9.16.18. Sun. wk 24 – O.T. – B
Isaiah 50: 4c – 9a
St. James 2: 14 – 18
Gospel of Mark 8: 27 – 35
Please refer to your own Bible for the Scripture readings.
Homily: Fr. Mike Murphy The Cross You Carry
We live in a culture that fears pain and avoids any kind of suffering. Because of this, we are in the midst of an opioid epidemic and the addiction rates to prescription meds is huge in this country. It is not just physical pain that people are medicating themselves against. People want to avoid any physical or emotional stress in their lives – and just run away from it. ‘Physician-assisted-suicide’ is a growing remedy for those who fear a terminal illness. We seem to have forgotten the non-pharmaceutical way to deal with challenges in life.
While in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany, Victor Frankel proved that the great challenge of enduring suffering is to find meaning in that suffering. He realized that, finding a reason to live, would have kept many of the prisoners in those camps alive. And for most of them who survived the war, it was the hope that they would see their families again. To see their children and their children’s children – this kept the survivors going until the end of the war. Victor Frankel wrote about this situation as he developed his ‘Logos Theory’ and in his book: “Man’s Search for Meaning”.
Helen Keller, the famous author and activist who was both deaf and blind once wrote: “Although the world is full of suffering – it is also full of overcoming it”. †Jesus showed us the way we overcome suffering. It is not by drugging ourselves into addiction – it is not by running away from suffering. But it is by courageously embracing the crosses that we encounter in life.
I want to be clear about this: ‘The beginning and the end of the Christian Life is not suffering’ – it is not the cross. That’s not what we are all about, because, to go around looking to suffer and to go around looking for pain – we’ve got a psychological disorder. The alpha and the omega of the Christian Life is ‘love, peace, joy’. God is love. ‘The fullness of love’ is what God desires for each one of us; however, the human consequence of living ‘a life of selfless love’ – will be the cross. And those of you who are parents know that as you give yourselves for your children. You love them but you know there are crosses that come with that. To live a ‘holy, grace-filled life’ will result in confronting crosses. †Jesus said this to His disciples in the Gospel: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me”. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it – but whoever loses his life for my sake, and that of the Gospel – will save it”. (Mark 8: 34-35)
The cross – both separates and unites. The cross separates what belongs to the Spirit from what belongs to the flesh. “What belongs to faith – is separated from what belongs to the law”, as St. Paul would write. The new-self is separated from the old-self, true children of God from children of the worldly.
The cross also unites – breaking down the walls of hostility – reconciling us to one another – and to God; uniting us to God and uniting all those who accept the cross of †Jesus Christ. Now this is something that Peter ‘just did not get’ – as we heard in the Gospel. When Peter declared to †Jesus: “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29), he was thinking about earthly glory – worldly triumph, and †Jesus becoming so powerful, so strong and invulnerable – that everyone would bow down to †Jesus. And then the apostles could bask in all that glory. It was for this reason that †Jesus told His disciples not to tell anyone. †Jesus was not trying to hide His identity – but †Jesus did not want others – like His disciples – to get the wrong idea – giving other people the wrong idea. You see, †Jesus did not want the disciples telling people – until His complete mission had been revealed – His true identity. Here in Caesarea Philippi it was not complete yet – because “The Christ’ who was a Savior – must die and rise again on the third day – and that hadn’t happened yet. So the apostles and everyone else did not have the full picture of what He was all about.
The love He was to witness in the world was a ‘sacrificial love’ – a love that would separate us from the power of Satan and unite us to the glory of God. And thanks to the cross of †Jesus Christ – we who were far off – have been brought near to the glory of God – uniting us with the ‘Communion of Saints’. Through the cross, †Jesus has come to rescue us – but His was a very strange rescue mission. Anyone who wishes to be saved – must risk the hostility and the humiliation that our ‘Rescuer’ first experienced in His passion. It makes no difference whether that risk leads to death of the body – or simply the death of our ego. To follow †Jesus we must be willing to rescue others – but first – we must accept the cross as †Jesus did to rescue us.
These last few weeks Catholics have been confronted with a very heavy cross to bear. The sins of some priests, the failures of some bishops have led the Church to being ridiculed and humiliated. But this really isn’t the biggest cross. The heavier cross comes from those who are close to us: family members, maybe your children, friends who have left the Church, who mock us for staying in the Church. Those of you who may have a teenager or adult children may have heard from them: “Well you see – why should I go to Church – it’s just a corrupt Church”. That has got to hurt because this is the faith that you believe in – that you passed on to your children. And because you love the Church – and are grateful for the gift of †Jesus Christ – which we receive in the sacraments – these are painful times for us. Yes, we all hurt for the abused victims – and you hurt when you are ridiculed for remaining faithful to the Church. That hurts all of us.
Let me tell you a story. Years ago in a European town there was a rich man who wanted to leave his entire fortune to his local parish. And he designated it to be used to build a brand-new Church – but under the condition that no one, not even the pastor, could see the plans for the Church, nor could anyone enter the building until it was all finished. A strange request – but that was the condition of his leaving his money to build a new parish Church. Well, when the day of dedication came – everyone was just buzzing with excitement. People entered the Church with awe and wonder at its beauty. But then, someone noticed something that seemed a bit odd in this Church. There were no lamps. There were no lights in the Church. The Church seemed darker than it should be. It was then that the man opened up a crate and began to take out lamps. He handed a lamp to each one of the families who were in that Church. He said to them: “When you come to Church bring your own lamp. That way – you will insure that your portion of the Church where you sit – will be lit. And when you are not here – your place will remain dark. And he said to the people: “This is the help you remember – that when you do not come to church – some part of God’s own house will be in the dark”. (Paraphrased from “Why Jesus didn’t hire a Public-relations guy,” Dynamic Preaching, Vo. XVIII, no. 3, Pg.)
These days it is not easy to remain a faithful Catholic. We are the butt of jokes of late-night comics, the target of ridicule by the media and nonbelievers and worst of all – former Catholics. Believe me when I tell you who are here today, you have clearly taken up the cross. You are following in the footsteps of †Jesus who also experienced hatred and ridicule. And many of His own disciples abandoned Him as well. By coming here, as a member of this community, we support one another during this painful time for us all. And as we all pray for the purification and renewal of the Church – you (who are the Church) witness to the cross you carry. It is not the death of the Church – it is just the beginning. Just as that cross (pointing to the crucifix hanging on the wall behind the altar) was not the death or the end of anything – it was just the beginning.
When all is said and done – we may be a smaller Church – but we will be a pure – brighter beacon on the hill. When you sit in your pew – God’s own home will never be dark. The light of Christ that is living in you – through you – and with you – will be light to a darkened world. As †Jesus said at “The Sermon On The Mount:
“Your light must shine before others –
that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father”. (Matt.5:17)
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.