11th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year B)

Good things come in small packages.

How often have we heard that expression? Yet the truth of this little maxim is proven time and again in our history, and in our day to day dealings with each other. Often times, we find that the simple little gestures from others, rather than the grand and extravagant ones, are the ones that have a stronger influence or make a greater impression on us.

Time and again, in Sacred Scripture, we see this represented; great and wonderful things can come from the most (apparently) insignificant beginnings. The choosing of a small desert tribe –the children of Israel – to be the vehicle through which God would make Himself known to the world; the selection of David, a humble shepherd and the youngest of Jesse’s sons as the future king; the birth of our Savior in a lowly stable. It is from the most modest beginnings or circumstances that God makes His presence and His will known.

In today’s Gospel, we are presented with the image of a mustard seed; a tiny speck or grain, looking like no more than a grain of sand. But when that seed is planted and takes root and grows, it becomes a great bush or shrub – a tree really, and birds can come and make their nests in it. This is the wonderful symbol that Jesus uses for the kingdom of God; something very small and insignificant is planted, and from this humble beginning, something wonderful and great begins to spread and grow. The birds are attracted to it as a place to nest, to build a home, to live in and raise their young in it. They are not forced to land or nest in this tree – they are drawn to its shelter and they choose to dwell there; much like the human soul – drawn to live in God’s love and life; they are not forced into it – yet they dwell in it, resting and raising their own young in it.

And of course, as the mustard tree flowers and blooms it provides more seeds, that in turn fall and are scattered – sometimes by the birds themselves- and spread throughout the area, causing more trees to grow so that more birds can come and nest – and so on; all from the smallest beginning from a humble little seed.

The message of this gospel passage is particularly important, especially in our current day and culture, to remind each of us of the role each of us plays in the spreading of the Kingdom – the support of our own and other’s faith lives, being heralds of the Christ within our own circumstances.

This is not just a responsibility of ‘professional’ Catholics – priests, deacons, religious, pastoral ministers, lay leaders; every member of the Church community must play a part in presenting and preserving the faith within our own families and communities; but it is a presentation through example, a lived witness to the Gospel. We are called to support each other in this, and with the aid of a community of believers, we can all truly do great things for God.

And as if this ‘communal’ support were not enough, we are reminded by Jesus that we are also supported in all of this through the grace of God. God’s grace is here to help hold us up in times of trial, in times of sadness, and in times of joy.

Empowered by the grace of God, we are given the tremendous opportunity to be that influence for good in the world; realizing that the slightest actions in our lives will influence others. Whether or not we realize it at the time, our words and actions will be the standard through which others will view Christ and His Church.

It is something that we are all called to, to use all those small moments in our daily lives, both great and small to further the message of the Gospels; to be those mustard seeds of witness; to spread the kingdom of God in our homes, our workplaces, our schools, and our communities.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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19th Sunday Ordinary Time (Year A)

I don’t think there is anyone  who will not acknowledge that in recent years the Church has been facing crises; battered by storms from a selfish and materialistic outside world – battered from within by dissension and scandalous and sinful behaviour by some of her own members; but it is not the first time in the history of the Church that this has been the case.  There are dozens of examples throughout the history of the Church when it has been in crisis and peril from outside OR battered by individuals from within. And today’s Gospel passage gives us a glimpse into one of those earliest moments;

This passage occurs after Jesus has learned of the execution of his cousin, St. John the Baptist; it occurs after Jesus has fed the five thousand; Jesus has gone off to be alone in prayer and communion with His Father.  After praying all evening, He is returning to the disciples who are now in the middle of the Sea of Galilee in a boat; in the midst of a storm; and so He comes directly to them, walking across the water.

The ferocity of this storm is evident in this reading, as we know some of the disciples, particularly Peter were well-experienced sailors and fishermen; and they were afraid; now, in the middle of a raging storm, they see someone walking across the water towards them and they start to panic, and begin to shout in fear ‘it’s a ghost’!

But Jesus continues to come to them, speaking words of comfort in the midst of the wind; he tells them ‘be not afraid’…’it is I”.

There is a difference between conventional wisdom and wisdom of the Holy Spirit; and as in so many other passages we see a mixture of both of these with St. Peter.  First, he exercises prudence, a virtue and shows spiritual wisdom, rather than simply jumping into the sea;  He calls out to Jesus, testing the spirit as it were, and says,” Lord if it really is you, command me to come to you” – Peter knows he cannot simply get out on his own and walk across the water to Jesus, but he has discerned well enough that if it is really Jesus calling Him, then the power of Jesus will be enough to uphold him on the waves;

Having shown spiritual wisdom, Peter , the experienced fisherman, then throws worldly wisdom completely aside and gets out of a secure boat into a raging storm; and he actually begins to walk on water;

This is where Peter gets himself into trouble though; he feels the wind and the waves and realizes what’s happening; he starts to lose focus on who it was who called him out of the boat and onto the water, and starts focusing on the waves and wind and his own efforts; and as soon as he does that, he begins to sink.

Once again, Peter shows spiritual wisdom; rather than turning for the boat or shouting to the other disciples to throw him a rope, he calls out to Jesus “Lord Save me!” and the gospel says ‘Immediately”  – Immediately Jesus reached out and caught him and saved him;  Jesus brings him back to the boat, they get in, and the storm ceases. And at that point, all the other occupants of the boat, it says ‘worshipped him’.

The occupants of that boat on the Sea of Galilee at that point in history are the Church. And this little Church is in crisis – is being battered from the outside and the inside; battered from the outside by the storm surrounding the little boat; soon to be battered from the inside when we look at who makes up the Church in this little boat; Judas the traitor, Thomas the doubter, Simon the Zealot – but there is also John, the beloved Disciple; James, who will lead the infant Church in Jerusalem and be the first of the apostles to die for Christ ; and of course, Peter.  They have all met Jesus, walked with Jesus, lived with Jesus; they have witnessed many of his miracles, have heard his teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven; and yet, when the entire Church is beaten about by a storm, the only one who is willing to step out of the boat in trust, because Jesus is calling him, is Peter; and so Jesus saves Him;

But it may seem curious, why did Jesus bring Peter back to the boat?  Why not bring him to shore where it was safe, since Peter was the only one who had the courage to ‘get out of the boat’ in the middle of the storm in the first place?

Because now, Peter is back amongst the other members of the Church, and has a unique and intimate story of the saving power of Christ to share with them; Christ will continue to teach them, through Peter’s experience, through Peter’s WITNESS; it’s not hard to imagine that as time goes on, after this adventure, the other disciples would approach Peter  with their own questions; Peter has been strengthened by Jesus Himself, and will share this experience and this lesson in faith with them, and from it, they will have the opportunity to grow and develop in their own faith and prayer life.

But all of this would be impossible, without the movement of the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, in Peter’s life, and Peter’s willingness to be open to the power and the gifts of faith and hope and trust supplied by God through the Spirit.

God calls each of us to be with Him, to be holy; that is the general vocation of each and every human being on the face of the earth.  Some respond, some do not. But even within this call to holiness, God calls each of us to a more intimate and specific relationship – to a particular role in helping others to grow in grace and faith and in the love of God; to witness to His love for all people; to testify to the strength He gives to each of us to follow Him.

We may not be called to witness with our own blood for our faith; but there is no one , man, woman or child, who has not been faced with making a decision, big or small, which calls on us to decide between the wisdom of this world, or the love of God; in the middle of our own crises and storms; employment problems; financial difficulties; turmoil in our relationships; sickness; loss, personal tragedy; but also in the midst of our joys and celebrations; that’s when we need to look outside the boat and walk towards Jesus; He’s there calling us to step out of the boat, out of our own crises to bring them to Him; we can trust that He will always be there, reaching out immediately to hold us up if we begin to sink; strengthening us, and returning with us into our own little boats; helping us witness and minister to others, in our journey back to the Father, listening to His word’s of comfort in the midst of those storms,

‘be not afraid’.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

 

 

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

One of my weaknesses is t-shirts with catchy slogans of either a religious or social justice nature:  I have one that says ‘Get Holy or die trying’, and has a list of Christian martyrs on the back.  Another one proclaims, ‘the earth is for all, not for sale.” 

There is one that I have and I’ve long admired; it says,

“Jesus is coming…..look busy”

 As long as there have been people on the face of the earth, there has been a morbid fascination with the end of time.  Every generation has in some way, considered themselves the absolute focal point, the pinnacle of human existence and history, somehow thinking that everything about nature, history, arts and sciences and the entire fate of the human race is centered on their generation.

We see it reflected in recent movies, books and television series; and there are many out there who think, “well, this is it. This is the beginning of the end!”

Remember the Mayan calendar? 

But this is really nothing new: throughout our history there have been examples, time and time again of people pointing to their generation, trying some way to twist and warp events to ‘match up’ with Sacred Scripture to point to a timetable of actual events – so much so that in their ‘wisdom’ they have pointed to exact dates and times when God would finally say, “enough is enough’ and bring the existence of the world to an end.

The passage we have read today from St. Luke’s Gospel is one of those parts of scripture that is often used as a kind of literary sign post for those who presume to ‘know’ when the world will end.  In this particular passage, Jesus is quite clear in his advice to anyone who would rush after those who claim to have such knowledge or to take them seriously,

“…many will come in my name and say, “ I am he’ and, ‘The Time is near!’ Do not go after them”

For those who somehow ‘need to know’ when the end will come, we need to ask,

“Why?”

‘What purpose would that serve at all?”

‘Would it somehow enable us to avoid the end of all things?  Would it give us a timetable to accumulate more wealth or possessions; to build up our own little empires? – what good would that do if all things end anyway?’

“ Would this knowledge somehow give us a timetable to live our lives one way, then provide ourselves with enough time to sort of ‘move over’ towards God at the last minute to somehow get closer to Him ‘just in time’?  Perhaps give us some means of bending God’s will in our favour?”

Jesus tells his disciples that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed: the destruction of that Temple, the place where for the Jews the glory of God dwelt, would have been absolutely unthinkable.  But it did happen – in 70 A.D., about 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Surely to those living in Jerusalem at the time, this would have felt like the end of the world.

He tells them that there will be wars and natural disasters; that they will be persecuted and attacked for witnessing to their faith in Him.  He warns them that the world will reject them, even become violent towards them because of their faithfulness to Him.  But even in this, Jesus, who is God, does not give them a specific timetable to follow like a calendar or day planner. His message is not just for the apostles in that specific time.  It’s for all people of all times.

His point in all of this discourse is to tell them and us, that He will be with us at all times… ‘not a hair of your head will perish.  By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

He’s reminding His disciples that despite trial, tragedy, loss, persecution – in all manner of difficulties, He will be with those who follow Him.  He says explicitly, when we are tried, ‘not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” He will not abandon His own; but He wants the disciples, and us, to understand clearly – a reality check if you will:

That part of the human condition is the struggle and grief and sorrow that are part and parcel of our fallen nature.  There are no ‘quick fixes’ to the sufferings and trials that are part of our existence.

And it’s not as if He doesn’t know what He’s talking about or preaching to us from some removed, distant, unreal place: He entered into our humanity; He experienced losses and disappointments, struggles and rejection, and He most certainly experienced pain, torment and suffering.

But throughout the ages, He has been with us; calling to us and reminding us that He has always been with us and present to us. That we don’t need to know when the ‘end’ will come, because it is not just at the ‘end’ that we will meet Him.

He is present to us now, in the poor and the lonely and the marginalized.  He is present to us when we gather as a people of prayer and praise.  He is definitely present to us in His Sacraments, particularly in the Holy Eucharist.

And because of this, we don’t need to ‘Look busy’, because we think He is going to surprise us, showing up ‘some day soon’ when we’re not ready:  He is already here; He is always with us; He is always among us.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

 

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Tell me why you believe…How often have we been asked that question?

It’s been said that for those with faith, no evidence is necessary – and for those without faith, no evidence is enough.

Sometimes we can encounter people in our lives who may question our belief in God, Jesus, the Church, and will use opportunities to question us in front of others to ridicule our faith.  They may even form their contempt for God in the form of a serious question to us; some kind of clever logic-puzzle that they think will really trip us up – they don’t ask the question because they really want to learn or come to understand the Truth – they use the question as an attempt to tear down the credibility of Christ.  Sometimes it can make us very uncomfortable – even a little afraid, because to stand up and present our beliefs means putting our own credibility on the line.

Jesus is faced in today’s Gospel with such a situation.  He is given a ‘scenario’  by the Saducees of tremendous improbability – of a woman being repeatedly left a widow with no children by a series of seven brothers who subsequently each died, following the marriage laws handed down by Moses.  Their whole point is not to really know who this poor woman will be ‘stuck with’ in heaven, or to understand Jesus’ teaching of the resurrection.  Their purpose seems to be to make fun of Him, and to show the strength of their view, their position,their logic.

To appreciate Jesus’ response to their question, it’s helpful to understand who the Saducees were:

The Saducees were an upper-class group within the religious leadership of the Jews of Jesus’ time, and they based their entire understanding of their relationship with God on the first five books of the Scriptures, what we call The Pentateuch;  the books of Genesis, Exodus , Deuteronomy , Leviticus and Numbers.  They were very well educated and intently studied these books; they followed the laws governing religious observance and behaviour very strictly; and they formulated their belief that if it wasn’t specifically mentioned in these books, then it didn’t exist in their view of God.  Whatever was contained in the other books of the Scripture did not have the same bearing on the law and their religious observance.  Only these five books, that they believed Moses wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, were of fundamental importance.

In their reading of these five books, the resurrection of the dead is not specifically, literally mentioned, and so as their education and logic dictated, there is no resurrection.  If we follow that to its natural conclusion, then the Saducees believed there would be no afterlife with God; Only the here and now.

Jesus on the other hand, uses their knowledge of the Scriptures and brings them to the point in Exodus where Moses encounters God in the burning bush.  When Moses asked God to provide a name that he could bring to the Israelites in captivity in Egypt, God said ‘I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”….note the use of the tense…Jesus points out to the Saducees that God did NOT  say I WAS the God of Abraham, Isaac and those who have been dead for centuries…..God speaks in the present, and includes the patriarchs in that present moment – that they are very much alive to God as you and I are.  Jesus is telling the Saducees that to put God in a box, to limit His power, and expect Him to conform to their narrow interpretation of His Word is in error – that God is very much outside of their concepts of time and space and that once past this life, his faithful ones are gathered to Him in the next life; That He is very much the God of the living in this world and the next; He is present to us here and just as present to those who have gone before us, and that is the Truth of the resurrection.

The real irony in this passage is that it is God Himself in the person of Jesus who is telling the Saducees what His Word means –This is the same God who continually speaks to us in His Word and His Church and His People, and we receive the answers to our questions when we are open to hearing them and not forming them to our own pre-conditions or personal preferences.  To trust and accept these answers takes courage.

This approach is so foreign to our modern world.  Our society increasingly tells us everything is relative; that a relationship with God isn’t that important because either He doesn’t exist; or if He exists, He just started the universe up and is sitting back somewhere letting it all play out on its own without His participation; that people follow rules for civilized behaviour only because it is convenient to do so.  This mentality denies the common good; it eventually tells us that people are to be used as things and treated according to what benefit we can gain from them – that it is all right to insult, hurt, or use people to build up our own self-worth or self-image.

This is completely opposed to the Gospel of Christ, and to the teachings of the Church.

Our response to this attitude requires us to trust in God; to put others ahead of ourselves; to seek forgiveness of those we hurt; to open ourselves to God’s grace and the Holy Spirit; open to the gift of courage.

This courage is what we all need, when we are required to speak and act in accordance with what it means to be a child of God and a follower of Jesus.

Unlike some places in the world, for most of us, we will not be called upon to sacrifice our lives for the practice of our faith.  We may, however, have to make other sacrifices – maybe in our choices of the products we purchase – the entertainment we choose – the recreational activities we take part in.  We may find ourselves in a situation where to stand up for what it means to be a Christian may have negative personal consequences for us – perhaps a decrease in our popularity in a group; diminished social status, public ridicule.

But it is the extraordinary courage to live the Gospel in ordinary circumstances that separates the disciple of Christ from a disciple of the world.  It is this same courage that leads us to place love of God and love of neighbour above all else – even where it may cost us dearly. 

Just by attending Mass, we show that courage and confirmation of our faith in God.  It is that love that we receive in so many ways from God that we come to express our gratitude for. We come to receive the nourishment of God’s Word, the nourishment of Christ’s Body and Blood – receiving God Himself; when we open ourselves to this reality, we feel His presence and that in itself tells us He is very much alive – and when we leave Mass we commit ourselves to take the living Christ out into the world with us, into whatever situations our daily lives lead us.

The Living and True God who is very much a part of our lives continues to be with us, and we can have confidence in that. God gives us the strength, Jesus provides the example, and the Holy Spirit provides the inspiration and courage we need to face the challenges to our faith in our daily lives;  we can rely on His grace to help us answer when we hear that challenge;

 Tell me why you believe… 

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Given the particular period Jesus was speaking in when he made this remark as quoted in St. Luke’s Gospel (18:8), this may have been considered a rhetorical question.  In our current place in human history, perhaps it is much more pointed and direct.

I would expect that if we were to review the last two thousand years, regardless of culture, nationality or economics, there has long been general concensus among the world’s people that there is a Divine order; that there is much more beyond what we can see here, now, in front of us.  There have been times when particular groups in specific locations have tried to drive God from the general consciousness and the public forum, but it is only very recently that there seems to be a widespread, common and concentrated effort to relegate faith or any faith practice to the fringes of society, to the realm of superstition, imagination or fantasy.

Even among so-called Christians, there seems to be a rush to disprove the wonder and extraordinary elements of the life of Christ; to reduce Jesus to, at best, a wise sage or, at worst, a manufactured myth to further a political agenda.  We read ‘works’ by ‘experts’ who question Jesus’ historical reality despite the wealth of documentary and testimonial witness preserved through the ages , despite His impact on human history (and yet while there are no contemporary first-hand writings of Socrates, for example, there does not seem to be any doubt over his existence).

How did we get here?  Some point to advances in science and technology, as if these are the polar opposite of faith; actually the Church teaches that science and technology are among the many gifts which God has placed at our disposal to use wisely, nurturing our understanding and pursuit of Him utilizing both faith and reason.  Whether we use the science or technology for good or evil ends is the real issue.

Perhaps it is because as a culture, we have gotten lazy.  Perhaps we have reduced everything to ‘minimum effort for maximum apparent benefit’. The physical, material is immediate and requires no conviction.  Faith involves commitment; commitment is hard work.

Jesus presents a parable in this particular passage of an ‘unjust judge’ who is not interested in hearing a case brought forward by a certain widow. The judge refuses for a time, but eventually surrenders to hearing the widow’s case simply because she has ‘worn him down’ with her persistence.  It’s important to note that Jesus depicts this ‘unjust’ judge as having no respect for any human, and no ‘fear’ or ‘awe’ of God.  The two go hand-in-hand.

This is not Jesus’ way of suggesting that we can simply ‘wear down’ God with constant repeated requests for the same thing over and over.  The point He is making is, that if even an ‘unjust’ judge can be open to hearing the petition of a widow who persists in her requests, then how much more would God, the ‘Just Judge’ be open to hearing and answering His chosen ones – His children, who ‘cry to Him day and night’.

The question for us becomes, do we ‘cry to Him’ day and night?  Do we persist in our prayers and our actions in presenting ourselves to God as His chosen ones, as His children?  Do we live out that persistence in faith? 

Do we mumble a couple of prayers about God making the world a better place, and then go about our lives without making an effort in treating those around us with the love and compassion that Jesus teaches is the hallmark of His disciples?  Do we ask God to give us something to make our life easier without using our own God-given talents or gifts to alleviate the suffering of someone in our immediate circle?  Do we cry out ‘how long O Lord?’ about injustices in the world, and yet fail to address the injustices in our own homes, or communities; or even take a public stand against evil? 

Faith is indeed a gift from God; it is one of the three theological virtues.  But we have to be open to receiving faith and sharing the graces that pour forth from it.  To deny faith is to deny the gift that could only help to bring us closer to our brothers and sisters, and closer to God.  We receive faith when we surrender to it, rather than resist it.  It is the grace of faith that strengthens us to hold on in times of difficulty, to instinctively reach out for Jesus when we feel lost, to yearn for God’s embrace when we feel that we can go no farther or remain steadfast any longer.  It is in the community of the faithful, that we are offered that support; it is in the Church that we are invited to recognize our value as God’s children; and it is that gift of faith that we are challenged to hand on to our children as the most precious thing we could ever bequeath them.

Some may be tempted to despair, and respond to Jesus’ question, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” with, “not likely”

I prefer to respond, “You know Lord, where your faithful are. Gather us to yourself.”

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

12th Sunday Ordinary Time

Who do people say Jesus is? Today, in the twenty-first century, there are several schools of opinion on just who Jesus is.
There are those who consider him a great teacher-philosopher; a non-violent radical who was trying to ‘shake up’ the established order….but that’s all.
There are those who consider him a great prophet, on par with a number of ‘prophets’ who started their own religions…but again, that’s all.
Then there are those who even question his existence, despite historical and sociological evidence to the contrary.
As people who profess our faith at Mass, however, we respond to that question differently: we claim that we believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, Our Lord.

This is really no different than the response Jesus receives from His disciples when He questions them in today’s passage from the Gospel of St. Luke;
He first asks them, who do the people say I am?

They respond with very similar answers to many in our secular society: one of the prophets, or John the Baptist come back from the dead. Despite his teachings and his miracles and the works he has done to this point in his public ministry, the prevailing public opinion in the areas his disciples have travelled is that Jesus is a teacher or someone delivering a message from God…and that’s all.

But then he narrows the question and shifts the focus of it: he makes it more personal, and says to his disciples Who do YOU say I am?

The importance of this particular moment cannot be underestimated. Here Jesus speaks with his closest companions; those whom He has called personally and who have shared in his public ministry and his private life up to this point. Who do you say I am?

The way St. Luke writes this passage, the silence must have been deafening…perhaps like a group of school children being asked ‘who broke this’, or maybe people in a parish meeting being asked ‘who wants to volunteer to take the minutes?’…no one answers; then St. Peter breaks the silence: “ you are the Christ of God”
Peter is uttering words that on the political stage could result in arrest and execution – calling Jesus the anointed one – the Messiah : and of course given the misunderstanding of what the Messiah was to be, the occupying Romans would have taken this as a challenge to the authority of Caesar – because the people thought the Messiah would be a political and military leader that would lead Israel to independence from Rome.
On the religious stage this could have caused a great deal of trouble too – various factions accepting the ‘Messiah-ship” of Jesus, and others denying it, both sides jockeying for position trying to promote Jesus in a bid to take power from the religious leaders in Jerusalem.
All of this fallout could have resulted in Jesus mission being ‘derailed’, or bogged down in controversy even amongst his followers. No wonder he told them not to say anything about this to anyone.

To underscore though, the importance of this exchange between Jesus and His disciples, St. Luke leaves us a little clue in his writing: when you read the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus is involved in any important turn of events, or before a miracle or particularly important teaching, he spends time with the Father in prayer.
We see this at the beginning of today’s Gospel.” One day when Jesus was praying alone, with only his disciples near him…”

The rest of the disciples understood the importance of St. Peter’s answer – in St. Matthew’s account of this same exchange, he adds more to the response, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
An answer to Jesus question cannot be more direct than that. It equates Jesus with God.

This is pretty heady stuff: imagine being in the disciples’ position. They are close friends and confidants of the Son of God. He is there in their midst. There would be a tremendous temptation to consider themselves elite, or better than everyone else.

But the second part of this passage is where Jesus brings the disciples (and us) back down to earth: that He, the Son of Man is to undergo suffering and death, but to rise again.”

And it is here he places the cost of discipleship: “If anyone wants to become my follower let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”
The image Jesus uses for his followers is very graphic, and alarming – in his time it would have been scandalous;
Crucifixion under the Roman forces in Palestine in the first century was not simply a matter of execution; there were other ways of carrying out that sentence. It was particularly brutal and agonizing, and it was used to put on display the person accused of a crime – to act as a warning to others, but also to completely humiliate, degrade and dehumanize the person who was crucified. Someone who was crucified was held out for public ridicule – we read in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion how passersby and the chief priests mocked Him while He hung on the cross;
This would have been the common understanding of people in Jesus’ time of what the cross meant. So we can imagine somewhat, the reaction to Jesus directions in today’s Gospel passage:

But this is a message of self-denial; yes, it can mean accepting suffering that we endure as a simple fact of life and part of our existence; it can mean we use those setbacks to offer up our own sacrifices in prayer for others; but self-denial is really a matter of putting ourselves second – of putting God and others first. It’s a matter of developing and having an attitude about our relationship with God. It is a matter of being faithful to the teaching of Jesus handed down to us through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. It is an attitude that everything we have is a gift from God, including life and salvation, and that we exist because God loved us into existence – and all God asks is that we love Him in return and return to relationship with Him. That’s what the cross means to Christians – it means that God entered into our humanity in the person of Jesus; and that rather than cling to His divinity, he emptied Himself, surrendering everything – even His life – and allowed Himself to be crucified by His own children: but it didn’t end there – with His resurrection, His victory over sin and death – He handed that victory on to us.
Emptying of one’s self; denying of one’s self; putting others needs ahead of our desires; that’s a crucial part of the teaching of Christ. It’s not just a matter of performing some charitable works- it is about living a life of charity – it is not just a matter of exhibiting a few kind acts; it is about living a life of kindness; it is not about a few devotional practices – it is about being a living witness to our faith.

In our current society, the carrying of the cross, the practice of embracing and living out our faith can be a source of ridicule in the public forum; we might feel uncomfortable, or even embarrassed. Sometimes we think it’s safer to distance ourselves from Church teaching when we are at work or in a social setting, because upholding that position can cost us in our secular society – it can cost us in social circles, it might affect our reputation, it might affect our business dealings – that too is part of carrying the cross;

But we don’t carry the cross in isolation:

Jesus said that those who would follow Him would have to pick up their cross daily, and, He says, ‘follow me’
That phrase ‘follow me’ tells us that He doesn’t ask us to do anything that He hasn’t experienced in returning into that deeper relationship with the Father. He took the weight of our sins upon Himself. He doesn’t say, “ here’s what you have to do. Now go do it and let me know how it worked out.” He is right there with us. He leads, we follow. He puts us first, so that we can put Him first. He journeys with us – he doesn’t leave us to wander around on our own.

We pick up our crosses daily, not because we have to, but because we want to. It is an expression of love; love that calls us to enter into, and bring others into, a deeper relationship with the One who loved us first and carried that cross in the first place, for us.
We carry our own crosses daily because that is how we answer His question, “Who do you say I am?”

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever