In today’s gospel Jesus says that unless we hate our mother and father and brothers and sisters we cannot be his disciple. I realize that some teenagers would probably say, “No sweat”. However, most of us pause and ask what this could possibly mean.

It simply means, as St Benedict puts it, that we must ‘prefer nothing to the love of Christ.’ Now the wishy washy crowd who wish to water down the gospel would say that this saying is a case of Jesus using hyperbole. You mustn’t really really hate your mother and father and brother and sister. Instead you must be willing to give them up if God calls you to do so. That’s mustard. As far as I’m concerned he said it and he means it.

What this means therefore is that we must not only be prepared to give up mother and father and brothers and sisters for the sake of the kingdom, but that we really must do so. Either we do so willingly and become priests and monks and nuns and brothers and sisters or we will do so at some point in our life through one way or another. We must learn that life is a casting off. When we cling to things and people we lose them. When we let them go we achieve freedom. Must we ‘hate’ those people and things? I think so, inasmuch as we must hate the fact that our love for these lesser loves may hold us back from total commitment and love for Christ. In other words we don’t hate them for who they are, but we hate the fact that our love for them is a burden and a barrier.

So we do come to hate our mother and father and sister and brother and all our possessions. This is not because we do not love them, but because we have learned to love something and someone greater. Furthermore, his command that we hate all these things and give them all up is a kind of severe mercy. He knows that we can’t take them with us forever anyway, and that sooner or later we will have to let them go.

The letting go of all that is nearest and dearest to us hurts. It hurts much. However, the process must be gone through. Maybe it will hit us with a terrible illness in the family, maybe unemployment, old age, falling out with children, the death of a loved one, insanity, terminal decline or a nasty divorce. However it happens we come to learn that all that is best and most loved in our lives must go. This severe mercy is so that we can learn to depend totally and only on Christ the Lord.

Finally there’s this: we have to let go all things because one day, in the end, we will have to let it go whether we like to or not. Even the person who has been blessed with good things, with a loving family and passes his life with little or not tragedy–even he will have to yield all things for one day he will die. One day he will have to pass the portal and cross the river with nothing but his naked soul. Then he will have to cast off all things and launch himself into the dark and tumultuous sea of death clinging to Christ alone.

Christ the life preserver. Christ the flotsam and jetsam. Christ the Savior. Christ the Lord. The sooner you cast away all and cling only to him, the happier, the safer and the more saved you will be.