Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
It looks like Jesus wants to thin the crowd that's following him around. Surely, only a small portion of that large herd is genuinely attracted by the possibility of becoming a true disciple. Most of them are probably just gawkers or thrill-seekers. If nothing Jesus has said up to this point about the risks of following him has sunk in, this might: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children. . .even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Now that statement gives them something to think about. What's Jesus got to offer that's worth hating your family for? It must be something truly worthwhile. Perhaps sensing that his warning is only causing some in the crowd to become even more curious, Jesus adds, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Now that bit of warning must've given the crowd pause b/c they all know that their Roman masters use crosses to execute criminals. “Carrying your own cross” means “helping in your own brutal, bloody death at the hands of the enemy.” I'm guessing at this point that many of the gawkers wander away from Jesus, and the true disciples love him all the more.
So, here we are, another crowd, and we hear Jesus say, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Do you want to wander away? Even if you stay in your seat, do you want to wander off? Or, upon hearing that you must assist in your own execution, do you love Christ all the more? Are you a gawker or a disciple? Well, isn't it obvious that we are all disciples? We're at morning Mass everyday. We never miss a Sunday. We give to the parish; pray everyday; participate in church groups. All true. And all of that makes us good Catholics. But the question is: are we disciples? A disciple is a kind of student, a learner; someone under the instruction of a master-teacher. While a student learns an academic subject, a disciple masters a way of life, a way of living. More than learning the content of a subject, the disciple learns both content and method; that is, she takes in and makes her own what is being taught and makes it the means by which she survives as a follower of Christ in the world. A student memorizes the Our Father. A disciple actually lives the Our Father. A student goes to Mass, while a disciple lives the Mass. A student learns the definition of sacrificial love. A disciple loves sacrificially.
Are you a gawker or a disciple? Here's one way to tell: when Jesus says, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple,” do you think, “Whoa. I'm just here for Mass,” or do you think, “Which of my crosses will I joyfully carry today?” Here's another way: when Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children. . .even his own life, he cannot be my disciple,” do you think, “Whoa. Mom, dad, the kids are more important to me than being a disciple,” or do you think, “I can only love mom, dad, and the kids if I love Christ first”? Loving Christ first is the first step in becoming a disciple. Making that love your means for surviving in the world is the next step. The third step is lifting that love up and carrying it day-by-day until you are called upon to die for it. And the final step comes when you joyfully assist in your own execution for the sake of Christ's love. A gawker will not die for love. A student might die for a cause or an idea. A disciple will die for Christ in love b/c she knows that such a death is last step along the Narrow Way, following behind Christ in sacrifice for the salvation of the world._____________
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