Twenty-Third Sunday of the Year
Jesus’ words about “hating” one’s family in order to become a disciple can sound harsh and shocking to us. But the word used has nothing to do with how one feels emotionally towards the members of one’s family; rather it is a question of one’s attitude to them if they come in the way of becoming a disciple. The patriarchal family in the time of Jesus was an all-pervasive system: it governed one’s stability, employment, marriage; in fact it was within the family set-up that every need was fulfilled and it was the horizon where people lived out the whole of their lives. To go against the family was to bring shame on oneself and everyone else. We know that many in the early Church had to suffer being ostracised by their families; Jesus himself was rejected by the people of Nazareth (Luke 4).
Not only family but we ourselves can prevent the following of Jesus: our “own life,” especially “our possessions” can come in the way. Luke often talks about how attachment to possessions can stop us from being true disciples. Each one has to see what those possessions are and how to let go of them. This will involve the carrying of the cross each day. The two parables in the gospel today are about the necessity of being prepared for the cost of discipleship. The story of the half-built tower puts one in mind of the many ghost estates in Ireland after the Celtic Tiger. But the message is that the cost of discipleship demands that we do not consider half-measures in the following of Christ.
Of course when starting out on a life of discipleship we did not always realise the consequences, but the initial attitude can carry us a long way. The life of Sr. Maria Hanna, a Dominican Sister in Mosul, Iraq, is a very good example of this. As she says herself: “It was very difficult for me to leave my parents because I was the only girl in a family of nine children… I now realise that it was extraordinary for such a young girl to run away from her parents to become a nun.” But that determination helped her to carry the cross of discipleship down the years, but especially in the latter years when the Christians of Mosul have had to face persecution for the faith: “We are totally desperate. Moreover we are Christian – a minority in Iraq. We have always been willing to help everyone but now we feel deserted… A lot of people have received letters with a bullet inside… The situation is very complicated. But we can’t abandon the people who have been placed in our care: the poor, the vulnerable, the widows and their children” (see L. Verboven, ed., The Dominican Way, 53-62).
Sr Celine Mangan O.P