Sunday, September 12, 2021

No Christ -- no life -- without the Cross (Sunday homily)

When you separate sex and baby-making, there's nothing wrong with this picture.

In the Gospel, Peter is offended 

by the idea of the Messiah going to the cross. 

But then, isn’t what Peter says just what we might say?

If someone says to us, “I’ve got a terrible path ahead of me,”

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 how misled, and ultimately fruitless, his thinking is. 

And notice, Jesus doesn’t say get away from me, 

but rather, “get behind me”—

he still wanted Peter with him, but 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, too much of the cross.

I have known great joy as a priest.

But if anyone wants an easy path, don’t be a priest;

we do NOT need any priests who want an easy path. Not even one.

To be a priest is to unite yourself with Jesus the High Priest, 

and his priesthood is the Cross.

The joy I have as a priest is seeing how life is born from the Cross.

I get to see that in people’s lives every single day.

Next Jesus then goes on to say – to everyone –

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 our staff, and our many, talented volunteer catechists –

are telling our boys and girls in our religious education classes,

and in our youth programs.

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.

This is a good time to talk about a part 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. 

I mean our teaching – which goes back to the beginning of Christianity, by the way – 

about contraception and openness to life: 

that all acts of marital 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 having a larger family, 

or the sacrifices of times of self-denial 

that are part of Natural Family Planning. 

And of course this is a challenge, I won’t minimize that.

But what doesn’t make sense is to say 

“this teaching can’t be true, because it’s too sacrificial.” 

I see no way to square that with what we just heard Jesus say.

And before I move on, let me state something clearly:

all the various ways to make these acts of love sterile are mortal sins. 

Let’s go back to Jesus’ words: 

You and I can’t be his disciple without the Cross.

As much as we might like to, it simply won’t work.

Bishop Fulton Sheen once explained powerfully 

what happens when you separate the Christ and the Cross.

If you try to have Christ without the Cross, 

you end up with cheap sentimentality. 

This is the Jesus so many say they admire – “oh, isn’t he nice!”

But why would you give your life for Hallmark Card pieties?

Then Sheen talked about the alternative: a cross without Jesus.

In his time, Bishop Sheen cited communism, 

but the point can easily be made about all kinds of movements

that invite people to discipline, self-denial 

and dedication to something greater than oneself. 

In our comfort-rich but meaning-impoverished culture, 

this is attractive.

You can see many today who build their lives around various causes.

This explains why so many are drawn to Islam, 

and this includes many conversions happening in American prisons.

The trouble, as Sheen said, 

is that the Cross without Christ is authoritarian and cruel; 

conversion without love and forgiveness only means conformity. 

There is death but no resurrection.

Saturday was 9-11, and we remembered those events of 20 years ago.

Followers of a Cross-without-Christ flew those planes into the Towers,  

saying that the world must be purified.

A Christ-without-the-Cross looks on in horror, but does nothing. 

Those who ran into the fire showed us: 

no one has greater love than this: to lay down ones life for another.

There are lots of reasons to recoil from the Cross as Peter did.

But there is no other way to real life.

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