Seeking God’s Counsel

by Angela Batie Carlin

Hate is a strong word. As I type this, I’m preparing to board a plane to Seattle to meet my two-week-old niece. I’ve never seen her, but I already love her. I love my parents, too, and my siblings, and my new husband. I’ll admit, I do love my own life.

Jesus’ warning at the beginning of the Gospel, “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” seem like too tall an order. Certainly Jesus wouldn’t expect us to hate our families… right?

I think the key to understanding what Jesus is saying in the Gospel is the idea of seeking God’s counsel that we find in the first reading. The reading from Wisdom reminds us of our human limitations and that, despite the need to cling to things like shelter and our very bodies, there is a cost for those preoccupations. Only God’s wisdom is beyond these limits, and we can only benefit when God sends the Spirit to us, to offer counsel beyond what we can find on earth.

In the Gospel, Jesus tries to help us understand that there is something radically better, profoundly wiser, that transcends our worldly priorities and earthly connections. We can’t really hear that until we are truly free to respond. It reminds me of the First Principle and Foundation of The Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius:

The goal of our life is to live with God forever.
God who loves us, gave us life.
Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us
without limit.
All the things in this world are gifts of God,
presented to us so that we can know God more easily
and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God
insofar as they help us develop as loving persons.
But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives,
they displace God
and so hinder our growth toward our goal.
In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance
before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice
and are not bound by some obligation.
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
a deeper response to our life in God.
Our only desire and our one choice
should be this:
I want and I choose what better
leads to the
deepening of God’s life in me.
(David Fleming’s paraphrase of Ignatius’ First Principle and Foundation for the Spiritual Exercises)

I’ve struggled with this “Ignatian indifference,” this sense that we ought not to cling to anything too heartily, lest it limit our ability to respond to the Spirit. Yet, here Jesus is showing us that we need to be able to order things in our lives so that God is first. Only then will we have the freedom to really hear how the Spirit is guiding us, to be truly free to respond to the Spirit, to really hear God’s counsel above the din of human advice. Only then can be be truly free to Glorify God in the way that we are called.

Image of Ignatius from http://www.fordham.edu/images/mission/igstatue.jpg

Angela Batie Carlin is a Campus Minister at Saint Louis University. She received an MDiv from Yale in 2007.

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