How would we live if we had the beatific vision of the blessed in heaven that allows us to know God directly and see Him face to face? We don’t really know the answer to this question because our current state of being is such that the beatific vision is still beyond our reach. But we do know what it’s like to live without one. The Book of Wisdom makes this very clear: our deliberations are timid, our plans are unsure, our mind is full of concerns, we struggle to understand not only the things happening in this world, but also “what is within our grasp” (c.f. Wis 9:14-16).
The psalm verses we hear today zero in even more on our spiritual frailties. We fail to see that “a thousand years in [God’s] sight are as yesterday”, which is why we are often impatient with Him (Ps 90:4). We don’t really understand how fragile our life is. Like grass “It sprouts green in the morning; by evening it is dry and withered” (Ps 90:6).
For the author of Wisdom and the psalmist, there is only one solution to our problem: know God’s counsel, receive His wisdom (Wis 9:17). Only God can “Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart” (Ps 90:12). God’s wisdom is what we need to understand this Sunday’s gospel reading, in which Jesus says, "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” (Lk 14:26).
When I was in secondary school, my Chinese literature teacher wrote the same passage from Luke on the board one day and told our class that it was the reason why he rejected Christianity. He said that when he was studying in Taiwan, he had managed to read the whole Bible from top to bottom out of gratefulness to his landlord, who was a devout Christian and was very kind to him. He had had no problem with the Bible in general. But Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14 had hit him like a bombshell, causing him to reject Christianity altogether. One’s respect and filial attachment to their parents and family members was after all the be-all and end-all in Confucius teaching.
Without God’s wisdom, it’s easy to misunderstand Jesus’ teaching, as my secondary school teacher had done. Fortunately, God knows our human limitations. He knows that unless He takes the initiative to reveal Himself to us directly, we will never be able to see as He sees. Although we are not yet in possession of the beatific vision, with God’s help and intervention we can still see and know the truth in all its fullness and splendor. We can still enjoy the direct self-communication of God to us in so far as God wills to reveal Himself to us, and to the extent that we have the humility to receive it. The good news is God’s self-revelation is real – it has happened! He has revealed Himself to us “in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
Following the inspired word of God and His divinely revealed truths under the guidance of the Church Magisterium, we know that earthly marriage and family, while important, are mere signposts that point us to our eternal communion with God and to His Family in heaven. We share in this Family “this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed” (CCC 1024).
Small wonder then that Jesus would caution us against fixating our eyes on these transient relationships that are meant to prepare us for the real and eternal relationships in heaven. Important as it is, the sacredness of family loyalty must not outweigh our commitment to Christ (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament on Luke 14:26). One who is not prepared to abandon close relationships - “and even his own life” – to follow Christ cannot be his true disciple.