You might find the following idea strange and inexplicable: my mother loves God more than me. How do you feel about this?
One of our most basic instincts and beliefs is to love our family, and we’re taught that family always comes first. They’re everything to us. We would die for our children; We protect our brothers and sisters; We need our family’s approval.
So God is suggesting today a powerful way to love them more. If we want to be a better spouse, parent, or child, this is what we should do: love God more than our family.
Let’s state first the command, then the logic. Jesus says today to an unnamed person in the Gospel, “Follow me” (Lk 9:59), but the person says, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus replies, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” The person wants to go do a good thing: he wants to fulfill the law of burying his parents (See Gn 50:5; Ex 20:12; Lev 19:3; Deut 5:16; Tob 4:3-4), but Jesus is saying: God comes first, even before our family. Jesus repeats this point to another person who wants to first say farewell to his family, and says, “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” In other words, once we choose to follow Christ, we can’t put anything before Him; we can’t delay. The first reading touches on the same theme. And the strongest of Jesus’ statements on this topic is: “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26).
Now, being Catholic, we aim to be very logical. It’s quite obvious that Jesus doesn’t want us to do our family harm, because that would go against the fourth commandment, “Honour your father and mother,” which, by the way, He wrote. Jesus himself never hated his parents, so His example proves we’re not supposed to do what’s bad for them. So we realize that, when He makes such surprising statements, He’s using hyperbole to make a point: we have to go against our common human instinct of loving our family more than God. And this is so hard for us that it may feel like we’re hating them.
Now here’s the logic: by loving God more, we’re going to love our family more. God today is not commanding us to love them less; He’s commanding us to love them more! The way to do that is to love Him more than them. When we hear this, perhaps our guard has already gone up: “If I love God more than my family, that will mean I’ll love them less! That will hurt them.” Relax. If we love our children 10/10, God, in fact, wants us to love them 11/10 or more, because that’s the way He loves them. He loves them more than we, so He’s just asking us to love them like He does. Let’s let our guard down and see what He’s suggesting.
The reality is that we love our family a lot—they’re the most important persons in our lives—but notice that we still hurt them. Think about the sins we commit; so many involve our family: We don’t listen, don’t help out, we’re impatient, get angry and shout, take each other for granted, argue in the car or at the table, do our own thing and don’t spend quality time together, etc. What’s the deal? Our family is the most important thing for us and we still hurt them? The deal is: we love them, but our capacity to love is limited, we take them for granted and we’re not intentional in loving them. So Jesus is saying: the way to listen more, be more helpful, more attentive, etc., is to put Him first.
1) Like we said last week: the more time we spend with God, the better we’re able to love. It’s simple investment math: every quality minute we invest with God gives a return of at least two minutes of more patience (maybe not immediately, but soon, and this always happens). The more we love God, the more our capacity to love increases, because He’s constantly stretching us: asking us to love when it’s difficult. He also gives us more grace to simply love more, and this grace is obtained in prayer.
2) When we love Him more we start realizing that our families are gifts; We stop taking them for granted. We think: “I’m blessed to have a family that loves me and takes care of me.” When we feel grateful, we’re naturally more loving.
3) God asks us every moment to love our family more. Our common way of living is, “My family already knows I love them,” so we don’t think about improving. But God is intentional; He’s always seeking more love! He wants us to ask: “How can I be kinder today when we leave Mass? How should I speak to my kids? What can I do for my spouse that they’d appreciate?”
Some people, when they saw the examination of conscience, asked, “Father, it says here under the third commandment, ‘Did I do unnecessary work on Sunday?’ what does this mean?” God commands us to rest, not for His sake, but for ours. Sunday is the day of the Lord, the day of rest, the day to refocus on what’s most important. When we do unnecessary work on Sunday we neglect our family. For example, I’m a lawyer and consistently do legal work on Sunday—that’s not good for me and my family; I’m a contractor and I try to get ahead on Sunday; I’m a student and leave all my homework to Sunday. God wants us to have a better life, where we change our habits and say, “Today, no work. I need to sleep in. We should go do something good and fun together. We should pray together.”
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew people, while in the desert, were supposed to collect manna every day. But on Friday, they were supposed to collect double the amount so that they didn’t have to collect any on the sabbath, which is the day of rest (Ex 16:22).
Are there exceptions? Of course. Some people need to work. Can you think of any? Hmm… That’s why Monday is my sabbath (so leave me alone, okay?). Doctors, police, firefighters all need to work, but then they need to rest. Some people also need to work on Sunday just to make it by. But, if we were to ask them, “Do you want to change?” they’d say, “Of course! I want to rest on Sunday, and I’m already trying to change my shift.” Here we can tell they have a pure heart, and that they’re doing it for their family and not at the expense of their family. Moreover, people who work in restaurants on Sunday can see their work as a service to other people (CCC 2187): by working on Sunday, they give some people a chance to rest from cooking.
For the same reasons, that’s why unnecessary shopping on the Lord’s day is a sin. Necessary shopping, like buying the milk when we need it, is justified and makes sense. But when we leave all the extra things to Sunday, our conscience says, “This is killing me and my family.” (I realize shopping may be something fun for some, maybe even a family event, which is great, but could I suggest that we do something even better? And by not shopping, we would allow so many people who work on Sunday to rest.)
Let’s be logical. The Church realizes that sometimes we need to work on the Lord’s day, so don’t fret. But if there’s a pattern of work every Sunday and my relationship with God and family suffers, I think we need to reexamine the way we’re living. If there’s a doubt, please come and ask.
The point of this discussion about Sunday is to show that putting God first and following His commandments always benefits our family.
Besides the way we live on Sunday, here is one very simple but challenging suggestion. Many of us, on our smartphones, have on the wallpaper the most important person in our lives, usually family. Think about putting a picture of God or Jesus or something of our faith there. Let’s choose a picture that, when we look at it, will remind us to love our family better! But, if not having our family on the wallpaper is too much for us, then, how about putting a picture of them at church or with a crucifix behind them? This way, we’ll think: God’s the center of my family… how can I love Him and them more?
One time, when I was preparing a homily on this subject, I decided to call my mom. I asked, “Mom, do you love God more than me?” “Yes,” she said. “Good,” I responded, “because I love God more than you.” She then said, “Of course, because how can we love a creature more than the creator? It’s the right order.” Ever since this conversation: I started asking myself constantly, “How can I love Mom more?”
But just in case you’re thinking, “Fr. Justin, you’re a weirdo,” one woman wrote this: “I remember a time when I was concerned that it might be hurtful or somehow cause an insecurity for my son to know that he wasn’t the one I loved the most. I lovingly explained this to [him], and I also added that I wanted him to love God more than he loves me. That was over a year ago. Anyway, I tested this concept on [him] today, asking him if he knows that I love God above everyone – even more than him. And he said ‘yes’ and then I followed that with ‘do you understand why?’ And [he] said: ‘Because God’s the greatest one ever!’ Then I asked him: do you love God more than me? And I was pleased (and relieved) to hear ‘of course!’” So there’s no emotional scars done here!
Love is not divided, as if we have ten measures of love: three for God, then one for each other important person in our life. With this idea of love, there’s not enough love to go around. No, love is multiplied: when we give God all ten measures of our love, then we can give our family at least five!
If we want love our family more, then let’s love God more than them.