Countless are the number of friends and servant leaders that have disclosed to me their spiritual discouragement after a major conversion event. They have divulged stories about experiencing more adversities and tribulations after attending a powerful spiritual retreat or decisively following the Lord than before returning to God. These narratives are often saturated with situations where they were being accused, rejected, or ridiculed by their own family members on account of their new life in Christ. Stories like these do not astonish me given that the Word of God evidently warns us, saying, “My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials.” (Sirach 2:!)
The Gospel according to Luke recounts certain sayings of Jesus on discipleship, particularly chapter fourteen. “Large crowds were traveling with him, and he turned and addressed them, ‘If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. . . In the same way, every one of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14: 25-27, 33)
Loving God Above All Else
These large crowds represent us – you and me, besides the many friends and servant leaders that have approached me over the years with their concerning tales. Why were numerous people traveling with Jesus during His time on earth? Certainly, some were curious or self-interested. (John 6:26). However, many others followed Him after observing in Him what we have similarly learned over the years: Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Indeed, when we have truly witnessed His mercy, love, and goodness we are propelled to follow and serve the Lord, though there will be arduous moments along the way. “When you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials.” These trying times can certainly occur if we have decided to live a Christian life but our family members depreciate or belittle the importance of attending church.
A Christian can gradually become discouraged when he feels unsupported in his Christian life by his loved ones. Plenty who began attending Church regularly after a powerful conversion experience have abandoned the Faith when those close to them continuously demonstrated their disapproval. Hence, Jesus prophetically alerted the crowds and future disciples, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Let us not misinterpret these words: Jesus is not implying that we should detest or feel extreme hostility toward our family members. Rather, if a person aspires to be a disciple of Christ, he must love Him above all else and ought to love less (“hate”) everyone else, including his own family: Christ should be his principal love. “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.” (Mt 10:37)
Dealing With Family Conflicts and Division
“Christ is the center of all Christian life. The bond with him takes precedence over all other bonds, familial or social.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1618). He is your Lord, God, and Savior, and deserves to be loved “with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:27) When He is preeminent on our list of priorities, we shall lack nothing, for if we “seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, all these things will be given [us] besides.” (Mt 6:33) Nevertheless, conflict can occur when we yearn and labor for God’s kingdom but others around us do not. Thus, the Lord said,
“I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace to earth? No, I tell you, but rather division; for henceforth in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against her mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53)
Persevering With Love and In Prayer
Jesus’ life, message, and mission certainly caused division; He was accepted by some and rejected by others. Today, He continues to establish divisions for the same reasons. When we truly embrace Christ, our desire is that God’s will be done and that we personally and collectively please God. However, those who surround us may strive to live and behave according to their own pleasures and not God’s. This potentially leads to severe disunity.
Nonetheless, Jesus Christ foresaw this and encourages us in Matthew’s Gospel (5:43-48): “love your enemies.” In other words, we are commanded to love those who accuse, ridicule, or reject us as a result of Christ. In addition, we do this for love of Him who surrendered His life while we were still sinners. We are also mandated to “pray for those who persecute [us]” through their disapproval of our acceptance of Christ, so “that [we] may be children of [our] heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you [only] love those who love you, what recompense will you have?” But God will reward us immensely if we attempt to love, bless, and forgive others as He has done with us. Additionally, we will very likely witness the conversion of our loved ones over time. Undoubtedly, if we follow Jesus Christ, we are not guaranteed an easy life but eternal life. Problems and hardships will be a significant portion of this earthly journey. However, if we persevere to the end, we shall be saved. (Mt 24:13) May our works of charity and prayerful intercessions obtain for us, and for our neighbors, sanctity, salvation, and never-ending joy.