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Friends, in our Gospel today, the Lord offers one of the greatest, most “slap you in the face” challenges he ever offered. “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother . . . and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

There is the great spiritual principle that undergirds the entire Gospel: detachment. The heart of the spiritual life is to love God and then to love everything else for the sake of God. But we sinners, as St. Augustine said, fall into the trap of loving the creature and forgetting the Creator. That’s when we get off the rails.

We treat something less than God as God—and trouble ensues. And this is why Jesus tells his fair-weather fans that they have a very stark choice to make. Jesus must be loved first and last, and everything else in their lives has to find its meaning in relation to him.

In typical Semitic fashion, he makes this point through a stark exaggeration: “Unless you hate your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters . . .” Well yes, hate them in the measure that they have become gods to you. For precisely in that measure are they dangerous.