While listed as an optional Memorial, today‘s liturgy honors the Blessed Mother in her role as patroness of the Carmelite tradition. Our Lady of Mount Carmel is one of numerous titles of Mary that enable all kinds of ministry groups to honor her as friend, mother, sister, guide and exemplar of the life of faith. The Carmelite tradition challenges all of us to lives characterized by intimacy with God.
A number of years ago I was privileged to be individually directed in a Thirty Day Ignatian Retreat. During the course of that time, in one of many wonderful moments of prayer, I experienced a kind of cosmic blow-up of my inner “solar system.” For most of my life leading up to that prayer event I think I had been the sun in the solar system of my inner life; all my various relationships seemed to orbit around me (including God). In the context of the prayer of the first week of the Exercises I was praying with the text of today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel. As I reflected on the fact that no human love could be allowed to be so important as to stand in the way of a primary relationship with Christ I became aware of the vast inner “explosion.” After what seemed like hours – but was in fact only a few minutes - I became aware that I never wanted anything or anyone but God to be known to be central in my existence again. My puny “sun” had been replaced by this vast, brilliant, warmth and light that totally eclipsed any concept or awareness that I had ever had of love and passionate desire. What was clear and shocking was that the love and desire that I experienced was Jesus’ own, and it was profoundly life-giving.
The seeming ultimatum that this text presents, as well as its rather uncomfortable prediction about our ordinary human relationships, is witnessed as a statement of Jesus: For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. . . Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me . . . The statement presupposes a knowledge or experience of Jesus (the gift of the Spirit) that makes the demand utterly reasonable. Again, in such a moment of insight it is possible to know that Christ does not require this devotion for HIS sake – but for our own. If anything replaces the centrality of God in our lives then we are idol worshipping – which means we are giving our life to a lie – to death itself.
Those who read these reflections will think that I have only one theme and write on it all the time – and surely, it seems to me that this message keeps coming up in the texts I am invited to reflect on, but perhaps it is a measure of the importance of this “first principle” and the “foundational” character of this consciousness for the Christian life that makes it seem like a broken record. It is something akin to what T.S. Eliot suggests in his poem on the Magi- that it is coming home and finding it for the first time. Over and over we trip over this foundational recognition that when we put anything in our lives ahead of our active and daily commitment to Jesus Christ and the Reign of God we fail from the get-go to live the Christian life. We may appear to be Catholic or from another Christian tradition, we may even be vowed, ordained or in charge – one could be a bishop or cardinal or even the pope himself, but if Jesus Christ is NOT central to such a person’s life, he or she is NOT WORTHY (Jesus’ words) of Christ and the life, light and utter joy of God’s Reign.
This is the Gospel passage on the day that my husband and I celebrate thirty years of marriage to one another. I remember clearly that we chose another text (from the wedding lectionary) for that celebration, but I find in this text today a less than obvious, but none-the-less real support for married love. Unless each of us who is married loves God MORE than we love one another, and loves God IN EACH OTHER’S love, we are not worthy of Christ and his Reign. Always the challenge lies before us to put our hope in the reality of Christ as the center of our union - and not any human structure, image, power or relationship. If God called us together, as we believe, then it is Christ and His Spirit who make enduring human love possible and fruitful – and our love for each other more authentic and delightful.
The first reading warns us that God does not want any of our sacrifices and rituals if our hearts are not included in the offering. If our hearts ARE included then we are open to and generous with those most in need in our lives and throughout our world. In the midst of a hot July here in Midwestern USA let us pray today and every day for Jesus Christ to become the sun of each of our personal solar systems so that we might radiate his love and power in the dark and wounded spaces of the universe. Let us pray for each other that all our relationships will begin in Christ – then they will end in Joy.
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