"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

We Belong To God's Family [Delivered at an online mass for Ateneo de Manila University Senior High School]

Orthodox icon of Theotokos and the Child, tempera, and gold on wood and canvas, St Catherine's Monastery Sinai, 13th century

or today's gospel theme about belonging to God's family, let us ask "Who is the family of Jesus?" First, Jesus was confronted by this question personally and his response could make us cringe. Among the most difficult of these is his statement of today's gospel about the need to hate one’s own father and mother in order to be His true disciple. The key to resolving this difficulty lies hidden in the ancient meaning of the Hebrew word ָש ֵנא (sane), translated in English as “hate.” What is Jesus telling us when he says, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple" (Lk 14:26)?

When I asked myself this question, I remembered the last summer vacation twenty years ago when I told my father that I was leaving them already in order to become a Jesuit. My father disapproved of my decision, the first reason being, I still had two younger siblings who were in high school. He wanted me to help them out with the family’s financial needs. Second, he wanted me to pursue not religious studies but legal studies to become a lawyer. He did not talk to me during that last summer I spent with him. I can still remember telling him my own reasons, “Papa, I am joining the religious life not because I am running away from my family obligation. I am only responding to a religious call.” I enumerated to him how we received so many blessings from God in unexpected ways. First, my eldest sister was offered a good job as a certified public accountant; second, my older brother did not just pass the engineering board exam but landed in the top twelve national rankings. So, given these blessings, I confidently assured my father not to worry about our family’s financial needs because there were even many more families with burgeoning needs but may not be as blest. So I begged him to just let me go so that I could be of service not just to our own but to others.

When I was already inside the seminary, I had to decipher what saying Yes to God's call meant. My Yes to God did not mean I had to stop honoring my parents or stop loving them. Definitely not! The fourth commandment is never watered-down. But God was calling me to a life of radical discipleship and overwhelming love for Him, such that even my great love for my own parents would seem pale and weak by comparison. Again, whenever we read in the Bible a similar context about hating our father, mother, spouse, brother, sister, and even one’s own life, in ancient Biblical Hebrew, it only means “loving less” or “preferring someone or something else that is of greater importance.”

Second, there is another instance when Jesus was talking to a crowd and his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” Jesus said these words in reply, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? Here are my mother and my brothers"—pointing to his disciples. Was Jesus violating the fourth commandment “Honor your father and your mother”? Definitely not! In fact, I would like to think that Mary was being honored by her own son in a much deeper way as both family and disciple. Jesus says, “For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt 12:50).

I come from a big family. After my ordination to the priesthood, my brothers and sisters started addressing me as Father. Worst even my own mother would call me Father. This only means that my original ties to them as biological son or brother have been superseded by a more universal family which is God’s family. We have more than one family. Let us not forget that we have a bigger family that connects us all by virtue of our baptism. Whenever I administer the baptismal rites, I tell the parents and God-parents, that their child is reborn anew into God’s family. Baptism is the child’s second birthday. After the baptism the infant is no longer just any human being but a prince or a princess, God’s heir, and our coheir. You cannot just do as you please to the child because God has created the child anew through the waters of baptism. But parents, God-parents, teachers have been handpicked by God to take care of them.

The third and last point of our reflection is the great desire of Jesus to rely entirely on God. Even at the early age of twelve, Jesus taught his mother about the virtue of letting go and letting God. When Jesus got lost for three days, Mary first felt that her relationship with her son was starting to change. Of course, Jesus acknowledged and appreciated all the love and care that he got from Joseph and Mary but ultimately he belonged to God. Mary learned from one incident of finding her child Jesus busy inside the temple that the future of her son was more and more placed in the hands of God. Together with Joseph, Mary must have gone through a sort of conversion too. She must have thought at first, like many mothers, that the responsibility of bringing up the child Jesus was not hers only. Definitely not! At a very early period in the life of our Lord, Joseph and Mary were reminded that it is all up to God. It is up to God how He will raise His only begotten Son.

I would like to end with a prayer that I contemplated the Blessed Virgin Mary must have uttered during that time.
"Abba, I am confused sometimes. I do not know what to say to my child. But even then I put all my trust in you. Because my child taught me one thing today. It is not I, even if I am the mother, but You alone are in charge."
May we all learn from Joseph and Mary how to entrust everything to God especially during these uncertain times—to let go and let God. Amen. Fr JM Manzano SJ


  1. Your touching and personal story reflects the meaning of the gospel...Thanks for sharing a part of your vocational journey. I hope and pray you have awaken the seed of vocation of those who have listened to you. GBU!

    1. Thank you. Let us continue to pray for more vocations to the consecrated life! GBU!

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