13th Sunday Reflection
Whoever cherishes father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever cherishes 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 gains his soul will lose it, and whoever loses his soul for my sake will gain it. Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who has sent me forth. “Whoever welcomes a prophet because he is called prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a just man because he is called just will receive a just man’s reward. “And whoever gives one of these humble ones a cup of cold water solely because he is called disciple, amen, I tell you, he most certainly will not lose his reward.” (Mathew 10:34-42)
What person, possession, or thing, if lost, could, or would virtually take away my hope, my joy, and my reason to live?
My deepest emotions, anxieties, fears, grief, and despair points me to the god of my creation, my very own sacred idol. These are the emotions that can lead to uncontrollable anger toward any obstacle or person that stands in the way of my possessing it, despair if I cannot have it, and then to bitterness, outrage, violence, and destruction.
This is uncomfortable stuff, a bit of losing my life before I can gain it, and quite a lot gazing into the abyss of unknowing. This may lead me to cry out with St Augustin, “Lord, make me chaste but not yet”. This is a cry void of all humour and stripped of all hope.
It is only with gentleness and with grace that we can take this journey of discovery. It is only by holding on to Jesus as the staff of life, the staff of power, and the staff of wisdom, that we are able to undertake this discernment. Here is nothing of my own to lean upon, neither law nor sacrifice.
We all need relationships as we also need physical contact with others in order to survive and to thrive. Yet the gospel warns us sternly that we must discern the idols in our life, expose them, whether they be family, friends, reputation, or any other possessions, for what they are, and then reorder our love, or these very same idols will destroy us.
Spiritual maturity leads to that Love that is the only power that overcomes evil, indifference, and violence.
So now we ask ourselves, why is it that my love brings so much pain, so much suffering?
The rabbi asks the young man “why are you eating that fish?” “Because I love fish”, replied the young man. “Oh”, says the rabbi, “you love the fish so much, and that’s why you took it out of the water, killed it, and boiled it. Don’t tell me you love the fish, you Love yourself and because the fish tastes good to you, therefore you took it out of the water, killed it and boiled it”.
So much of what is our love is “fish love”.
And so, a young couple falls in love; the young man and a young woman fall in Love. What does this mean? It means that he saw in this woman someone he felt could provide him all his physical and emotional needs; and she thinks she can write on her status “this is Love”. But each one is looking out for their own needs. It’s not love for the other but rather the other person becomes a vehicle for my gratification.
Too much of what is called love is “fish love”.
External Love is not so much what I’m going to get, but what I’m going to give. The ethicist, Rabbi Dessler noted that “People make a serious mistake in thinking that you give to those whom you Love, but the real answer is that you Love those to whom you give.” His point is that if I give something to you, I’ve invested myself in you. And since self-Love is a given, that part of me has come into you, there’s a part of me in you that I Love.
It was my dear late brother, Robert Stewart, OFM who wrote an article on “The Spirituality of Conflict according to St Francis” in which he highlighted spiritual immaturity, leading to a lack of “real Love”, as the cause of conflict.
What is this “real Love”?
Jesus takes something that is sacred; sacrosanct, accepted in law and in the commands of God, family ties, and appears to rend them apart. Jesus understands our nature all too well. We so easily skip across the foundation that must be in God as source of all Love, to create for ourselves our idols, turning what is good into god. This is disordered love, love that is in the wrong place. This is what Scripture calls idolatry.
What thing, if I lost it, would mean that I almost lose the will to live? What thing, lost, gone from my life, would mean that almost all value and significance, identity and worth, would be drained out of my life? Whatever that thing is, the Bible calls it an idol. It’s an alternate god, a counterfeit god, anything that is more fundamental to your happiness, sense of value, or identity, other than God. Anything you love more than God or rest your heart in other than God.
All of God’s creation is good, but they are all created. We so often look towards these creations to establish our true worth and value; family, spouse, clan, country, comfort, health, friends, body, intelligence, position, achievements, virtue, or reputation. Yet we may fail to recognise and acknowledge the creator. It is here that we find good distorted, defiled, and corrupted.
Every crisis is also an opportunity for a soul audit. Vulnerabilities and imbalances stand out more starkly in such times, allowing us to contemplate the many idols in our lives today. Let us take a step back and evaluate how we spend our time, our effort, and money. What drives me? What have I become obedient to? What shapes my decisions and direction in life?
Perhaps the idols are not out there in wood, or stone, or golden edifice, but in the eye of my chaotic heart, venomous poison coiled within the holy and veiled chalice itself.