Sunday, 31 August 2008

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury

Mt 16: 21-27: "If anyone would be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me."

In this Gospel Jesus is talking about CHOOSING suffering, which might seem odd: One of the universal features of humanity is that we all want to avoid pain. Who here if faced with the choice between pain and pleasure would choose pain? No one.
There is of course a name for those who suffer from that sickness, that perversion of the mind, that loves pain: masochism –those who harm themselves because they get a tragic perverse pleasure out of pain.

So, WHY does Jesus let us to love suffering, why does he tell us we MUST suffer if we would be His disciple: “take up your Cross”?
Does He hate us? Is this why He wants us to suffer? No.
Scripture teaches us, and our Catholic Faith holds this as a pivotal truth, that God never wanted suffering for His creation. He created His world perfect. Suffering only entered the world as result of Original Sin.
But after suffering entered and damaged His creation, God did not reject His creation but took that suffering and made it the instrument of our Redemption –on the Cross.
And if we want to share in the Redemption then we have to share in the Cross.

Many people look at Christ Risen and say, “I want a share in that”.
It’s very faddish to have an image of the RISEN Christ.
But what was the road that Jesus took to get to the Resurrection?
It was the Royal Road of Calvary
And if WE would share in the Resurrection then we must walk that same path, we must seek to share in the Cross –“the disciple is not greater than his master”(Mt 10:24).

Of course, suffering comes to all of us anyway. This is because we live in a Fallen world tainted by the effects of Original Sin.
But we can take that with Christ on the Cross, and find grace and salvation,
Or we can suffer alone and in frustration and gain nothing.

Jesus told us to “take up our cross” and there are two ways we must do this: passively and actively.

Passively, taking up our cross means accepting the difficulties of life. We can grind against them in anger and impatience, or we can accept them. That doesn’t means we shouldn’t see the doctor, but it does means that when we reach that limit of what we can control we ACCEPT our limits and accept them as the cross the Lord would have us carry –and the particular cross that each of us is given is, in providence, weighed and measured for our own strengths and our own needs, to be for our good: what we CAN bear and what is GOOD for us to bear.
Some of this cross is illness and old age. Some of it is the difficulties of bearing with others, patiently.
But whatever our cross is, “taking it up” means taking it with Christ, means having HIM with us to bear it –His grace and strength.
It also means, if we carry our Cross well, it also means being gradually purified and transformed of the disorder in our passions, having new virtues build within us so that we love more freely and discover that the crosses we struggle to bear alone can be fruitful of borne with Christ.
More than anything, carrying our Cross means union in love with Christ, being transformed in the burning but purifying crucible of suffering with our Beloved –and this bears fruit.
I know of this transforming grace more from reading the saints than from my own growth in holiness, but I know it nonetheless, and I know that a priest who fails to say this because it’s awkward to talk of the cross is failing his congregation not helping it.

Finally, there is a second way that we must ‘take up our cross’, and this is actively. In order to be more FREE in accepting our passive suffering we must step that step further and SEEK additional suffering. This proves our willingness to take up the cross, and more than proof, as a habit it makes us more FREE taking up the cross.
This is why we find ALL the saints enduring more than the minimum.
For ourselves, it might be talking longer to that person who bores us, working harder for the person who we know will ignore our labours, or denying ourselves pleasures in the way we do especially in Lenten Penance.

If we would be His disciples, then we must actively SEEK the Cross, because there is no other way to find Him who was crucified, to find and be united with Him who loves us and chose to suffer for us. We must seek the Cross.
To back to where I began, does this means we are masochists, loving suffering or its own sake? No. What it does mean is that we love it in as much as it brings us to Christ and brings us union with Christ.
"If anyone would be my disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me."

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