Thursday, February 26, 2009

Take Up Your Cross, And Follow Me!

In today’s First Reading, from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses tells the Hebrews that they have a decision to make, as individuals, and as a nation. “Before you, you have life and prosperity, or death and doom. If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which he gave me on the mountain, and which I have brought to you engraved on stone tablets, you will live, and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are about to enter. Yet the choice is yours. You may turn away from Him, and harden your hearts against Him. You may decide to worship other gods, and follow the path they set before you. If you make that choice, I warn you now that you will perish.

I call upon heaven and earth today to bear witness: I have set before you life and death, a blessing and a curse. Choose life! Love the LORD your God. Heed His voice. Listen to His voice, and do His will. Then you and your descendants will life, and the land which the LORD swore that He would grant to your forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob will be yours forever; you will be at peace with all of the nations that surround you, and you will enjoy the bounty of His blessing now, and forevermore.

Moses’ words to the people makes God’s promise clear: Following the path the LORD sets forth leads to life; turning away, to “worship other gods”, to act according to your own will, even if it is contrary to His will, leads to disaster and death.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to His disciples, warning them what was about to happen to him: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly, and be rejected by the leaders of the people, the priests, and the teachers. He will be put to death, and on the third day He will rise again.”
Then He said to them, echoing the words of Moses: “If any want to become my disciples, they must deny themselves, take up their cross every day and follow me. Whoever wants to save his life must lose it; whoever loses their life for my sake will save it. For, what does it profit them to gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit their own selves?”
We’ve all heard these words before, but the question is, have we paid attention to them? Although we might not say it plainly, or even think it clearly, if our thoughts, words and actions are not directed toward doing the will of God, then we are either headed down a road that leads to a “dead end”, or else we are idling in neutral. Either way, we are actually choosing death rather than life.

Choose life, then, even though it may mean taking up the cross. Remember, Jesus did not say “Take up my cross”, but “Take up your cross, and follow me.”

In this regard, Jesus’ invitation to each one of us to take up our cross and follow him with humility and trust, is particularly pressing. Although the cross may be heavy, it is not synonymous with misfortune, with disgrace, to be avoided on all accounts; rather, it is an opportunity to follow Jesus, and thereby to acquire strength in the fight against sin and evil. The way of the cross is the only way that leads to the victory of love over hatred, of sharing over selfishness, of peace over violence. Lent is truly an opportunity for a strong spiritual commitment based on Christ’s grace. (Pope Benedict XVI)

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