Letting Go of Loved Ones to Receive Them Back

The message the Lord is giving us today is that sometimes we have to let go of someone we love, in order to receive them back with greater love.  Three examples come to mind: 1) Parents letting go of their children, so that they can grow and become saints; 2) Children having their parents taken away from them, so that they stop taking their parents for granted, and learn to appreciate them; 3) Boyfriends and girlfriends not being sexually intimate, so that they can truly love each other and discern if God wants them to be married.

Our meditation is on the Second Reading, from the Letter of St. Paul to Philemon.  The context is very simple: Philemon, like many people in the ancient world, was a slave owner, and one of his slaves, Onesimus, had left him and gone to St. Paul.  Now St. Paul writes Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a fellow Christian.

“Beloved: I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus.  I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment” (Phil 9-10).  ‘Old man,’ I just found out, at that time, referred to someone between 50-65 years old!  Sorry.  St. Paul was writing during his Roman imprisonment and notes that Onesimus had recently become a Christian through baptism—that’s why St. Paul refers to himself as his ‘father.’

“I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you” (Phil 12).  There are two possible reasons why Onesimus left Philemon: either he ran away, or had a problem with Philemon and went to St. Paul to solve it.  Either way, St. Paul now sends Onesimus back to Philemon, and calls Onesimus ‘my own heart,’ because he wants Philemon to treat him better than before.

Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.  So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me” (Phil 15-17).  St. Paul hints that this might have been part of God’s plan: Onesimus was separated from Philemon so that Philemon could receive him ‘no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother.’  St. Paul is saying: ‘You, Philemon, as the master, have the right to punish your slave under the law.  But, you’re now a Christian.  Likewise, Onesimus has been baptized too.  I’m not going to force you, but I’m appealing to you as your brother and spiritual father to do the right thing.  You are going to lose his service as a slave and that’ll be hard for you.  But you’re going to receive much more back, a brother in Jesus.’

So, in our lives, sometimes we have to lose someone in order to receive them back as God the Father wants.

1) Parents sometimes have to let go of their children in order to let them grow.  I’ve talked to many parents over the years who want their children to live out their dreams, to want them to enjoy what they enjoy, but I told them that that’s not God’s plan.  Once the parents started loving Jesus more, they were able to let go of their own desires for their children, and let God’s desires take over.  I know of other cases where we parents find so much delight in our children that we’re possessive of them.  We want them to stay at home, we control whom they will marry.  Again, once we parents love God more, then we let our children grow as God wants.

Now, none of this should be abused by children who say, “See, Mom and Dad, Fr. Justin says I can leave the Church.  Fr. Justin says I don’t have to do what you say.”  No.  If we’re going to follow the Bible’s teaching on this, then we must follow its teaching on everything.  Jesus doesn’t want anyone to leave the Church and doesn’t want anyone to sin.  While we live at our parents’ homes, if we’re getting free rent, we must obey their rules.

However, if we, as parents, are aware deep in our consciences and during prayer that what we’re doing is more for ourselves than our children, then we must pray to do the Father’s will.

2) Likewise, we children sometimes need to lose our parents in order to appreciate them truly.  Sometimes our parents get sick or die, and only then do we realize how much they did for us and how ungrateful we were.  Other times we need to move out, struggle to find a place to live, cook our meals, do our laundry, in order to figure out, “Mom did so much for me.  Dad always checked in on me.”

This case is the most similar to Philemon and Onesimus because we sometimes treat our parents like slaves.  The ingratitude, the bossing around, the entitlement are unbelievable: Coming to dinner late, not helping with the dishes, not even offering to help, the rolling of the eyes, the sarcasm, the moodiness, etc.

This is why, in certain situations, parents have to do the right but difficult action of asking their children to leave the home, so that they come back and show respect, which is good for them and us.

3) Dating and discerning marriage are so beautiful, but, because physical attraction is so powerful, it can get distorted into lust.  While sexual pleasure feels good, it blinds us from discerning God’s will.  We can’t see who the other person really is when we’re doing only what belongs in marriage.  And so a couple has to put healthy physical boundaries between themselves.  This doesn’t mean breaking up, but loving authentically.  The logic here is that a young man has to treat his girlfriend as his sister before he can receive her as his wife, and a young lady has to treat her boyfriend as her brother before she can receive him back as her husband.  Because God loves us, He wants us to have the best relationship possible!

We should never be overwhelmed by guilt in this area or any other area, because God the Father will forgive all our sins.  Let’s go to Confession and start again!

One couple who lived together before marriage had many problems in their marriage, because they never practiced self-control and took each other for granted.  When they both put Jesus at the centre of their lives, they sought counselling, and their Christian counsellor told them to do their dating period all over again.  So, they abstained from sexual love for six months, to learn again how to be romantic, to listen to each other, and really to appreciate the other.  And it worked!

Jesus says today, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26).  As we’ve said before, Jesus uses hyperbole to make us see the truth.  He’s telling us to put God first, to love Him more than our family, which is absolutely necessary for a follower of Jesus.  But, as we’ve said before, whenever we love God first, we love our family and friends more.

I’d just like to announce that we’ll be doing the Christ the King Challenge again this year, on Nov. 20, 2022.  The question we ask is: Have we made Jesus the centre of our lives?  I bring this up now because, when we make Him the centre and follow His teachings, all our relationships improve!  If we love Him more than our family and friends for the next three months, those relationships will improve.  We let people go, so that we can receive them back as God wants.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>