Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 8, 2013 Cycle C
by Rev. Jose Maria Cortes, F.S.C.B.

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In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“Who can conceive what the Lord intends?”

Sometimes it is hard for us to understand what Our Lord wants to tell us. The mystery of God is beyond our limited comprehension. In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses hard words to say great things.

He says that we need to hate what we love the most and renounce what we possess. He talks about renunciation, about detachment from people and things, and about carrying the cross.

Great crowds were following Jesus. Jesus makes it clear that to follow him is not just to travel with him. He does not want a crowd that is unaware of what he is doing.

It is important to ask ourselves whether we are just traveling with Jesus or we are really following him in our lives.

Jesus came to educate people. He came to help us learn to prefer the Creator to the creature. We risk confusing the Author and his work. In the Bible, this is called idolatry. Jesus reminds us that everything is relative. There is only one absolute: God.

When Jesus says that we have to hate the people whom we love, he is using an idiomatic term meaning “to love less.” He is not saying to hate people but to hate what is not true in our relationships, what is excessive and risks being idolatrous. A human being can never be in the place reserved only for God.

In the second reading, we have a good example of this. Saint Paul is a prisoner. With him is Onesimus, whom he converted to the faith. Paul is extremely affectionate toward him. Onesimus is like a son to Paul, his own heart. Paul has to separate from him. He sends him back to Philemon because Onesimus was his slave. Paul tells Philemon to receive Onesimus “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man in the Lord.”

This is a great example of what Jesus means in the Gospel. Paul shows us the meaning of relationships to the disciples of Christ. He does not hesitate to allow Onesimus to leave him because he sees him as a gift given by Jesus to comfort him during his time in prison and not as his own possession. Then Paul teaches Philemon, who had recently become a Christian, that his slave is no longer a slave but a brother. Onesimus is no longer an object but a person and a child of God.

Jesus is the one who hated his relatives, who renounced all his possessions and carried the cross. To be his disciple means to participate in the way that he experienced his relationships with people and things. To follow Jesus means to prefer him to everything and everyone. It means to carry the cross as he did. To follow Jesus is to participate in his glorious destiny.

The detachment from people and renunciation of goods that Jesus requires of us is not so that we shall love and possess less. On the contrary, it is exactly the opposite. Jesus promises his followers that they will receive a hundredfold now in this time and in the age to come, eternal life.

Today is the day of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the true disciple of the Lord. Better than anyone else, she lived and understood what Jesus teaches us in today’s Gospel. We pray for her intercession so that we may obtain the grace of having the same experience that she did.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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