By: Fr. Kevin Kelly, SJ
1) God isn’t selfish… God wants us to get our priorities straight.
I remember being 10 years old and my Grade 5 teacher attempting to explain to my class that God was a selfish god… that God wanted each one of us completely for himself.
Looking back, I think I understand what she was trying to teach us… God must be the centre and focus of our lives, but at that age it left me feeling a bit confused. I saw God’s behaviour like that of some of the kids in my class or my older brother Sean (or even me at times), not able to share toys or always taking the better snack or bigger piece of cake. Being selfish.
While God may want us all for himself, rather than being selfish, I think God is encouraging us to get our priorities straight.
So, when Jesus says “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…” he is not commenting on parenting skills or family dynamics. It’s all about priorities and focus.
While Jesus’s words can be unsettling for us today, they would have been shocking for his audience 2000 years ago. Family was everything: our security in older age, our child care, our sources of entertainment and celebration, and our assurance of food and a roof over our heads each day. If family was so important for sustaining life and even necessary for our survival, by saying these words, Jesus is stressing how much more important God should be in our lives.
Ultimately, we all have choices. God gives us these choices… to choose to put God first, above everything else, or not to. This is our free will.
2) What is true freedom?
Freedom, in today’s context, can be another confusing concept. Our world, certainly Western culture, tells us that freedom is having and doing whatever we want. Anything less than total control and total choice, restricts one’s freedom. As examples, some might say marriage vows or the vows taken by men and women in religious communities are restricting, impositions that curtail our freedom. But this is a false sense of freedom.
Take the religious vow of poverty. While it can be seen as limiting, and may even be experienced this way by many religious at different times in their lives… not being allowed to have the material things we may want… the newest iPhone or tablet, or a trip south in the winter each year (realities that many in our world can’t afford anyway)… poverty can also been seen as an unburdening. It relieves any sense of competition with our neighbour to have the latest and greatest gadget (a competition which no one ever wins) or the bemoaning of all the things we don’t have. Through this vow, we develop, with God’s help and grace, a true freedom before all material things… we can live with or without them.
3) Striving for spiritual freedom…
St. Ignatius, in his Spiritual Exercises , reminds us that the goal of our life is to live with God forever. God, who loves us, gave us life. Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us without limit.
All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God insofar as they help us develop as loving persons. But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives, they displace God and so hinder our growth toward our goal.
In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all of these created gifts. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.
Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening his life in me.
4) Spiritual freedom helps us to carry our crosses…
Human life, by its nature, is full of restrictions… whether we see them or not. We are limited by our physical bodies, our intellectual capabilities, even our creativity and imaginations. God wants true freedom for us. For us to see the limitations of our human existence and to choose God. Our human existence will always be full of struggles and challenges, the crosses we must bear: illness, addiction, broken relationships… all our human limitations.
Choosing God and prioritizing God helps us to carry these real and sometimes heavy burdens. And while family and friends can be a support for us, even be the voice of God acting in our lives, encouraging us, caring for us, and helping us to carry our cross at times, only God can give us the hope and courage we need to live our lives and grow in love for God, with God as our focus.