Thaw – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Matthew 10:37-42, 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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You’ve heard of parents who would love for a son or daughter to enter the priesthood or to be a nun. My parents were like that. Funny how you remember some things like they happened only yesterday, but it was one rainy night when Dad and I sat in the car and I finally told him, “Gusto kong magpari, Dad.” (I want to be a priest, Dad.) He nodded. “What kind, anak?” “Jesuit, Dad?” He smiled, no hint of shock on his face. I guess we both knew this was coming. My announcement didn’t surprise him. I wasn’t surprised that he wasn’t surprised either. But then he said, “Anak, malulungkot kami ng mommy mo kapag nahiwalay ka sa amin. (Son, your mother and I will be sad to be separated from you.) Pero kung ‘yan ang gusto mo (But if that’s what you want), we’re right behind you, anak, with our full support.” Then he said, “‘Father’ Arnel Aquino. Ganda pakinggan, anak!”!(Sounds good, so!) We laughed. In that sense, I was lucky. Because I personally know a significant number of priests and nuns whose fathers stopped talking to them when they decided to enter religious life, and  the silence went on for years. The sadness and disappointment must have been so deep, silence was the only way a father could deal with quote-unquote “losing a child to God.” But my friends said, the fathers were angry with God the most. “Binigay sa akin ang anak ko, tapos babawiin lang din pala,” one father said. (You gave us a child, only to take him back.)

If we lived in the time of the Gospels, we would also be very reluctant in allowing any family member to tag along with Jesus, this objectionably newfangled self-declared prophet from Nazareth, this law-breaker of shady company. Even more so in the years following the Lord’s death when being a member of the Jesus “cult” meant imprisonment or death under Jewish and Roman laws. So, when Jesus said, “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,” Matthew did not mean that Jesus demanded suicidal loyalty to himself, in complete disregard of family and of self-preservation. That didn’t sound like Jesus. Jesus was no narcissistic mid-lifing hipster wannabe on a bicycle campaign in his own honor. No, Matthew was describing what was actually happening to many Jewish families back then. People who followed “the way” or “the Nazarenes” as Christ’s followers were initially called, they had death hanging over their heads. Families shook with fear over losing a loved one to “the way” or “the Nazarenes”. That was how radical it was to be a Christian back then, as Matthew habitually describes in his entire Gospel.

Today, we don’t get literally crucified when we decide to serve Jesus in some family-altering way, whether we’re religious or lay. It still happens, however, that family stops speaking to their members when someone in the family gets really serious with religion—like when a daughter joins a charismatic community, or a mom volunteers to be a Mother Butler and spends half her time in church, or son or daughter marries a born-again and becomes born-again. I’ve realized, though, it’s not really hatred that reduces family to silence when someone chooses to serve God in some radical way. I think it’s really fear of loss. People we love are scared of losing us in some way, shape, or form—whether by distance, or by a change in our personality or, worse, they’re afraid of losing our love. Now, if you’re wondering if the fathers of my friends are still sullen with them, the answer is a happy “no”. And I’ve seen that happen all the time: God thaws even the coldest ice, though slowly. The fathers came around to realize that their love for their children is still more powerful than their anger with God. They figured they really did not “lose” anyone to God. Many already see it a blessing now to have someone in the family be so devoted to God in a particularly overwhelming way. In fact, the fathers even find themselves carried forth in the devotion…nahawa ng anak o ng asawa sa pagiging maka-Diyos! Mas madalas nang magsimba, hindi na natutulog kapag nagrorosaryo, at may mga naging Lay Minister pa!

When we allow God to “win”, we don’t really “lose”. And a part of me hates using those words, “win”, “lose”, because it’s not a game. When God calls us to make a very serious choice for Him, for what is good, for what is right and just, for what serves others, not just ourselves—God doesn’t kill the competition by deliberately wrecking marriages and families. God doesn’t wipe out our relationships with people who love us most just to win our single-minded loyalty. Only humans play that game, that all-or-nothing game: “Run away with me. Only our love will sustain us, forget everyone else. You and me against the world. For you are either with me or against me.” We play that game. God doesn’t. Any significant loss of love in family on behalf of God cannot be God’s will. Vocation to serve God is gift, yes, but so is family and marriage and friendships. Now, there might be conflict at the beginning, especially when our loved ones think that a choice for God is a choice against them. But that’s not the end of the story, not as I’ve known it. “Those who lose their lives for my sake,” Jesus promises, “they will find it….Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” In other words, God finds a way, eventually. He finds a way for ice to thaw, for disappointment to turn into acceptance, anger into pardon, silence into conversation.

So, if you feel that God is calling you to serve him in some life-changing, family-altering way, give it a shot. The road between God and our loved ones might part for some time. But if it’s really God who calls, he will find a way to walk us all back to love.

Image from The Kingdom Life Now

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