If today's Gospel did not stop you in your tracks, please take a moment and consider this text: "If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:26. Let that sink in for a moment.
Bishop Robert Barron's homily on the Gospel was especially good. I encourage you to listen to it. You can find it here. I want to touch on some of the highlights. He points out that accounts of this teaching found in other Gospels phrase it differently. Jesus is reported to have said unless you "love me more" than your mother and father and wife, etc. Bishop Barron poses an interesting question about this statement. He asks if we could imagine another religious leader or religious founder making this same statement. Mohammad? Buddha? Moses? He points out that none of these religious leaders would have made such a statement. Perhaps they would have said that unless you love the Quran (Mohammad), or my teaching (Buddha), or the Lord or the Torah (Moses) more than yourself, you cannot be my disciple. None of these teachers would have directed attention to themselves. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus said. What makes Jesus different? Is Jesus just another religious founder among many? Is he just another prophet of the truth in a long line of prophets? Bishop Barron cites C.S. Lewis who said that Jesus compels us to make a choice about Him that no other religious founder does. Either Jesus is who is says he is, or he is a bad man, Barron observes. We could dismiss Jesus as insane or ego-maniacal, but the bland middle position that Jesus is just another great spiritual teacher simply won't suffice. Bishop Barron notes that "in the presence of someone who makes such an extraordinary claim, we have to make a decision." We cannot take the "cafeteria" approach where we accept a teaching here and there from Mohammad or the Buddha. Or, we look at some of Jesus' teachings and conclude that we like some of his teachings and not others. Jesus compels us to make a decision. Either we are with Jesus, because he is or he says he is, or we are against him.
Bishop Barron then asks us to consider what this Gospel says about us. Once we make the decision that Jesus is who he says he is, and we accept that Jesus is the supreme good, "every other claimant to supremacy must fall away." Each of us has some set of values that we consider greatest. We have a center of gravity around which everything else in our life turns. We all have something in our life that we "worship," in the sense that we assign it the highest value. For many of us, this highest value, or center of gravity (if we are honest with ourselves), might be money or material things. Perhaps it is power or position. What about our family? Maybe that is the center of gravity in our lives. Most of us would be proud to say that our family is of supreme value to us. Bishop Barron points out that none of these things in and of themselves is necessarily bad. In fact, money, power, or position can be used to promote good. He explains that there is nothing wrong with loving our families to the utmost. But he concludes that when we place of any of these things (including family) in the absolute center of gravity in our lives, or make them the ultimate or final good in our lives, things tend to go awry. Our spiritual life goes haywire. Bishop Barron admits that this is a hard spiritual truth. After all, my wife, my kids, my mother and father are all of supreme importance to me.
When Jesus speaks of "hating" our mothers, fathers, wives, and children, he does not mean that we should consider them hateful. After all, Jesus told us that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. The key meaning in this statement by Jesus is detachment. Bishop Barron advises that we must detach ourselves from these things, lest they become idols in our lives. He explains that only in this way are we truly ready for mission. Bishop Barron states that every single encounter with God in the Bible leads to a mission - to being sent to do the work of the Lord. "If we try to do this work while we are stuck in any number of our attachments, we will fail. Period. If we try to do God's will while we are worshiping something other than God, we will fail."
Finally, Jesus gives two analogies at the close of this teaching. He describes the building of a tower and a military campaign. His point was that no one does either of these things without some planning and self-evaluation. No one starts to build without making sure that all of the elements are in place. No king sets out to attack his enemy knowing that he is grossly outnumbered. Bishop Barron states: "In precisely the same way, no spiritual person sets out to follow the will of God unless and until he has rid himself of attachments. Otherwise, he will find zero success." Where are you in this spiritual journey?
St. Gregory the Great said this: "In this world let us love everyone, even though he be our enemy; but let us hate him who opposes us on our way to God, though he be our relative . . . We should, then, love our neighbor; we should have charity towards all - towards relatives and towards strangers - but without separating ourselves from the love of God out of love for them." In Evangelia homiliae, 37, 3. Bishop Barron states that "detachment is the key to freedom, and therefore the key to mission." Our love for God and Jesus should have pride of place in our lives and we should stay away from anything that obstructs this love.