“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it.”
Jesus is pretty clear with these words: it is going to be difficult to be one of his disciples.
While making a reference to his own upcoming death on a cross, Jesus teaches us that living out the Christian life as it should be, will require the carrying of the cross. It will require dying to self for the sake of others: which is the definition of love: I must decrease so the other may increase.
I am sure the listeners of Jesus were stunned at these words. Jesus is not asking for short-lived enthusiasm or occasional devotion, but rather a full-time commitment where what is at stake is eternal life.
Discipleship means loving one’s neighbor as Jesus has loved us: to love sacrificially, and yes, love will at times hurt.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe comes to mind as a pretty extreme example of this, some of you may be familiar with his story. He was an inmate at the German Concentration Camp Auschwitz in Poland. When some inmates attempted to escape, all prisoners were lined up, and the guards counted every tenth man to shoot. When Francis Gajowniczek was chosen he cried out, “please, I have a wife and children.” Father Kolbe offered to replace Francis: and he died by lethal injection some days later. Francis survived Auschwitz and was present at the beatification of Kolbe.
Perhaps not as dramatic, is the mother that sacrifices her own sleep as she takes care of her sick child all night long, and then goes to work in the morning.
Or a friend or relative who donates a kidney to a sick loved one so that the loved one may live.
Or a father who works long hours, perhaps long hours under the heat of the sun, or in a dangerous factory, who does it out of love for his family.
Or a teenager who is obedient to his or her parents in regards to curfew, not doing what I want, but being respectful of the wishes of others.
Imagine how different society would be, the world actually, if all loved sacrificially as Jesus did. If all took up the cross.
Though alarming to consider the demands of the Christian life, Saint Augustine comments on Jesus’ words saying, “what Jesus commands is neither hard nor painful when He Himself helps us in such a way so that the very thing He requires may be accomplished… for whatever seems hard in what is enjoined, love makes easy.”
What does Saint Augustine mean? That Jesus invites us to carry the cross, but he does not expect us to do it alone. Jesus is with us along the way, helping us to love as He has loved us.
In the first reading, we heard a description of the “Suffering Servant of Isaiah.” This is a faithful servant of God who suffers tremendously for the sake of all people, seen by the early Church as a prefiguration of Jesus Christ.
“I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.”
Jesus takes upon himself the sin, cruelty and disfunction of the world, and swallows it up in God’s divine mercy. He journeys into the bottom of human disfunction to bring light to it. In his suffering, all is made right, including our own suffering and toil.
The Christian life is not just about saying what we believe, or affirming it with our lips, but also acting on it as Saint James reminds us, especially in the way that we relate to the neediest among us.
As we remember today the attack of September 11th and pray for the many souls who died that day, and the many lives that were affected by that loss. We give thanks for the selfless love shown by so many that day, of which many lost their lives.
We pray for a renewed sense of hope in Christ who walks with us in the darkest moments of life in order to bring it all to the light. It is in carrying the cross that the cross finds redemption. It is in carrying the cross that we reach, together with Jesus, the resurrection.
Picture from the Public Domain