Sunday, September 13, 2015

Jesus: 'Don't want the Cross? You don't want Me' (Sunday homily)

In the Gospel, Peter is offended 
by the idea of the Messiah going to the cross. 
But then, wouldn’t we have been? 
Isn’t what Peter says to Jesus just what we might say?
If someone says to us, “I’ve got a terrible path ahead of me. 
I’m probably going to suffer and die.” 
Wouldn’t we say, “God forbid! No such thing shall ever happen to you”?

And yet Jesus whips around and says, 
“Get behind me, Satan!” 
He’s not rejecting Peter; but he is warning him 
of just how wrong-headed his thinking is. 
And notice, Jesus doesn’t say get away from me, 
but rather, “Get behind me”—
meaning he wanted Peter with him, not as a roadblock.

How does this apply to us?

Well, I think about how some people respond 
when someone says, “I am thinking about being a priest,” 
or entering religious life. 
And parents and grandparents will say, oh no, that will be too hard; 
you’ll be lonely, you won’t make much money. 
They try to talk their children out of it, because it’s too hard. 
Too much of the cross.

Now, I have known great joy as a priest. 
And this summer at a conference, I asked a Dominican friar, 
how he would explain what’s special about entering religious life. 
And he said, it brings you as close as possible, in this life, to heaven! 
Because you are living your life centered on Jesus, on the Mass, 
on prayer, and on community with others doing the same thing. 
Isn’t that what heaven is?

Still, I won’t deny you do embrace the Cross. 
Especially as a priest, because to be a priest 
is to unite yourself with Jesus the High Priest, 
and his priesthood is the Cross.

But then, after explaining these things to Peter, what does Jesus do? 
He calls everyone together, not just the Apostles, 
but all who were listening and says: 
Whoever comes after me must take up his cross and follow me. 
“Whoever”! That’s every single one of us.

Parents, I want you to know what Karen, Mark Travis and I, 
what Gina and Maria and Carla and I and our catechists
are telling our boys and girls in our religious education program,
and in our Catholic kids groups.* 
We’re telling them that to be a Christian man or woman 
isn’t to run away from the Cross, but to face it. 
That’s where virtue happens. That’s how we become saints.

People like to mock Catholics, 
saying we have some perverse attachment to suffering. Not at all. 
I’d point out that Christianity, drawing from Judaism, 
has always led the world in relieving suffering. 

It was Catholic priests, led St. Camillus de Lellis, 
who created the first battlefield ambulances to assist the wounded. 
Did you know they wore red crosses on their cassocks?

What we do believe is that there are better things to live for 
Than merely comfort and affluence. 
And that many of the most worthwhile things in life 
Usually involve suffering, but that they are worth it. 

Friday was 9-11, and we remembered when our nation was attacked. 
We especially remember the first responders 
who risked everything to save so many lives. 
To embrace the Cross is to ready to run toward the danger, 
rather than away.

We might think of the county clerk in Kentucky, Kim Davis, 
who was in the news last week. 
She refused to put her signature 
on marriage licenses for same-sex couples, 
because she knows that no matter what the U.S. Supreme Court says, 
marriage is a man and a woman; that’s what marriage means.

She would not compromise, no matter what threats she faced. 
She may face impeachment; she may lose her job at the next election. 
She actually did go to jail, rather than back down.

Now, some have criticized Ms. Davis 
because of her own checkered experience with marriage. 
But there’s one fact that stands tall: 
she actually went to jail for her convictions. 
That’s something almost none of us have actually done, 
and something few of us would be willing to do. 

She was the first to go to jail over this issue, but she won’t be the last. 
But it goes beyond that. What about losing a job, or a promotion? 
What about losing friends or social position? 
Losing customers, or your whole business?
Christians are going to face these things in the years ahead.
If we’re going to be his disciple, we will take up the Cross.

This is a good time to talk about one of the teachings of our Faith 
that is most misunderstood, and most widely disregarded, 
and yet I think it will prove, in years to come, 
to be the most prophetic. 

That is our teaching – which goes back to the beginning, by the way – 
about contraception and openness to life: 
that all acts of love between husband and wife 
must be open to life, and that life must have its beginning, 
not in a laboratory, but in a couple’s act of love.

Of course I realize being a parent is a sacrifice. 
So many of you bear witness to this every day;
and I will always remember the sacrifices my parents made, 
which I had to reach adulthood to understand fully. 

But to me, that only proves the truth of this teaching: 
because notice, it puts the cross right at the center of marriage. 
How can a Christian marriage be otherwise? 
How can a home and a family be Christian, 
without the Cross right at the center? 

So there is either the sacrifices of a larger family, 
or the sacrifices that Natural Family Planning entails. 
But I don’t understand an argument that says, “
this teaching can’t be true, because it’s too sacrificial.” 
I see no way to square that with what we just hear Jesus say.

When Jesus said, we can’t be his disciple without taking up the Cross, 
that ought to make our eyes pop. It sure did Peter’s! 
Notice what Jesus is saying: it’s the whole deal. 
There is no being a Christian without taking up the Cross.

When we come to the day of judgment, the Cross—
not just wearing it, but carrying it and living it—
is how he will know his own.

That’s why it’s essential to understand that when we come to Mass, 
we are coming to the Cross. It really is just that simple. 
That’s the only real reason to come: 
Jesus is offering himself for our salvation; 
we come here to receive salvation, 
and to help him plead for the salvation of others. 
That’s what the Mass is; that’s what the Eucharist is. 

When the priest offers us the Eucharist, 
it’s not just “the Body of Christ,” 
it’s the broken, crucified Body of Christ, 
and the shed-for-us-on-the-cross “Blood of Christ.” 

But thank God, it’s also, 
the risen-from-the-dead, victorious Body of Christ!

That’s what we say “amen” to: We say “yes” to the Cross.

* After two Masses, someone helped me realize I ought to apply this to our Religious Education efforts. My apologies.

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