Some of us that come to Mass every week have a – what could be considered a disparaging name for those Catholics that only appear at Christmas and Easter celebrations – C&E Catholics. I suppose they come at Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Who doesn’t love welcoming a child into the world. Christmas is a celebration of not only Jesus’ birth but the birth of humanity – our earthly birth.
And I suppose they come at Easter to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection – our Heavenly birth. So they celebrate the beginning of life and the end of life. But unfortunately, they miss everything in between. Life is not so simple. Pain and Suffering. It is something we all face. Perhaps there are reasons that they do not wish to face this reality in the face of God. But God did not make it so. He created the world perfectly. It was the fall of Adam and Eve that brought pain and suffering – sin – into the world.
There are 2 ways to handle this – The easy path consists of holding onto life at all costs, living exclusively for oneself – doing whatever we can to avoid being uncomfortable or facing painful situations. Making the «I» the final reason and most important objective of our existence. This manner of living – always seeking gain or advantage for myself – only lead to destruction.
But Jesus teaches us today of the second and harder path. Knowing how to live as Jesus does, giving priority to God – knowing how to renounce our own security or profit, seeking not just my own welfare but more importantly that of others. This generous way of living leads us to our salvation.
A short story from my own life – when I decided to become a Deacon – I entered the formation program which involved attending classes two nights a week – for 5 years. Well I can tell you, that was extremely difficult. Trying to do school work with – at the time – 7 young kids at home – while working full time and doing everything else young families do. There was a lot of sacrifice. There were many times I felt just like Jeremiah does the first reading today. “you duped me O Lord and I let myself be duped.” How could I give up my “comfortable” life to follow your calling – why does it have to be so difficult?
Like Jeremiah – I felt the Lord triumphed. As hard as it was, he led me through it. Finally being ordained. But I can tell you THAT just led to more trials. Being a Deacon now may be even more difficult. Being in public view, living a Christian life – balancing my Ministry with home life and work life – when at times I just want to do my own thing.
But Jesus tells us – following him is the way to salvation. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
But how do we do that? What does this command really mean?
It means that sometimes doing the will of God is hard, and involves suffering.
It means that sometimes following the example and teaching of Jesus is a real challenge.
It means that doing the right thing and loving our neighbor can be downright dangerous.
It means that sometimes loving – demands sacrifice.
So many of us here are already carrying crosses. You do not have to go looking for them. They find us.
And I think if we could see each other’s crosses we would be humbled and in awe at what each one of us does.
You have denied yourself a thousand times and have done the will of God by raising a family and all of the personal sacrifice that goes with that.
You have gone without so – that your kids could have advantages that you did not have.
You have endured the hardships of supporting that family member or friend in his or her personal struggles.
You have put up with the cycle of victory and defeats, ups and downs because of the command of Jesus to love.
You are determined to live a life of virtue and chastity when it seems to you that no one else is. And you think you may pay a price for that. You will sacrifice popularity and hanging with the crowd that calls themselves cool.
You have devoted what seems to be your life to caring for that physically or mentally challenged child or infirm, elderly parent because it is simply the right thing to do and you do it out of love.
You have lost a child or your spouse and not a day goes by that you do not think of that person you have lost, but you find the strength to stand up and carry on and continue being a giving person when you feel that everything in life has been taken from you.
You have carried around a hurt so deep and so stinging for years and even decades and you have never spoken about it to another soul and there have been times that you have wanted to act out in anger and revenge and rage, but you have resisted and turned the other cheek and responded with love.
How will your stories end? Where will carrying your cross lead you?
Maybe through more suffering. Maybe to death. But I know how this story ends (pointing to the cross).
Suffering is conquered by joy.
Death is conquered by life.
Darkness is conquered by light.
Crucifixion is conquered by resurrection.
Something that our C&E catholic friends miss hearing about regularly – our faith tells us that despite our suffering and sacrifices our stories will end with Jesus if we pick up our own crosses and follow HIM.
Inspiration from Rev James Mazzone and José Antonio Pagola