Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: Is 35:4-7a; James 2:1-5; Mk 7:31-37]

The Gospel text given to us from Mark seems very sketchy, almost stingy with details. There are no descriptions to feed our imaginations, nothing to draw our attention. It is almost like the poor man of the Letter of James that we shuffle off to the side while looking to more interesting objects. I think, however, Mark is challenging us to pay attention to deeper realities and not be side-tracked by exciting and gratifying externals. This is, after all, the response of “the crowd” who were so taken up with the cure of the deaf man (“he has done all things well”) that they never approached a realization of who Jesus is.

The first question that rises is, why did they bring this man to Jesus? There is no mention of their pity, of their compassion, of mercy, nor even of their faith. And there is nothing said of the deaf man's interest in all this. Perhaps he was not even willing to be dragged into this encounter. And nothing is said of Jesus' own response. The very silence about these motivations makes it seem as if Jesus was being approached as a wonder-worker, someone who could exert power over hostile elements to restore order, tranquility, balance. Personal investment or change is not required. This seems all too typical of the attitudes of many communities toward the infirm, the misfits, the eccentric, or the ill—from whatever cause. They need to be “fixed”, to be made “normal”, to fit into accustomed modes. The unity of a community is threatened by someone who is not a productive or contributing member. The truth often is that the “sick” or “infirm” person make them aware (even if only unconsciously) of their own sickness and infirmity. The deaf man is a product and projection of their own deafness. Jesus ordered them “not to tell anyone”, but the more he ordered them, the more they spoke. They responded on a level of amazement at the external change. And they kept talking. Talking is often a way of dealing with anxiety, of trying to smother fear. “Say to the hearts of those who are frightened: fear not. Here is your God.” They had not a clue that God was there, a God whose presence would bring healing and recompense. They simply wanted the situation fixed and order restored. A return to a closed system in which God's presence and intervention could be ignored. God would be a poor man, an outsider in this assembly. Not worthy of attention. We will be saved by removing anything or anyone that reminds us of our desperate need and poverty. We even remove from sight the inner poor person we are.

The next question is, why did Jesus take him off by himself, away from the crowd? It was not because he didn't want to give away his technique. Nor even to spare the deaf man embarrassment. The simplicity of Mark's scene lays bare the direct encounter of Jesus with the one he will heal and save. He took him by himself. He took him as he was in his singularity and solitude. He took him away from those social definitions which kept him from being “himself.” There was someone there who could be addressed: “Be opened.” A simple line is crossed from being closed to being open. The level of address is at being, not doing or having. It takes great courage to be open to what is, to put oneself in the hands of God. The people had asked Jesus to “put your hands on him.” While the intention was to ask for healing, there is another meaning to “put your hands” on someone which implies control and violence. Perhaps both meanings were being carried by the words. To put yourself in the hands of God is to restore that relationship with the God of creation and the God of providence.

As Mark describes the healing, it involved a very intimate and intense joining and communing of bodies. His fingers went into the man's ears, he touched his tongue with his spittle. The groan of Jesus came from a deep confrontation and struggle with evil and the cost and effort demanded for freeing someone from the deafness to the word of God imprisoned in the heart. This is not a quick fix and there are no magical solutions. There are no guarantees of hearing applause for a work done well. There is simply that openness which comes from hearing “Here is you God.” God is that openness. This is the hearing that opens one to become a disciple, one who can see and hear and walk in the ways God is now revealing. It is the joy of joining those whom God chose,”those who are poor in the world to

Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: Ez 33:7-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mt 18: 15-20]

When we are invited to join a college, a fraternity, or even an insurance plan, we are readily and boldly told of the great advantages there are in becoming a member and signing up. The Church is more modest in presenting what it has to offer. Joining the Church is not the end of our problems. We are introduced to new ones. When someone is ordained, the Ritual warns them to be conscious of what they are taking on. The Rule of Benedict says the abbot should be aware of the burden involved in governing souls. Novices are to be told of the hard and difficult things on the journey to God. Chapter Seven of the Rule lists difficulties, persecution, and injustice as something a monk can expect. The New Testament is replete with stories of disagreements, arguments, divisions and conflicts, both before and after the event of Pentecost. While we desire peace and tranquility, difficulty and conflicts in the church seem inevitable.

When we reflect on the church, we usually first consider it as an institution: a visible communion and organization of people, with laws, rules, and authority structures. We readily agree to what is necessary: not to kill, not to commit adultery, not to steal. Go to mass on Sundays, fast during Lent, do no evil. Loving one another as we love ourselves seems feasible and humane. We will do what is necessary. But a deeper level of meaning calls us beyond this response to the obvious and evident: namely, what is possible. The structures and organization of the church are meant to serve and express its reality as a covenant with God made possible through Jesus Christ. The Christian community manifests the presence of Christ, gathering his people in his name. The question of “two or three” gathered is not a question of numbers or quantity. Critical mass is not attained by two or three thousand. It is when the church becomes the unity of these people rising from the active presence of Christ in their midst. It is not a group of juxtaposed persons, but a communion which realizes itself through reconciliation, relationship, communication, and care. The law is realized not in just “not killing”, but in responding to one another from this new center which creates new responsibilities. Relationships must move from what is necessary to what is possible if they are to express the new convenant.

We are reluctant to move beyond the level of what is necessary. “This is somebody else's concern.” “That is not my department.” The managerial division of labor excuses us from exercising responsibility beyond what might inconvenience us. “I didn't want to get involved.” What has been called “doctrinaire laissez-faire” justifies us in looking the other way or subltley disengaging our interest. Everyone is supposed to take care of himself. We manage the reality of sin by minimizing it, denying its implications, or identifying it with social misbehavior. In any case, it can be managed. The Gospel seems to offer a method for handling offenders by a due process which moves from personal subsidiarity to increasing social pressure to finally a form of excommunication and washing our hands of the problem.

But in fact, the Gospel moves us beyond what is normal, reasonable and necessary into an unknown realm of the possible and even the impossible. It is the one who is offended who takes the initiative in reestablishing the relationship. As the one who is clear-sighted in faith and sensitive to the implications of a sin, he does not sit back and wait. Sin is not merely an infraction of rules or behaving badly. It is the damaging of a relationship. It is harm done to the covenant in which Christ gathers his Church. All parties are injured: the sinner who is moving into isolation and the one sinned against who now bears a wound and loss. It would be callous to say that the sin removes the offender from a circle of concern. We would then accept the definition of a relationship as it is dictated and destroyed by sin. The irresponsibility of another would be used to excuse and justify our own irresponsibility.

The Gospel says, “If your brother sins against you.” This definition of the offender is never erased. Even if the process of intervention must move to final measure, he remains your brother. Part of the difficulty in engaging in a process of correction is that it unveils our own sinfulness, the unhealed layers that “peace and order” can leave dormant. It is from a consciousness of our solidarity in sin that we try to win our brother. The offender never becomes an adversary, a culprit, or an object of contempt.

Finally, the goal is that a brother listen. The goal is not to punish or shame or exact revenge. Each stage of the process is meant to increase the sense of trust, security, acceptance, and equality which enhance the possibility that the sinner will listen. Pressure and recrimination would only push the person further away, make it impossible for him to listen. The gradually increasing circles of concern and communion are meant to keep open for the sinner the relationships he is in danger of harming. If he still does not listen, “treat him as you would a Gentile or tax collector.” The Church had learned from Christ that this means to persist in a welcoming and open presence among those still unable to accept his message.

Doing nothing is the unacceptable and unChristian stance. Doing nothing can well be doing evil. “Love does no evil to the neighbor.” One of the desert fathers, Poeman, said that “by doing nothing, we can stand in the way, preventing the brother's awareness of God.” Rowan Williams, writing of St. Anthony of the Desert, said: “gaining the brother or sister and winning God are linked. It is not getting them signed up to something or getting them on your side. It is opening doors for them to healing and to wholeness. Insofar as you open such doors for another, you gain God in the sense that you become a place where God happens for somebody else. You become a place where God happens…. What if the real criteria for a properly functioning common life, for social existence in its fullness, had to do with this business of connecting each other with the life-giving reality, with the possibility of reconciliation or wholeness?”

Where there is care, communication, taking risks in opening doors for healing, there God happens. Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them. There God happens.

Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: Wis 9:13-18b; Phile 1:9-17; Lk 14:25-33]

Back in the mid nineties, I was Novice Director at Holy Spirit Abbey, working with a fine young man, I'll call him Bro. Benedict, who was then a Postulant. He had been in the monastery for about six months when it came time for his first family visit. As things turned out, at about the time his parents came to see him, Benedict was going through a really rough period. The silence and solitude of the monastery were introducing him to a new depth of self-knowledge . He felt he was “in a little over his head”, and felt quite overwhelmed by what he was learning about himself; struggling with alternating waves of fear and despondency. It was not a good time for Benedict.

On the afternoon his parents arrived, he found himself alone with them in the living room of the guest house and his mother, studying his face intently asked him: “How are you doing, Son?” Unable to put up a front in the presence of his mother he he told her. With his voice hushed and a sad face, he told her about all that he was going through, and ended with the words: “It's hard for me to be here now.” His mother, drawing near to him said: “Son , you can come home today. There's space in the car, you can have your old room at the house. You'll be assured of three hot meals a day. Anytime you decide, you can come home, Son. If you want we can leave today.”

Benedict was stunned. He never anticipated his mother would respond this way. Her words hit him broadside and with a terrific force. At a moment when he was off balance, unsure of himself, feeling weak and indecisive—his mother was inviting him to leave monastic life. He managed to mutter a few non-committal words in response and then quickly changed the subject. Later, clearly upset, he asked to talk to me, and told me what happened. After his parents left, he and I spent several days reflecting on the incident; processing the emotional fallout from this brief exchange with his mother. Brother Benedict is now a Solemn Professed monk at Holy Spirit Abbey, quietly, and happily serving the Lord in his church as a Trappist monk, but, as we talked, we both realized, that his beautiful God given vocation had been endangered during that brief exchange with his mother. She did nothing wrong. She was a caring and generous woman who loved her son. She committed no sin. She discerned that someone she loved was in pain, and spontaneously reached out to him with a mother's arms, and with no other intention than to comfort the child born of her womb. Benedict admitted to me that, in his present pain and anguish, his mother's invitation was intensely attractive. But after the two of us talked, it became clear to him, following that attraction would not have been a movement toward holiness or any kind of human growth. He realized he needed to persevere through this season of suffering in order to receive a special gift God had prepared for him: new strength, a new sense of himself and his real purpose in life—the discovery of his true vocation. Withdrawing from the battle, and crashing for a few months in the bedroom where he spent his adolescence was not what Benedict needed in spite of the fact the offer was an expression of a mother's sincere love.

Jesus speaks to us hard sounding words this morning: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and his mother he cannot be my disciple.” How could Jesus, God's love for the world incarnate, declare as a condition for being his disciple that one hate one's own mother? Could “hatred” by a son for his mother, ever be a fulfillment of God's plan; a realization of the salvation God wills for us? How can Jesus, the Prince of Peace, speak of “hate” with reference to the mysterious and tender bond that joins a son to his own mother? What is this “hate” Jesus requires of his disciples.

It's an interesting fact that, at no point in Brother Benedict's discernment to forgo his mother's invitation and remain in the monastery, did he ever utter one harsh or unkind word to her. At no time during the weeks after her visit, was Benedict's relationship with his mother done any injury. This is not to say that at a certain moment he did turn away from his mother, as if turning away from something he hated. He did not hate his mother, but during our talks together I witnessed Benedict's heart set ablaze; I watched as his devotion to the person of Jesus intensified and grew hotter as we talked. It was a slow burn, but it grew hotter and hotter until it set aflame and turned to ashes the strong beams holding up a protective ceiling his mother had constructed over him to protect him from pain. To protect him from God.

I saw nothing to suggest that Benedict “hated” his mother at any point in this process except in the sense that there was brought about a new and radical separation between them. This separation hardly made any appearance externally. His mother may not even have known it was happening. But deep inside Benedict's heart, that fateful conversation with his mother was being replayed. In his imagination, he was listening to his mother, inviting him to return home, and in his imagination, Benedict placed his hand over his mother's heart and began to push, began to push gently but very firmly, applying a steady pressure; nothing that would hurt her, just enough pressure to put some distance between mother and son—just enough force to create a space between them such that his mother could love him and respect him as an adult at the same time.

What I witnessed during those several days watching Benedict navigate his way through this ordeal was that Love, real Love, whose source is the infinite God can act in our lives with a force that is like a separation a separation of such depth and intensity, that it might be described as “hate”; hate without anger, malice, or violence. This radical force of separation is actually the work of love turning away from everything that is not God who is the true object of our love. Amazingly, this love of God that effects a real separation between persons and can seize upon on us with a force like hatred—never ceases to be love, and proves itself as Love by healing and making strong the person it seizes upon.

This is the intensity of Love that consumed Jesus on the cross and separated him from us in the Ascension. The proof that his separation from us was the work of love and an expression of divine love, is the Eucharist we are about to celebrate. Let us receive it with hearts full of gratitude and awe.

Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: Ez 33: 7-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mat 18: 15-20]

Our lives include those people whose job it is to correct others. We tend to look at them as “heavies.” The are parents, teachers, judges, police, referees. They often wear black or dark clothes. We don’t particularly like it, but we normally grudgingly accept their interventions . These are usually painful. They are painful because they are embarrassing, humiliating, demeaning, make us feel like children. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us: “All discipline seems painful at the time, but yields the peaceful fruit of justice.” Maybe next time we are stopped for speeding, we can tell the policeman,“Thanks for this $150 ticket , officer. It is painful now, but I am sure eventually it will yield peaceful fruits of justice.”

The fact that these “heavies” have an official role helps to soften the pain on both sides. The process is a little easier when there are formal structures, a certain armor of legitimacy. “Nothing personal, you know. I’m just doing my job.” We would rather avoid getting involved and hope somebody else will step in when we see a problem emerging with someone. We have a whole array of excuses we can pull out: “It isn’t my place to say anything.” “I guess he knows what he is doing.” “She must have some friends who can level with her.” “I have problems of my own.” The newspapers regularly have articles recounting a scene of violence while bystanders failed to intervene.

All of the readings today are an affront to the limits which usually place on the scope our our responsibility. We can brush them off by thinking Ezekiel was a prophet who lived in 590 B.C. Maybe he was responsible for speaking up, but not me. I’m willing enough to love everybody in general, “Have a good day.” Matthew seem to be talking about some extreme sort of intervention, not one which concerns my life. But then, we aren’t listening. You are responsible to speak up and dissuade the wicked person from their deeds. You have an obligation to love your neighbor–in concrete, immediate, and practical ways. To do no evil, especially the evil of doing nothing in time of need. You take the initiative and go speak to your brother. All this is utterly practical, utterly immediate, utterly personal, utterly painful.

No question that it is easier to rely on the “heavies” to implement correction. It is easier to interact on levels of the impersonal, the formal, the minimal. We keep our distance and further isolate one who is already floundering in isolation and alienation. In his book Markings, Dag Hammarskjold recounts the experience of intervening too late:

“He was impossible. His manner of behavior brought him into conflict with everybody and, in the end, began to have an adverse effect on everything he had to do with. When the crisis came and the whole truth had to come out… When the last rag of a lie had been taken from him and we felt there was nothing more to be said, out it came with stifled sobs: ‘But why did you never help me, why didn’t you tell me what to do? You knew that I always felt you were against me. And fear and insecurity drove me further and further along the course you now condemn me for having taken.’ So, in the end, we were in fact to blame. We had not voiced our criticisms, but we had allowed them to stop us from giving him a single word of encouragement and in this way had barred every road to improvement. For it is always the stronger one who is to blame. We lack life’s patience. Instinctively, we try to eliminate a person from our sphere of responsibility as so as the outcome of this particular experiment by Life appears, in our eyes, to be a failure. But Life pursues her experiments beyond the limitations of our judgment.”

Someone who is sinning is already pulling away from communion, is inflicting self-destructive wounds on his own soul. The response is not to drive him or her into deeper isolation, but to re-establish an offer of communion. It is your brother or sister who is sinning. The relationship and responsibility is already there in virtue of being children of the one Father. The intervention always offers itself in the context of honesty and trust. It is not engaged with any sense of vindictiveness, but only in the sense of winning over, persuading, of mutuality. The broadening circles of involvement are not attempts to “turn the screws” or “bring out the big guns,” but to expand the horizons of concern and involvement. The effort moves in the context of patience and intimacy. The appeal is being made to a listening heart.

As a communication between brothers and sisters, there is great potential for pain in having to acknowledge our own fragility and sinfulness as well as possible rejection. Our difficulty with the process reveals the unhealed functioning of our own hearts, the incompleteness of our living out of repentance. The model of this process is the immediate presence of Christ in our own lives, the initiative he takes in speaking to our hearts where conversion and repentance are not “done deals” but still in process. We learn from his compassion with us how to communicate that same care to others. The great mystery is that he was willing to sit and eat and socialize with gentiles and tax collectors. He didn’t condone or excuse their alienated styles of life, but he also didn’t withdraw the offer of the inner freedom and peace that he manifested as being at the root of his own life. “Treat them as gentiles or tax collectors.” To accept our responsibility toward another is to open a space of meeting. It is a space which first of all has been opened by Christ. To gather in His Name, in the truth and holiness that he offers, is to know that he is there in our midst.

Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: Wis 9: 13-18b; Philemon 1: 9-17; Lk 14: 25-33 ]

One day, a number of years ago, when I was studying theology at St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, I was in a class with a group of men and women preparing for ministry in the church, when the teacher invited us to close our eyes, and quiet our thoughts, and do a guided meditation together. After a moment or two, we heard her say to us: “Now I want you to picture yourself in that place you most like to be; maybe a sunlit corner of a room in the house where you like to read the paper, or the familiar clutter of a work bench in the garage where you like to tinker with your favorite project. Picture that place you tend to gravitate toward when you have some free time, and picture yourself there happily occupied doing what you most like to do — reading the paper, or fixing a lawn mower, or gardening, or fishing on a lake. Place yourself there now, in your imagination, and be in that place. Imagine yourself happily and quietly absorbed in that activity you love. At this moment, you are anxious about nothing, you are craving nothing; your mind is quiet; your thoughts focused on the simple task before you. You are stirred by no ambition; no craving for anything. All that you need; all that you desire, you have at this moment. You feel content, you are fulfilled and serene. Occupied in this happy and peaceful way, you have the feeling, at this moment, that you are loved and that you are lovable, and so, for the moment, you are satisfied simply to be. You feel no need to justify your existence or your actions to anyone. Life, and this quiet moment are a gift, and you gratefully receive the gift. Be present to this moment; and be present to what you are at this moment; peaceful and content to be who you are.”

After a minute or so, we heard her speak again, and were a little surprised to hear her say quietly, but firmly, “The self you are contemplating at this moment is your celibate self.” Another few moments passed, and she invited us to open our eyes and to discuss what we had experienced. Our teacher said to the class: “Why did I call that self you were contemplating, your “celibate self”? It is because, the self you were present to in that meditation; that quiet, fulfilled, happy and serene self is a mystery, ultimately, a mystery that is quite incommunicable to any other human being. What you were contemplating is the mystery you are, which is a mystery something like the mystery of God it cannot be communicated; cannot be shared completely with any other human being, not even in the case of the most intimate friendship; not in the happiest marriage; not in the most intimate moments with a parent or a sibling or a lover.”

Ultimately, the quasi-infinite mystery you are, as a human being, is incommunicable to any other human being and is known fully only by the God who created you. That is why I call this self your “celibate self. In the sense that each of us is, ultimately, a mystery incommunicable to any other human being. We are all celibates.”

You may not have heard someone talk that way before. It was new experience for me, when I first heard it, but I have to say that, my own experience has confirmed what our teacher told us that morning. In fact, I would say that, among those human beings to whom I can never fully communicate the mystery I am, is included myself. I am a mystery even to myself, which is partly why, I am unable to communicate the mystery I am to anyone else.

This kind of talk can be little disconcerting for us, and maybe it should be. Reflecting on this mystery, one begins to feel curiously “dispossessed.” Dispossessed of the one thing you were sure you did possess, namely, yourself. But the truth is, we really are not in possession of ourselves. We elude ourselves. We remain a mystery even to ourselves, and maybe become more a mystery to ourselves as we grow older. Maybe this is neither a good thing or a bad thing but simply the way it is, and so, something we need to look at and accept. Maybe what we are talking about here is simply the acknowledgement of the radical poverty and dispossessed nature of human existence itself.

In light of these reflections, the challenge of this morning’s gospel might be seen in a different light. Jesus says: “If you do not give up everything you have, you cannot be my disciple.” How strange it is that giving up “what we have” should cost us such an effort. What do we have? What, brothers and sisters, do we possess that we can call our own? A house? A husband? A wife? A child? If you are, and remain all your life, an incommunicable mystery, to those you love most and even to yourself . . . then, what do you have? And so, realizing we are in fact dispossessed of all we thought we had, does Jesus’ teaching mean we have to make ourselves radically poor or does obeying Jesus simply mean acknowledgement of the poverty that is our human existence?

Listen to a man insist that efforts to relieve the misery and humiliation Of the poor by redistribution of wealth is somehow intrinsically evil, because, after all, “I earned what I have and so my wealth is mine, and “My possessions are mine and “The right to enjoy the fruits of my labor is mine. Listen to this man, and you are listening to a man who has not yet reflected on the nature of his human existence.

Listen to a woman insisting that it is her “right” to abort a child because, after all, “It’s my body, and not yours. It’s my life, and not your life. It’s my concern, and none of yours” . . . and you are listening to a woman who has not yet acknowledged the truth about her human existence.

Brothers and sisters, we possess nothing. Jesus taught us that, not because he intended to make us poor. When he met us, we were already desperately poor. Jesus’ desire is to make us rich; rich in the superabundance of wealth and joy that can never be taken away from us; rich in the certain knowledge that we are loved and have been redeemed; that we are inexpressibly noble and beautiful creatures whom God has destined for Himself and destined for eternal life.

Let us proceed now to the Eucharist in which Christ empties himself. Let us empty ourselves with him; empty ourselves of everything, that we may be filled with God’s life.

Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: Wis 9:13-18b; Phile 1:9-17; Lk 14:25-33]

Fr. AlbericOne night, five years ago, at about one in the morning, I was sitting in a hospital room beside my father who was lying on a bed; his eyes closed; unconscious, and very pale, and the room was quiet — except for the sound of his labored breathing. We were spending together what was to be his last night in the world. As I prayed, I was holding his hand, and though I held his hand for some time, I never felt it respond to my touch or even move.

The image of my father’s hand, lying so very still that night, was for me a kind of revelation. When I was a little boy, my father used to take both my hands firmly in his own hands, and draw me around and around him in a circle faster and faster, until my feet left the ground, and I was flying like superman in circles around my father. And I remember that, flying through the air, with my hands held so firmly in his hands, I felt coming from my father, a power communicated to me physically; a power hurling me; away from him, outward, toward the world in all directions, toward my future—filled with infinite possibilities. And having learned from my father my true destiny, I was very excited and cried: “Do it again, Daddy. Do it again!” And I remember that, even though I was just a little boy, I was not afraid to fly. There was nothing to be afraid of. My father was holding me firmly by the hands, and there was no danger, because I knew it was impossible that my father would ever, ever let go of my hands. I knew I was no longer a little boy when, about one in the morning, that night in the hospital as my father lay dying and motionless beside me, I realized he had let go of my hands.

A Father's loveThe force of our father’s love is a centrifugal force that he communicates to us by taking us firmly by both our hands, and drawing us into a movement around and around him, by which our body and soul are thrown outward and away from him, revealing to us that it is our destiny to one day leave our father, and venture into a world too vast with possibilities for him to accompany us the whole way. It’s a lesson our fathers taught us very early. So, by the time we were five or six we were already “playing house”; rehearsing for the role we would assume one day when we moved away from our father’s house to establish one of our own. Every family bears within itself the promise of its own dispersion. It is the nature of a family to hurl its members away from itself, out into the world. That’s because at the center of the life of a family is the life of God, our heavenly Father, who so loved the world that he gave up for us his only Son.

If anyone comes to me without turning his back on his father, he cannot be my follower“, Jesus says in this morning’s gospel. What does he mean: “turn your back” on your father? In another Gospel he says “Unless you hate your father, you cannot be my disciple.” What is Jesus saying? It is often suggested that by “hate” Jesus meant we should be radically detached from the ties we feel to our father. But it seems to me, if Jesus had only wished to express to his disciples the value of detachment, he could have done so more clearly, and in a manner much less shocking and confusing. What do Jesus’ words mean? Must a disciple of Jesus Christ “hate” his father? Did Jesus hate his Father? What recorded saying of our Lord in the gospels in any way suggests that he hated his Father?

My God, my God,  why have your forsaken me? Maybe just one: maybe the words he spoke when he hung dying on the cross, and in astonishment, desperation, and agony cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!“; that desperate, terrible moment when Jesus realized that his Father, whom he had always felt holding him so firmly in his grasp, had let go of his hands; that moment when God’s beloved Son was hurled screaming into the impenetrable darkness of our loveless world, toward a possibility beyond the world of possibilities: the possibility of a man dying, being buried in the ground and three days later raised from the dead; the possibility that the Son of God might die a terrible death, and be resurrected from the dead in order to reveal to the world the secret of that love hidden for ages in his Father’s heart.

Brothers and sisters, unless you “hate” your Father in this way; unless you experience, as Jesus did, the Father taking you in hand; drawing you around and around him in a circle and hurling you away from Himself into a loveless world, you cannot be Jesus’ disciple. As a follower of Jesus, your vocation is to experience the power of God’s love communicated to you body and soul, as a centrifugal force hurling you outward toward every point on the compass: to the North, toward those people who are smarter, stronger, and more talented than you; to the South toward those who are inferior, poor, wretched, and despised; to the East toward those people who seem so different and strange to you: the people of Islam, Iraq, and Al Queda; and to the West toward those people who you live with every day, and know all too well—I mean us: the lucky ones, who are privileged, comfortable, and so often oblivious. Until your life is a movement outward and away from the Father toward all these different people in need of your love and forgiveness, you cannot share in Jesus’ death and resurrection by which is revealed the secret love hidden for ages in your Father’s heart.