Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reading this pretty lengthy and detailed book all about the 2016 Presidential election... Now already I can imagine people thinking - for good reason - "why would you want to relive that?" It’s a fascinating read though. It’s one of those books that had reporters following along with the candidates behind the scenes throughout the entire process - from the early primaries thru the general election night. The authors had unprecedented access to every aspect of the campaign, with the promise not to report anything until after the election was over. In explaining my interest in the book to a friend I said "Think of the Netflix show House of Cards - like most things, the book is better..." In that, I mean entertainment value, not going anywhere near making a political commentary.
One of the things that struck me reading all of this was how these campaigns have become these intense enterprises over the decades in a way that probably few of us realize. The minute, specific details that go into determining how every primary state is approached; the angst that different directors and managers for each candidate has over how many people from what county or town might show up to vote in a primary or participate in a caucus in each state; the obsessive nature that takes over the entire group of individuals in each campaign... it’s really eye opening.
While it’s easy for us to be cynical or disgusted by all of this - especially when we speculate how these obsessive aspects have led to more and more division in our country... There’s another side that hit me. On some level, despite my disagreement with all politicians and their staffs - I had to respect the different individuals involved in these campaigns. To admire the passion, the dedication they have in what they believe are noble and important pursuits. These various campaign staff workers literally abandon their entire lives, their homes, their relationships to fly to Iowa, for example, in the middle of winter trying to get people enthusiastic for their candidates... and then continue that mad dash till the nominations are complete and then prepare for the general election.
Jesus raises those questions in today’s Gospel and is pretty direct about what needs to be the priority - for each and every one of us who dares to call ourselves His follower. After laying out some of what would be considered the most important relationships imaginable – the love of father and mother; the love of son or daughter - things that speak to people of every race, income level, culture. Relationships that by their very nature call for passion and dedication... After naming those, Jesus says that our love for Him, our passion and dedication for Him needs to be greater than all of those.
If we really let that sink in and take that seriously, the radicalness of those expectations can seem to be too much. Jesus doesn’t water them down, in fact, he continues on by reminding us of then the need to take up our crosses and following Him... of losing our lives for His sake. Basically telling us that when our relationship with Him is the priority over all others; when following Him becomes the thing we’re most passionate and dedicated too in life, our lives here will be harder. Because then we have to resist those temptations of fame, of prestige, of power, of riches in this world. Because then we have to recognize that the pursuits, the desires, the ambitions we have in this life - whatever they may be - can only go so far in our ever being able to achieve the fulfillment we are ultimately seeking... When that reality hits, we find that is often the source of much of the stress, discouragement and anxiety that so many of us suffer from.
That temptation though to allow other things, other people to become our main focus our main priority doesn’t disappear once someone graduates college - as most of us, myself included, can attest. I look at the times in my own life when I get the most stressed, most anxious, most discouraged. And in all honesty I realize that it’s not that I forgot about Jesus. It’s not that made a conscious decision to stop following Him and pursuing other things. It’s usually that all other things - even good things – became a bigger priority than they should. Even people who I love and care about that are on my mind- perhaps it was that friend going through a painful divorce or that relative who was sick - and allowing my care, my concern, my fear to become something I see as my problem. All of a sudden, something that I have no control over becomes a bigger priority in my mind and my heart. And sure I prayed for that person - or brought those obligations and concerns to the Lord. But usually with an expectation of "Jesus fix this...: rather than "Jesus fix me..." or "Jesus use me to help in this situation..."
We are meant to be passionate and dedicated... It’s how God created us to be... It’s what makes each and everyone of us a unique part of His amazing creation... So that’s why it’s attractive when we see those attributes on display. But today’s Gospel reminds us that ulitmately Jesus must be our priority... And then we are to pursue those different things that we’re passionate and dedicated to with Him at the center. Looking at the things that matter to us most here and now as a way to glorify Him. That not only keeps us in check so as not to set ourselves up for disappointment, it’s a good examination of our conscious (asking ourselves wow, all that time I spend doing – fill in the blank – is that really glorifying God?)
There’s a great prayer from a Jesuit priest by the name of Fr. Pedro Arrupe that is a favorite of mine and speaks to this - it goes:
Nothing is more practical than finding God
than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love,
stay in love,
and it will decide everything.
May Jesus be our everything. May our love for Him, enrich and transform all that we are passionate and dedicated to that He is glorified in every one of our pursuits.