Christian Detachment

Fr Ryan Black reflects on the theme of Christian detachment from the world, as it appears in the Gospel passage from the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B).

Last night, I was catching up with my parents on Zoom and we were discussing our plans for 2021. We’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that it’s unlikely the holidays and concerts we had planned will come to pass this year. It got me thinking about how excitedly we wait for things.

Do I—do we—we wait as excitedly for Christ as we do for other things, like holidays, or vaccines, or Inauguration Day, or an end to exams? How many things do we prioritise over Christ and His Church? I hope I am not alone in recognising that in our time, it is easy to become attached to so much.

With this attachment to things in mind, the Gospel passage we hear today can disconcert us. The Church proclaims today the story of the calling of Jesus’ first disciples, the four fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James and John. Upon hearing His call, these men “left their nets at once,” we are told, “and followed him.” The fishermen were entirely detached from the things of their trade. Without thinking twice, they laid down their nets and left their boats behind.

They are a model for us of Christian detachment. In their lives as fishermen, there is no doubt that they would have needed nets and boats. However, when it became clear that to follow Christ meant that these things had to be put to one side, the first disciples did so without hesitation.

It’s important to remember that Christian detachment is not the same as disdain for material goods; Christ Himself wore a robe with a fringe, one which the soldiers threw dice for because it was woven whole from top to bottom. We can, of course, have material goods, so long as we put them to good use, and so long as our having them does not become an obstacle to our ever-deepening relationship with God.

As Christians, we are called not to seek comfort and self-satisfaction, but means by which we can approach God, proclaim the Kingdom of God, and help others to know and love Him. We need not shun a legitimate standard of comfort, which is not the same thing as downright luxury, but we must never allow ourselves to be taken prisoners by material things.

What things are we most attached to? What attachments might threaten our relationship with God? These are the things that we are called to leave behind. Insofar as we can put our possessions to good use for the greater glory of God, they are good and useful things; when we begin to prioritise them over our union with God, we must listen for the Lord who calls us by name, so that we can leave those things at once and follow Him.