Wednesday November 7, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Romans 13:8-10) Gospel (St. Luke 14:25-33)
When we hear the two readings today, we would naturally think to suggest that there is a major problem here: they seem to be in conflict with one another. Saint Paul tells us that we have to love our neighbor and that all the commandments that there are can be summed up in the commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself. Then we hear the Gospel reading and Jesus tells us that you cannot be His follower without first turning your back on your mother and father, your husband and wife, your children and, indeed, your very self. And also, no one can be His follower without renouncing everything that he owns. We hear these words and we try to put them together: How can we turn our back on people and still love them? How can we claim to be doing what is really the best for them and be turning around and walking the other way? Well, it is actually a very simple thing. As Saint Paul says, "Love never does what is wrong to the neighbor." Love always seeks what is truly the best.
Now, we get into the problem of thinking that what is best is what we would call the "nicest": What is the easiest? What is the most pleasant? What does the person want? What a person wants is not necessarily the best. Those of you who are parents know that very well. You oftentimes have to say "no" to your children. They want things, but you know that it is not the best for them so you tell them "no". In fact, if you did not, your children would be spoiled rotten and, chances are, they would not even be alive any longer if you did not say "no" to at least some of the things they wanted.
God is the same way. He tells us "no" to lots of things that we think we want but are not good for us. When it comes to loving the people around us, we need to do the same. We need to be willing, at times, to do things that are hard, things that we would prefer, perhaps, not to do or say. But things that really are the best, even though they are not the easiest or the most pleasant or the thing that the person wants. That is part of love. It feels, sometimes, like we are turning our back on someone.
But Jesus would even have it a little bit more than that. What that means is that we need to be detached from everyone and everything. That is difficult when we think about mother and father, children, husband and wife, and so on. Yet, if you really want to love these individuals, you need to be detached. Sometimes, detachment means getting rid of the thing. Obviously, when it comes to these individuals in your life, you cannot. You are not going to go home and say to your spouse: "I need to be detached from you. Get out." You are not going to say to your children: "I need to be detached. Your stuff is on the driveway." (Well, it depends. Maybe, if they are of age and they are just leeching off of you, that might be a good thing to do; but not usually.) However, the fact of the matter is that we do need to be detached. Any kind of an attachment is something that is selfish.
In other words, if you love your spouse in an attached way, you are loving your spouse, at least in part, for what you are getting out of it. That is not what you promised on the day you got married. If you love your children in an attached manner, you are loving your children because of what you get out of it: because your children make you look good, or whatever it may be; it is a selfish reason. If you love your spouse or your parents or your children in a detached manner, you are loving them only for their good. You are not using them. You are not violating them in any manner. But rather, you are seeking only the good of the other, which is exactly what Saint Paul says: "Love never does what is wrong to the neighbor."
And so, if you are truly going to love everyone, that means [your love] needs to be detached. At times, it feels like you are turning your back on them. You are basically saying to God: "This person belongs to you, not to me. This person is not my possession. This is a person that You, Lord, have put into my life to love and I offer that person back to You. If You want to take this person out of my life or if You want to bring the person home in death, whatever the case may be, the person is Yours. Do with me and do with this other person as You will because You want only what is the best." That is hard. Most people are not willing to do that.
When we think of that, then all we need to do is think of the next thing that the Lord says: We have to get rid of all our possessions. Most people are not willing to deal with the things in their life, let alone the people in their life. So we see how difficult this becomes, which is why most people are unwilling to move forward in the spiritual life. They get to a certain point - they want to be Catholic, they want to be good Catholics, they believe everything the Church teaches, they go to Mass on Sunday, they try to live a good life - but they refuse to move forward in the spiritual life because they refuse to be detached. All the junk they have accumulated and the people around them mean way too much for them to be willing to move ahead.
Rather than simply loving people for who they are and loving God for whom He is, we get caught up in the self. We like all the things and we like the people for what we want. We even like God for what we get out of Him, but we do not really want to love Him and love our neighbor the way that we should, the way that is really the best and the most perfect. So the Lord simply says to us in the Gospel: "You have to calculate the cost before you start the project." What is it going to cost to be a follower of Christ? Take up your cross and follow Him. Renounce all of your possessions; be detached from everybody and everything. Are we willing to do it? Do we really want to be His follower? Do we really want to love Him with our whole heart and soul and strength as we are commanded - not suggested - to do? Do we want to love God in the greatest manner that we can?
All you have to do is ask yourself: "Do I just want to eke it into Heaven or do I really want to give glory to God?" Why would we ever want to love God as little as we possibly can? We want to love Him as much as we can! And we want to love the people around us as much as we can. That is what Our Lord is asking of us. If we are going to be His follower, it means that we need to put ourselves aside and all the things that are attached to the self. We need, then, to love in a pure manner. That is all. But that comes at a cost: at the cost of the self, the cost of self-love, the cost of all the attachments, the cost of selfishness - all of which should go anyway, but most of us like it too much to get rid of it.
Do we really want to be a follower of Jesus Christ? Are we willing to take up the cross and follow Him daily? He did not hide what it would require; He laid it all out for us. Now, we need to calculate it. Are we willing to do what He has asked us to do? To truly love God and love neighbor as we are commanded to fulfill the law? Are we willing to calculate the cost, to carry the cross, to love God and to love neighbor with our whole heart and soul and strength?
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.