Sunday, June 20, 2010

If Anyone Wishes To Come After Me, He Must Deny Himself, Take Up His Cross, And Follow Me.

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1
Thus says the LORD:
I will pour out on the house of David
and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem
a spirit of grace and petition;
and they shall look on him
whom they have pierced,
and they shall mourn for him
as one mourns for an only son,
and they shall grieve over him
as one grieves over a firstborn.

On that day the mourning in Jerusalem
shall be as great as the mourning of Hadadrimmon
in the plain of Megiddo.

On that day there shall be open
to the house of David
and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,
a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 63
My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.
My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary
to see your power and your glory,
For your kindness is a greater good than life;
my lips shall glorify you.
My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
Thus will I bless you while I live;
lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name.
As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied,
and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.
My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
You are my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to you;
your right hand upholds me.
My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Reading II
Galatians 3:26-29
Brothers and sisters:
Through faith you are all
children of God in Christ Jesus.
For all of you who were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek,
there is neither slave nor free person,
there is not male and female;
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And if you belong to Christ,
then you are Abraham’s descendant,
heirs according to the promise.
Luke 9:18-24
Once when Jesus was praying in solitude,
and the disciples were with him,
he asked them,
“Who do the crowds say that I am?”
They said in reply, “John the Baptist;
others, Elijah; 
still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’”
Then he said to them,
“But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.”
He rebuked them
and directed them not to tell this to anyone.

He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders,
the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.”

Then he said to all,
“If anyone wishes to come after me,
he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
Jesus was a puzzle for many people. Was he Elijah, the prophet who rose into the sky in a fiery chariot, and was expected to return to announce the coming of the Messiah? Even King Herod was confused. Was Jesus a re-incarnation of John the Baptist, whom Herod had beheaded? Was he one on the other prophets? No one seemed to think that he might be a prophet in his own right. – On the other hand, as Jesus himself commented, people don’t seem to recognize prophets in their own midst. So, we might ask ourselves: who are the prophets in our Church, in our society, today?

Today’s gospel opens with Jesus praying in solitude; the disciples were with him, but at some distance. Luke often presents Jesus at prayer. Perhaps some of the disciples – maybe even some of us – might wonder why Jesus, if he was the Son of God, had to pray. Who did he pray to? What did he pray about? Such questions suggest that we have a limited understanding of what prayer is all about. Prayer is simply communication with God. It involves both speaking and listening. In the deepest forms of prayer, not a word is said: the person is simply surrounded by – bathed in – the presence of God.

It is clear that Jesus often prayed to his Father. He constantly sought to be in perfect harmony with what the Father wanted. After feeding the 5000 people at the Sea of Galilee, when they sought to make him king, he fled to the hills alone to pray. Did he need this period of solitude with the Father to overcome temptations to accept the invitation of the crowd? He knew that this was not the way he would become his followers’ king. Jesus also made petitions to the Father, as a person who shares our human nature. We see this most clearly in the Garden before his passion. On the human level, he dreaded what would happen to him after his arrest. He sought the support of his closest companions, who disappointed him: “Couldn’t you have watched even one hour with me?” before he was restored to peace and acceptance of the mission he had to accomplish.

Here, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” They repeat the various speculations of the crowd: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets returned from the dead. “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, speaking for all, responds: “The Christ of God”. Clearly, this is the high point in the disciples’ relation with Jesus. They have come to realize – although not yet fully – who Jesus really is. Jesus’ followers recognize their Teacher as the promised Messiah. It must have been a very exciting moment for them. They must have been bursting to go out and tell everyone: “Our Master is the Messiah!”

Jesus quickly puts a damper on their enthusiasm, and orders them to tell no one. Why not? Haven’t they been told that they to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world? Yes, but not now – later on. For the time being, ordinary folks have their own images of what the Messiah is going to be like, and the wonderful things he is going to accomplish: like defeating the enemies of Israel, and returning the nation to its former glory.

They must have been stunned to hear Jesus say, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, be killed, and on the third day be raised.” From this moment forward, they will begin to learn what kind of Messiah they are following. Jesus is not a champion of the Jewish cause against domination by foreign powers, not a general who will lead them in a war of liberation.

On the contrary, this Messiah will be rejected by the leaders of his people, and will be tried and executed by the occupying power some expected him to drive out of Israel. There must have been a stunned silence after Jesus spoke, until the impetuous Peter blurted out his protest (not recorded by Luke): “Everyone else might fall away, but I never will. Even if I must die with you, I will never disown you.”

No, the victory of Jesus will be achieved through love, loyalty, integrity and non-violence. As the First Reading reminds us: God will pour out on the house of David and the people of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication. They – and generations after them – “will look on him whom they have pierced”, a prophecy cited by John in his account of the crucifixion.

But, it is not enough to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, or to be filled with wonder and compassion at his suffering, death and resurrection. We are called to be followers, disciples. And, as disciples, Jesus calls upon each of us today: to deny our self, take up our cross each day, and follow Him.

On the other hand, in one sense, to deny one’s self is not desirable – not even possible. To the contrary, we are encouraged to promote our self-esteem and self-acceptance. There are good ways and bad ways of self-affirmation. If we do so at the expense of truth, love and freedom; at the expense of other people, that is self-defeating. Selfishness and self-centeredness are contradictory to wholesome self-esteem, self-appreciation, self-acceptance – healthy self-love.

Anyone who actively strives to live out the way of life proposed by Jesus is almost sure to run into opposition, rejection, even contempt. But, in the words of Paul, who had his own full share of crosses: “For those who love God and are called in his path, everything works together for good.”

When we live this way we become – in the words of today’s Second Reading – “clothed” in Christ. This is a reference to the baptismal robe that the newly baptized put on as they stepped out of the baptismal pool. In baptism we enter a new family, children of God, brothers and sisters to one another. Neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female. – These distinctions do not cease to exist, but they should become irrelevant if we learn that we are all citizens of the heavenly Kingdom. We belong to a society of fellowship, free of prejudice and discrimination, bringing love, justice, reconciliation and peace to all.

The text of this homily was concluded with those words at about 10 am, Saturday morning. But about an hour and a half later, I clicked on to the Daily Reading of St. Faustina’s diary at the Marian website: Today, I took part in a one-day retreat. When I was at the last conference, the priest was speaking of how much the world needs God's mercy, and that this seems to be a special time when people have great need of prayer and God's mercy. Then I heard a voice in my soul: These words are for you. Do all you possibly can for this work of My mercy. I desire that My mercy be worshiped, and I am giving mankind the last hope of salvation; that is, recourse to My mercy. My Heart rejoices in this feast. After these words, I understood that nothing can dispense me from the obligation which the Lord demands from me.

These words not just for Saint Faustina, but for you and me: Believe, and witness, that God our Father knows that we are weak and unruly children. He knew before creating Adam and Eve – and before you and I were conceived – that we would tend to do what we want, instead of what we know He wants. Seek and accept His mercy, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and in daily prayer. And, if you are called [and all of us are – but maybe not to the level that Sister Faustina was]: Do all you possibly can to become a witness to, and a messenger of, Divine Mercy.


No comments: