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Jesus is presenting an extreme message in the Gospel today in commenting that it is necessary to hate one’s relatives and even life itself in order to be his disciple. Jesus is trying to startle us by using the word ‘hate.’  Throughout his ministry, he describes the need for defining our relationships in terms of love. It is then surprising when Jesus uses the exact opposite word in this Gospel passage.
      As whenever there is a conflict in Jesus’ words, we need to look for a deeper meaning than what is written. Jesus, in employing ‘hate,’ means to direct our focus on the real and ongoing problem of pursuing the relationships of this world and our physical desires instead of the much-needed work on constructing the spiritual elements of our lives. When we are attuned only to family and friends, we fall behind in the most vital relationship that we have, which is with the Lord.
      Jesus, in this passage, is helping us to see that substituting anything or anyone else in place of him; we will not realize the fruits of salvation.  When we look only to the possibilities of this world, we are not preparing for the Kingdom. Jesus willingly sacrificed any comfortable existence to carry his cross for our salvation.  Unless we take on a lifetime of hard, enduring work in his name by carrying our cross and offer our sacrifice up to Jesus, the possibility of being received in the Kingdom diminishes.
      One cannot merely walk into Jesus’ heart without accepting the suffering associated with the cross. Our struggle with the cross seems far too difficult as it is with linked with pain and suffering in those parts of our life we want most to avoid. Fortunately, we can lean on the Lord for support. He is always there to give us a boost when the hill seems to steep or lift away some of the weight when the beam becomes too heavy. In carrying our cross and sacrificing for Jesus throughout our life, the cross, once an instrument of pain and destruction, now becomes the symbol of peace and eternal reward.
      Sacrifice is the way of life for a true Christian. Those who follow Christ do not fall victim to the current attitudes of ‘doing whatever feels good.’ Instead, the disciples of Christ know the Church’s teachings and lives by them, even if it means that challenges will occur with family and friends.  The Church teaches the appropriate ethical responses for such topics as abortion, contraception, divorce, same-sex marriage, and capital punishment. Unfortunately, a majority of people these days are not in accord with the Church, believing that their conscience is more valid than the two thousand years of experience the Church has in listening to the words of Jesus.
      Reflecting on these issues and thinking about the ethical reasoning for the Church’s stance fails to occur when we neglect our obligations of Mass and daily prayer. As we know, there is a tendency to set aside the normal times reserved for prayer and Mass because of “more important” events. If we repeatedly find an excuse in not devoting time to be with the Lord, we are not considering the primary reason for our existence, the attainment of heaven.
      Contrary to currently social norms, we were not put on the earth to own our dream car or house and assure that we will never experience any distress.  For that reason, it usually takes an intense emotional experience to stimulate our desire to seek out the Lord. It may be the death of a loved one or another type of loss.  Alternatively, we may be joyous at the birth of a child or encounter a situation which causes an emotional uplift.
      Care must be taken to not rely solely on these emotions and inspirations to interact with Jesus. Emotions can cause us to be irrational and misguided in our response.  An emotional event may make us proclaim a commitment to the Lord that we later abandon because the intent was made in the heat of the moment. Eventually, these sensations will cool and we will find ourselves once again distant from the Lord. To prevent this yo-yo experience of being hot and cold for Jesus, we must work at building a firm foundation with him.  As a wise follower of Jesus, the development of an intellectual plan of spiritual and apostolic work will help to use reason instead of relying only on fluctuating emotions. Life exposes us to suffering and sweat that can be almost unbearable. These toils become more endurable with the aid of reason, knowing that sacrificing for Jesus reassures us of the lasting peace in eternity.
      While the world emphasizes possessions to identify our stature, the latest model car will not drive us into the eternal Kingdom. That beautiful house recreated from our dreams is no substitute for the palace that God offers to his faithful children. One can search the world over looking for the ideal spouse only to realize too late that it is Jesus who is the perfect companion that guarantees the promise of everlasting love. If we seek out the Lord only our in times of need, we are fooling ourselves for we have forgotten the reason for our existence. Jesus is asking for us to give up everything in sacrifice, including our lives, to achieve our heartfelt desire, the promises of everlasting glory in heaven with him.
      Deacon Dan Gilbert