Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Being Fully Alive
If today were not a Sunday, we would be celebrating the memorial of one of the Church Fathers, St Irenaeus. Irenaeus lived in the second century, about 130 to 203 AD. Among his writing, you will find the statement: The Glory of God is man fully alive. Think about that: The Glory of God is man fully alive. What does this mean? Let's break it down. Glory is that which radiates from God, that which shows His Holiness. Therefore, the Holiness of God is radiated in man fully alive. To be fully alive is to be alive both physically and spiritually, for we are spiritual beings as well as physical beings. Many people feel dead because they are dead. They live only for the physical and have sacrificed or refused to embrace their capacity for the spiritual. Man fully alive is more than physically alive. Man fully alive is spiritually alive. Therefore, to paraphrase Irenaeus' The Glory of God is man fully alive; we can say "The Holiness of God is seen in the man or woman who is totally, physically and spiritually alive.
It is in this light that we can come to an understanding of those demanding mandates at the beginning of this Sunday’s Gospel: Whoever loves Father or Mother more than me is not worthy of me; whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not takes up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Recently, there has been a supposedly humorous commercial on TV that shows a teenage girl getting home at a reasonable time in the evening and her mother, who should have eaten a snickers bar, yelling at her, “What are you doing home? You should be out someplace disappointing your father.” The commercial is a joke, but, sadly, there are parents who try to convince their children to engage in actions that would destroy their spiritual lives. If they were to go along with their parents sinful demands, then they would be choosing the love of their parents over the love of God. This is not all that rare. I have come upon parents, few to be sure, but still parents who encourage their children to sin. I have come upon parents who have told their Teenage daughters that they need to be on birth control because it would be reasonable for them to have sex. I have come upon parents who have taught their children to cheat at business, or work. But mostly, sadly, I have come upon parents who have taught their children to hate. They have done this by refusing to control their own anger and hating others. If a child were to choose to follow a parent leading her or him to sin, then that child would be loving Father or Mother more than God. The child would not be worthy of God, at least not until he or she rejects sin.
The second mandate really strikes us as excessive. It sure seems to be over the top to say, “Anyone who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” We hear this mandate, and we think about our children. Our hearts explode with love just picturing them in our minds. How can we be told that if we love them more than we love Jesus, we are not worthy of the Lord. How can this be? It is simply that Jesus Christ must be the center of our lives. We love our children because they are not just our children; they are the Lord's children. Parents are in the business of raising children for the Lord, not for themselves. If parents separate their love for their children from their love for the Lord, if the worship of God is not a priority in their home, if they let their children convince them that the Christian life is too demanding for modern day people, then these parents would be loving their son or daughter more than God. They would be unworthy of being a follower of Christ.
But if parents, or better, when parents, allow the presence of God in their homes to motivate their every action, when parents are committed to raising their children to be the Christian men and women the world craves to find its meaning and worth, then their love for their children will reflect their love for the Lord. Catholic parents do not love their children more than they love God. Their love for their children is an expression of their love for God.
And finally, “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Christ’s love is sacrificial love. He loves by giving. He calls us to love by giving. This can be difficult. This can be a real cross. A person can have a serious illness. There can be deep pain and division within a family, a person may experience a horrible life-changing tragedy. A person might be in so much pain that he or she just wants to give up, even to the point of going to war with God rather than accept his or her situation in life as a participation in the cross of Christ. If we refuse to follow the Lord because we are convinced that our crosses are too much for us, then we are not worthy of being called disciples of the Lord.
There is a popular expression, “If you have your health you have it all.” This is not true. What is true is this: “If you have the Lord, you have it all.”
And St. Paul wrote: “Do you not realize that when you were baptized you were baptized into the death of Christ, so that you can live the life of Christ.” Millions of Christians, billions of Christians, have died happy in the Lord because they have realized with their lives that nothing can ever separate them from the love of Christ. They have been and are fully alive, physically and spiritually. The Glory of God has shown through them. Again, St. Irenaeus, “The Glory of God is man fully alive.”
May we also be fully alive.. May we be worthy followers of Jesus Christ.