One way to define maturity is the ability to move from illusion to reality. In this understanding, every time we undertake a new endeavor there is a great deal of illusion that colors how we see ourselves and the world around us. Therefore, growth is the ability to set that illusion aside and accept what is real.
I know a wonderful, talented fourteen-year-old girl who is determined to be President of the United States. Now it would be wrong to tell her that is impossible. But it is very likely that some time from now, she will have to face the fact that such a goal was a childhood dream. Then she will have to set her life in another direction. There are many young men in our high schools and colleges that are wonderful athletes. Some of them hope to play in the NFL. It would be unfair to squelch those dreams. But most of them will one day have to admit that such a goal was an illusion. Then they will have to find something real to do with their lives.
Jesus seems to know this dynamic in today’s gospel. Someone runs up to him and wants to be his follower. The person is filled with wonderment and wide expectations, and says “Lord, I will follow you wherever you go.” The sky is the limit. Whatever it means to be a disciple, I am in! Now I am sure Jesus appreciated this person’s enthusiasm, but he conditions it. He says, “Foxes have dens and the birds of the air have nests but the son of man has nowhere to rest his head.” This is Jesus’ way of saying that being a disciple is not all glory and miracles. There is hardship and want. One must be able to give up the illusion of being a disciple and accept discipleship for what it really is.
You and I have to do the same thing. If we wish to mature as people. We must be able to identify what is illusion and replace it with what is real. When we discover that we do not have the skill or the stamina to attain a degree in civil engineering, maturity says that we open ourselves to new career possibilities. When we begin to realize that our spouse is not the perfect person we thought we married on our wedding day, maturity says that we must accept that such perfection is an illusion, and accept what is real in our marriage. Catholics often place priests and bishops on pedestals. But then we discover that some priests molest children and some bishops fail to protect our children from harm. We then realize that our church is not without serious flaws and its perfection is an illusion. If we intend to remain in the church, we must find something that is real and good to hold on to.
Now the difficulty in moving from illusion to reality is that illusion always appears to be something real. So when we discover that illusion is false, we at first think that we are losing something real. But we are actually coming closer to reality, because we are setting aside what is illusionary. It might seem that we are losing something that is essential, but we are simply recognizing something as a misperception or a false impression. Seeing an illusion as false might at first frighten us, because we imagine that the future is lost. We become afraid that there is no hope for our career, or our marriage, or our place in the church. But what is really happening is that we are beginning to see what our career, our marriage or our place in the church is meant to be.
And the good news is this. God is the one who leads us to maturity. God is the one who guides us from illusion to reality, because God has no part in misconception and false impressions. Therefore, however painful or frightening it might be to set illusions aside, whenever we do, it is a sure sign of grace. Because it is only in reality that we will find God. It is only in reality that we will gain salvation.