Click to hear Audio Homily
If you look at your faith journey up to now, was there a time when your faith caused a strain in your family or even division within your family? After moving to Baton Rouge area, two siblings from North Louisiana where they grew up as devout Protestants decided to enter the Catholic Church through the RCIA program. In fact, the two siblings brought their spouse and children through the program as well. When their family in North Louisiana found this out, they were criticized severely. “I can’t believe you are thinking about being Catholic. Have you lost your mind? Why in the world would you leave biblical Christianity to follow a religion based on men’s tradition? How in the world did you fall for a religion like that?” In fact, their mom and dad began to shun them from family gatherings. It was a very difficult time for these two families. As the RCIA program progressed through Lent, the hearts of the two siblings were opened up to the scriptures referencing the sacrifice and the cost of Our Lord’s love for humanity. Something clicked. Why was Our Lord willing to sacrifice for someone who did not love him? What was the cost of his suffering in loving us? Are we willing to love until it hurts like Jesus? These insights helped solidify the resolve of the two siblings to continue through the program despite family rejection. After two decades, the two siblings have worked tirelessly in their parish to help start programs that ignite Catholic faith.
From the early days of Christian communities down to our generation, Christians grappled with the severity of Jesus’ summons to absolute discipleship. "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Jesus is not saying that His followers should not love their parents and families, but that family bonds, relationships, and allegiance must ultimately be subordinate to the new kinship that comes from baptism. Jesus calls forth a commitment that must surpass and supersede even the demands of love and respect for one’s parents and family.
Jesus’ teaching not only caused division between people but called individuals to examine and struggle within themselves. Jesus challenges us to “lose our life in order to gain it.” Can you recall a time in your life when you were attached to something or someone that was destroying your life, marriage, or family? Was it bad habits, irrational impulses, addictions, or personality traits that caused much pain for you and others? What did you do about them? Did you struggle to change for the sake of yourself and family? Are you still struggling?
There is a cost to being a disciple of Jesus. Are we willing to pay that cost? We need to subordinate all of our natural loves and attractions to our love for Him. Why would we do this? As disciples of Jesus, we understand that our earthly life is transitory and therefore not our goal. There is greater life awaiting us that makes this life pale by comparison. By keeping that goal in mind, we are able to more easily prioritize things in terms of our earthly life and its challenges. Many tens of thousands of Christian martyrs surrendered their physical life in order to hold fast to their faith, and thereby inherit eternal life with God.
We must be able to say with St. Paul that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. “Dying to one’s self,” means first of all saying ‘no’ to our own natural love of ease and comfort, saying ‘no’ to the instincts and desires which prompt us to touch and taste and handle forbidden things. Secondly, “dying to one’s self” means admitting that, ‘I can't do it.’ We confess that on our own powers and abilities, we can’t save ourselves. This opens us to accept the promise that God can do it, and He has already done it for us. We live no longer to follow our own will, but to follow the will of Christ, and in that service, we find our perfect freedom.