unique recordings of Mexican songs when bringing Spanish into mainstream pop was extremely rare, her interviewer asked her: ““When critics talk about the pop artists who brought music from outside the U.S. or U.K. to the pop mainstream, they mention Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel, not you. Is that frustrating? HER RESPONSE: Who cares? My music is not curing cancer. It will be gone soon enough.
That, my friends is a shining example of being thankful for our lives and talents while being humble and keeping the big picture –whether we ever get our name in a newspaper or our YouTube posts go viral.
Following Jesus, picking up our cross—i.e. accepting trials and conflicts and difficulties as challenges, opportunities for grace, and being “ever-ready,” “prepared,” “prudent,” eager to learn is the theme for our Eucharist today. And, I know, how often we may not feel any of that. Remember, each Mass is here to return us to hope, to courage—to trust in Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life. I know that not all family, friends and co-workers support us in these beliefs and endeavors. Many chide, or ridicule us for going to Mass, or for remaining Catholic, or for believing in God. Others are quick to lord it over us when we do something harmful or indulge our tempers or hurt ourselves or another human being. It is then that we must humbly acknowledge how dependent we are on Christ and His Story of forgiveness, for reconciliation, for courage to admit our wrongs and make amends. Today’s Eucharist offers us that, too. Thank God!
And yes, the Church as institution has given us plenty of reasons to judge it, to even hate it. Yet today and everyday Jesus gives us the grace to hold it accountable with faith and hope, loving it back to its true self and reinstating it to its primordial purpose. Hey, if not you and me, who?
So, may we not despair that only some of us among family, friends and neighbors have chosen to celebrate Jesus in us and for us today. We never know when the deposit of Grace bestowed on in any given Eucharist will bear fruit — even when we may not be conscious of it. I’ll close with what I hope is for you a shining example –an inspiration—as to the possibilities, the grace in store for us precisely because we’re here, cultivating our friendship with God and all that entails.
One day, a certain dad indulged his dark side in ways that were deeply demeaning to his adult daughter. She found herself brimming with rage. But a voice within, however, pleaded with her: “Postpone your wrath!” “Postpone your wrath!” What Eucharist do you think that came from? “Anyway,” she pacified herself with this thought, “I’ll plot my revenge at a later date.“
As the days went by, the incident replayed repeatedly in her mind, evoking the worst of all her childhood and adult memories. She’d see her father’s face before her and cringe and craze. And then it happened! A realization that she didn’t have to live this way. She had a choice. Yes, she could indulge these thoughts and feelings, or she could release herself from unending trauma. She must recall the good times, the pleasant moments with her dad or she’d make herself sick and kill her kinship with her father forever.
She decided to throw him a party. She hadn’t prayed to Jesus for deliverance, but faith is active even when we’re unconscious of it. Her preparations brought good memories forward to balance the bad ones. Her dad was not a determinedly daily tyrant. No, not at all. She recalled moments of kindness, patience and generosity. Grace happened! The party was a singular success and none of those who attended, especially dear dad, would ever know all that transpired in her heart. She was free, her heart restored, and she thought, “Thank God!” Remember, friends, Eucharist means “Thanksgiving.”