24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 13, 2015
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 13, 2015
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today the Lord gives us one of his hardest sayings:
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.”
This is hard, because all of us have crosses in our lives:
challenges, struggles, sorrows, that burden us.
Some are small, merely constant annoyances,
but some we find so heavy that they seem to crush us.
But each of them is a burden we’d like to throw aside and run away from.
Yet Jesus commands us: “Take up your cross and follow me.”
Some of our crosses are given to us by God himself.
For example, the cross of responsibility that parents and pastors have,
or learning new subjects in school.
Other crosses God simply allows us to carry, for some good reason.
Maybe because he respects human free will:
so he allows us to carry the crosses we’ve chosen for ourselves,
when we choose to live a certain way,
or the crosses that are the consequences of our free choices.
Or maybe it’s a cross that comes from someone else’s free choices, wise or foolish.
We all have crosses—but how do we choose to handle them?
Do we avoid them, run from them, complain about them?
Most of the time all that is counterproductive:
we spend a lot of energy, but the cross remains.
And so Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me.”
It’s interesting, that if we look carefully at crosses we can usually find
a certain dichotomy or self-contradiction: they are both burden and gift.
Take the example of work.
Most of us also enjoy not working, because working is hard
—it can be a real cross.
But on the other hand, most people want to work:
not only for the money, but also because they are invigorated
by the challenge and purpose it brings to their life.
A burden and a gift.
Or take death.
When someone dies, those of us left behind often experience death
as an emptiness, a darkness, a painful longing for the lost beloved.
But for the one who’s dying or has died,
if they loved and followed Christ in life,
dying is the doorway to heaven, and so it can be welcomed with joy.
A burden and a gift.
Illness is again another example.
I don’t have to explain the burden of illness.
But illness is also often a gift.
Often times it reawakens the love that had gone dormant or neglected:
grown children come to the aid of parents they’d been neglecting for years,
or spouses renew the love they’ve taken for granted for so long.
And so many times illness makes us turn to God,
leading us to repent sins, and opening ourselves to his love and grace,
or even bringing a miraculous cure.
A burden and a gift.
On the other hand, some things we usually like to think of as a gift,
can also be a cross.
For example, Marriage is an amazing gift:
there’s the mutual love, the sharing of life,
the birth of children and the joy they bring for decades,
and the comfort and support of a committed life-partner.
But all marriages bring their crosses with them:
the never-ending responsibilities
and demands on time, energy and emotions,
not to mention the inconsiderate or even abusive spouse,
the grumpy or challenging children.
A gift, but also a cross.
These are some of our crosses.
Like the cross of Jesus, they bring suffering and pain,
but also redemption and joy.
Burden and gift.
This is why Jesus tells us, “Take up your cross and follow me.”
Because in each cross, there is a gift.
Maybe it’s a gift for us, maybe for someone we love,
or maybe for someone we’ll never know.
Maybe it’s a gift that will affect just one person or a few,
or maybe, especially when many of us carry the same cross together,
a gift for the whole human race.
A gift that cannot be realized or enjoyed unless we imitate Jesus,
and pick up the cross.
There will always be crosses in our lives.
I’ve described some crosses that are as old as mankind,
but there are some new crosses we are facing today.
Well, maybe not “new” to mankind
—as Scripture says, “there is nothing new under the sun”
— but new to modern man.
One of the greatest of these new-ish crosses is religious persecution,
which comes in multiple fronts.
On Friday we remembered the attacks of 9-11,
that terrible day that opened our eyes to the fact
radical Islamists want to kill or subjugate us.
The reasons why they want to do this are complicated, but it comes down to this:
they want to destroy anyone who disagrees with their notion of religion,
especially those in the western culture that is quickly
sliding into immorality and decadence,
and those of us who simply believe that Jesus is the Son of God
This is a cross we here, today, especially carry,
because we are both members of that declining culture and Christians.
We see the attacks on secular targets in America and Europe,
and we see the brutal execution and massacres of Christians
in the Middle East and Africa,
and we know that as Americans and Christians this cross is ours to carry.
Then we see more subtle, less violent,
but nonetheless real oppression of American Christians
by our fellow Americans and even fellow Christians.
For example, last week, an Office Depot in Illinois refused to make copies
of a pro-life group’s prayer, because it they found it offensive—a prayer!
And most of us have heard all about the Kentucky county clerk, Kim Davis,
who was jailed a few days back for refusing to sign marriage licenses
for same-sex couples.
We can agree or disagree with the prudence of her methods,
you can read my column today for a discussion of that,
but it is clear that she was jailed for refusing to do something
her Christian conscience rightly told her was
a blatantly immoral act of cooperation with evil.
These are just two examples of a trend of Christian persecution that,
it seems clear to me, is rapidly enveloping our entire nation.
“Take up your cross and follow me.”
All these, and many others, are heavy crosses,
but hidden in them, somewhere, somehow, is a gift.
Does God want these crosses to come to us?
Some “yes,” some “no,” but in each of them
he does have a plan to somehow bring good out of evil,
to bring great glory out of horrible wickedness.
Just as he once brought salvation out of His own crucifixion.
Maybe, for example, the persecution will eventually bring
a return of the West to Christ:
we saw a glimmer of that after 9/11/2001,
when so many people packed churches for at least a few Sundays.
Maybe he will allow the west to fall, as it rejects him,
but then lift us up as we return to him.
I don’t know what he will do in the end—but some great glory will come from this.
But the question for us today is, do we pick up these, and all our crosses,
and follow him?
This is not easy to do—it never has been.
That’s why today’s gospel tells us that when Jesus told him about the Cross:
“Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”
Peter rejected the whole idea of the Cross.
And how does Jesus respond?
“Get behind me, Satan.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Now, “satan” is the Hebrew word which means enemy,
but it’s also the personal name of the devil, God’s eternal enemy.
So, Jesus is calling Peter His enemy and lumping him with the Devil,
all because he couldn’t accept the cross.
And then Jesus goes on to explain:
“You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
It’s very human to see only the burden of our crosses, and want to flee them.
But God also sees the gift he wants to bring out from the cross,
the cross of Christ, and our crosses.
“Take up your cross and follow me.”
None of our crosses is as heavy as the Cross of Christ.
But they are heavy
—that’s why Jesus himself compares them to his own.
But the key here is that he also says, “follow me.”
To follow him means two things.
First, to “follow” him, we have to follow his teaching and his example,
by living the moral, good and holy life he led,
even when that means being oppressed or persecuted.
So St. James reminds us in today’s first reading:
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters,
if someone says he has faith but does not have works?”
In other words, talk and feelings are cheap, even faith itself can be cheap.
Certainly without faith, we can’t follow Jesus:
faith is the gateway to the pathway that follows Jesus.
But if we don’t live that faith by what we say and do,
we’re just standing at the gate, not entering the life and following Jesus.
And that includes carrying our crosses.
Because at the heart of the Cross of Jesus is His love:
a love that is so great it lays down its life for each of us and all of us,.
And that must be at the heart of our crosses, a gift we find in each cross:
that we love God and neighbor enough to bear these crosses
for the unknown but great good they may do in God’s plan for us
and for our neighbor.
And the second thing that “following” Jesus means is this:
If we follow him, we remain with him, and he with us.
So that he who once carried the Cross up Calvary
will be there to help us carry our crosses.
And one of the most beautiful reminders of this is what we come here today for:
We believe that in the mystery of the sacrament of the Eucharist,
the Cross of Christ, on Calvary, becomes really present to us.
So at every Mass, we truly follow Christ to the Cross.
But we do so carrying our own crosses with us
—and so we come to His perfect sacrifice of love
bringing our imperfect sacrifices of love.
And then our crosses are taken up and united into his,
and in Holy Communion he unites his power to our weakness.
So that, even as we carry the heavy crosses of life, by the power of his grace,
our burden becomes his,
and his “yoke is easy,” his “burden is light.”
The many crosses of our lives, whether large or small, are a heavy burden.
But in the loving eyes of God’s, there is a great gift to found in each.
As we now move more deeply into this holy Mass,
let us think about these crosses and how we carry them,
and then willfully lay them before Christ.
And let us pray that by the grace that flows from His Cross
through this Holy Communion we may leave here today
no longer afraid or resentful of the struggles and burdens of life,
but, filled with faith and love for Jesus, eagerly ready obey his command:
“take up your cross and follow me.”