This Sunday’s Gospel (13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A) has the Lord Jesus telling us that “He who loves father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me. He who loves son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me.” We might wonder how love for a family member could be in conflict with love for God.
Let’s take an example: a married couple has marital problems (you might say, “what’s new? That happens in every marriage.” Please stay with me!). One spouse (let’s say that it is the husband in this case) has expectations that the other spouse (the wife) refuses to comply with. The husband says that “if you really love me, you will do what I ask you to do.” The wife refuses because she truly believes that her husband is asking her to commit a sin. She considers her duty toward God to be more important than her duty toward her husband.
Let’s go back to the Gospel: Jesus could have extended his example by saying: “He who loves husband or wife more than me, is not worthy of me.” God demands — indeed has always demanded of His People — that He is to be our First Love. That our love for Him must take precedence over all other loves. Indeed, how could we truly say that we love Almighty God if our spouse, or our parents, or our children, are more important to us than loving God?
Let’s go back to the example of the wife who will not comply with her husband: what if she is wrong? What if she is objecting to something, but that thing is not actually sinful? Well, we are obliged to both form our conscience according to the Truth (revealed by God, which can often also be seen, by right reason), and to follow our conscience. Even if our conscience (our moral sense of right and wrong) is mistaken, we are still obliged to obey our conscience! In other words, if you or I believe that something is the morally right thing to do, then we must do it! If we believe that something else would be morally wrong — sinful, an offense against Almighty God — then we must NOT do it!
So, as a practical matter, obeying our conscience, doing what we truly believe to be morally correct, is a constitutive element of Loving God! Any person who would ask, pressure, or coerce, another person to violate their conscience is asking them to put himself / herself above Almighty God. And this, my brothers and sisters, is something that you and I should never do. If we believe that someone who we care about has a malformed conscience, then we can certainly try to show them where they are misunderstanding Sacred Scripture or the teaching of the Church, but we should work with them by reasoning and prayer, and not try to “twist their arm” into doing what we think they should do, in contradiction to their conscience.
May all of us grow in genuine love for Our Lord Jesus Christ, and recognize that it is in loving Him first and above all others, that we will truly be able to fulfill the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.”