On God and Parents

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading: 2nd Book of Kings 4:8-11, 14-16

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 89:2-3, 16-19

Second Reading: St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 6:3-4, 8-11

Gospel: According to St. Matthew 10:37-42

Unlike the regional “Hallmark holiday” confected by the “Sweetest Day of the Year Committee” in Cleveland in 1922, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are almost universally celebrated throughout the world. In the minds of many, these are sacred feasts whose celebration is deemed to be denigrated should a priest decide to focus his homily on the Sunday readings rather than on extolling the virtues of mothers and fathers. In the West Park neighborhood of Cleveland, St. Vincent de Paul Parish solves this dilemma through the gifting of mothers and fathers with Malley’s chocolate bars – it’s hard to complain about the homily to the priest who just gave you candy.

Suffice it to say, these days are important family events and they institutionalize the necessity of thanking our parents for what they have sacrificed for us, their children. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments we are taught how important the roles of mothers and fathers are, how we should treat them, and how we can become good mothers and fathers ourselves. Jesus even gives us permission to call God our Father when He teaches us how to pray, and at the foot of the Cross He directs us, through St. John, to call Mary our Mother.

So on a Sunday when the memories of Mother’s Day brunches are still fresh in our minds and dad’s might not have yet had a chance to wear that Father’s Day tie, we are told by Jesus, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.”

This seems a bit harsh. These are the people who gave us life, who have sustained us through every sickness and disappointment, who have sacrificed their needs for our wants. This doesn’t sound like the nice and friendly Jesus we like to hear about when we go to Mass. This seems more like the religious fanatic Jesus that shows up every once in a while; the one who ruffles our feathers; the one who makes us squirm a bit in the pew. This sounds like, and in fact is, the Jesus who warns us that “whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”

With all of that said, His point lies not in belittling the importance of our parents, but in acknowledging their proper place in our lives. Parents are called to love their children in such a way that they are constant reminders of the even greater love that God – especially through the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross – has for us. To be a parent is in many ways to act as a modern-day John the Baptist – to move our children from being our disciples to being disciples of Jesus.

Young children look up to their parents as infallible and heroic beings. When a daughter hands her father a broken toy with the unwavering faith that he will be able to put it back together or when a son asks his mother why the sky is blue they are bestowing God-like qualities upon their parents. When they grow older, children see their parents more realistically – sometimes too realistically – as they move from childlike worship to adolescent distain, and, hopefully, eventually to adult understanding and respect.

Along the way it is essential that parents see Jesus in each of their children, during every stage of life from conception onward. In addition, parents, in the raising of their children, are called to find their lives by losing them for the sake of Jesus. In this way, parents carry their cross and teach the next generation that any parent worthy of the name Mother or Father is, truth be told, merely a means to the ultimate end – loving God above all things.

A.M.D.G.