The Gospel reading at Daily Mass yesterday was one of those really hard ones to hear and probably even more difficult to completely understand. I could have many different reflections with regard to this Gospel reading, but this time, I was struck by the part I have italicized and bolded below:
GOSPEL: Matthew 10: 34 — 11: 1 34
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me. He who receives a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward, and he who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” And when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.
There are similar passages in Mark and Luke where Jesus says that we must love God more than anything else…more than our family and friends. This is a hard thing to comprehend because I think it’s a pretty normal thing for most of us to feel like we love our spouse more than we could love anyone or anything else. Or maybe we look at our children and we acknowledge a level of love that we cannot fathom being surpassed. Yet, Jesus still commands us to love God the most.
The homily centered on the fact that we are not to love God because HE has any NEED for our love. That idea is preposterous because God, Himself, IS love. There is nothing we can give to God. But, our happiness (whether to be had on this earth, in this lifetime or in the next life) depends on our ability to love God the most. If we love God more than we love our family, our friends, our things, our jobs, our activities…then we order our actions in such a way that we are happy.
What are the implications of ordering our love in this manner? When our spouse desires something either from us or from him/herself, if that is not ordered in such a manner that God is served, first and foremost – and we recognize that – then we must try to serve God and deny our spouse’s wishes, or at the very least…attempt to influence our spouse to order desires with love of God in mind. As we raise our children they will reach the age of reason and discernment. Very likely, they will want certain things in a material sense, or they will desire to participate in something which is not ordered to a love of God. And if/when we recognize that, we, as parents, have a duty to guide our children away from their own personal desires to take action that is ordered to love of God.
If we order our actions to a love of God, we will be happy. But that happiness is not necessarily immediate…most likely it will not be reached until we meet God face-to-face when our earthly life is done.
Our society tends to think of happiness in the here and now. We don’t like to suffer and we think that if an action helps us to feel happiness, then God must surely approve. I’m not convinced that God approves of our happiness in the here and now. It seems to me that Jesus usually speaks of our happiness in the future tense.
It also follows, for me, that happiness on earth doesn’t seem to jive with happiness for eternity. It seems there are many times that Jesus infers that we must forego earthly happiness to attain true happiness with Him in Heaven. So, even loving and being happy with my spouse, or loving and being happy with my children doesn’t mean that I will have happiness with Jesus for eternity. I would imagine that ultimately, the suffering I may endure here on earth will help me appreciate and attain happiness for eternity.
Our lives on earth are full of suffering…for some of us suffering looks very different than it does for others. Perhaps we have financial struggles. Perhaps our marriage is put to the test. Perhaps we endure spiritual warfare. Perhaps we raise our children in the Catholic faith, only to have them eschew it as soon as they are on their own. Perhaps we struggle with our state of fertility. Or perhaps there’s an addiction to drugs, alcohol or pornography.
Through these bouts of suffering, it seems that Jesus is asking us to love Him the most. In the times it is probably the hardest to do, He is commanding that we do it.
There is a lot more suffering in this world than there is happiness. But I’m trying to remember that happiness on Earth isn’t the ultimate goal. Possibly understanding that happiness with our state here on Earth isn’t necessarily what we should strive for is the biggest step in Heaven’s direction.
True happiness is loving God the most.