Today, Jesus tells us what it really means to be his disciple. Using oriental exaggeration, he says that one must be capable of hating one’s own family in order to follow him. Our church has never understood this literally, reminding us that Jesus made love as essential for all his followers. His picturesque saying was meant to illustrate the depth of the commitment he demanded of his followers.
We all know that Christian behavior may alienate friends and family who do not understand or accept it. Clearly, Christ is not trying to upset family life or to break up friendships. He does want us to be true to our conscience in following him. Even if alienation from family or friends occurs when we follow him, we should remain faithful to family and friends. Always be willing to be reconciled when that becomes possible.
Though we may hate to hear it, Jesus tells us that suffering is needed for the total growth of our personhood. Only when we are willing to face the cross and take it, will we begin to grow as Christ’s disciples. The cross will make us feel uncomfortable. The pain of confronting and accepting our cross causes us to think of ways to avoid it. But instead of relieving our discomfort, our avoidance frustrates us. Only when we accept the cross Jesus gives us, will we have peace and joy.
Jesus has given many methods for facing and carrying our crosses. His eight Beatitudes and his Sermon on the Mount contain a spiritual back bone that will open us to the possibility of welcoming the cross. The wisdom of the ages has always connected death and rebirth, especially among the cultures that were near the life cycles of farm life. Jesus used this image to apply it to a discipleship that connected death and rebirth as part of Christian faith. The cross is a series of mini-deaths that lead to a series of rebirths which account of our Christian joy that Pope Francis proclaims. This process increases the capacity to love self, others and God.
The saints have always known the value of this spirituality. One of the reasons they talk so much about discipline is that they found this is the best way to be a disciple, a word that is related to discipline. It takes discipline to be a disciple. It also takes discipline to experience the cross. Without discipline we will run away from the unpleasantness of the cross. Discipline pulls us together and opens us to the cross. Of course we must always be connected with a living faith and love for Christ and receive his graces to endure it . With such faith and love and Christ’s grace, we will fulfill our call to be a true disciple of Jesus.
Norbertine Fr. McBride is a popular lecturer and author of more than 40 books.