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Take Up Your Cross, and Know What it is to Love

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

This Sunday has too powerful of a message for me to be anything but direct: life only makes sense when you offer it in love for others, and allow yourself to be consumed completely and totally. The prophet Jeremiah, “I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” St. Paul, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” The Gospel, “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

That’s the message today. Offer your life… Now how do we do that? “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” There was a priest in the seminary who was in charge of our spiritual formation, and he liked to say that this passage was the heart of all vocations. Every way of life that you pursue – if it is a holy way of life – includes the cross. He said that if someone was thinking about priesthood and saw only the joy of ministry and the privilege of being brought into peoples lives at all the major moments and the honor of being called “father”… if we saw that and didn’t see the long days and the times of loneliness and frustration – if we did not see the cross in the vocation – then we did not understand what the vocation really was. Likewise, if a young couple is looking at marriage and thinking about the joy of belonging to each other and the wedding with family and friends and having children but they don’t see the arguments they will have and sick kid throwing up in the middle of the night… then they don’t really see what their vocation is. Every vocation includes the cross; every vocation includes a denial of one’s self for the sake of love. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. That is how you offer your life; that is how you become a living sacrifice and lose your life for the sake of Christ.

You might hesitate at first. After all, “take up your cross” isn’t the most enticing statement at first glance. Peter hesitated at first himself as well. Keep in mind, in the very passage before this one Jesus names him Peter, the foundation of the Church, and his immediate reaction to the cross is to blurt out “God forbid!” But Jesus doesn’t give him any slack. He calls him Satan and an obstacle, because if you are unwilling to lift the burdens of others at your own expense then you are an obstacle to the Kingdom that Christ is establishing. It’s not a condemnation of Peter, it’s a condemnation of his attitude. And in time Peter would understand, would leave his home and preach throughout the world, and ultimately give his life in a literal sense by his martyrdom. So take heart it’s a little terrifying to offer you life, because it was terrifying even for the apostles and all the holy men and women who came before us.

But let me ask you something. If you knew that you had a relatively short time left to live… let’s say a year… if you had a year left to live and you knew that this would be the last time to define yourself, would you treat the ones you love most differently? Would you try harder to love them, to be patient to them, to laugh with them, to know them… if a year was all you had? Would you waste time being self-centered and prideful… if a year was all you had? That is what it means to offer yourself as a living sacrifice and to loose your life for the sake of Christ. You cannot afford to wait any longer. We are called to live this way today.

Recently I have been using the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer, and one of my favorite lines in it is “grant that they may truly become a living sacrifice in Christ, to the praise of your glory.” I hope (and actually I expect) that you always listen to those Eucharistic Prayers and hold them in your own hearts, but today I encourage you to truly pray that line. Hear it and respond in the depths of your being, “Lord, this is my prayer. Make me your living sacrifice, to the praise of your glory.”

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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.

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