I am a Catholic priest. For those among my readers who do not understand why any Christian would belong to the Catholic Church, I can only say that I have my reasons, which I won’t explain here.
However, I did want to tell a personal story to explain something, and that story is linked to becoming a priest.
The very first Sunday I was supposed to preach a sermon, after being ordained, I found it impossible to say anything to the congregation.
I simply skipped the sermon and invited everyone to stand and pray together, without saying a single word about the scripture readings for the day.
In the Catholic Church, as is also typical in other Christian communities, clergy follow a prescribed order of readings every Sunday.
This ensures that we go through the whole Bible instead of getting stuck on a few passages that we find appealing or easier to preach about.
That particular Sunday, after I had just been ordained, the gospel text was this one: “Great crowds accompanied him on His way and He turned and spoke to them: ‘Anyone who comes to me without hating father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes, and his own life too, cannot be my disciple.”
These words of Jesus rank among the top 10 most difficult texts to interpret. There I was standing beside the altar, looking at my own father and mother, sitting in the front bench, with the other Christians sitting behind them. Whatever I had prepared to say failed me.
What did Jesus mean when he talked about ‘hating’ father and mother? Later in life, I found a commentary that I think explains this difficult passage.
So, for this Mother’s Day, when we want to tell our mothers how much we love them, let me quote the commentary for you.
“Christ uses hard words. True, ‘hate’ in English does not exactly express what Jesus meant.
Yet he did put it very strongly, because he doesn’t just mean ‘love less’, as some people interpret it in an attempt to tone down the sentence.
The force behind these vigorous words does not lie in their implying a negative or pitiless attitude.
The Jesus who is speaking here is none other than that same Jesus who commands us to love others as we love ourselves and who gives up his life for mankind.
These words indicate simply that we cannot be half-hearted when it comes to loving God. Christ’s words could be translated as ‘love more, love better’, in the sense that a selfish or partial love is not enough — we have to love others with the love of God.”