16 September 2018

Choose to Follow Christ!

24th Sun OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

There's no way out of this. I'm sorry. But there isn't. Peter tries to get out of it. And Jesus calls him “Satan.” I mean, we can get out of it – get out of having to deny ourselves; out of picking up our crosses – we can. But if I choose to avoid the painful parts of following Christ, I will save my life now only to lose it later. . .and forever. When Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter correctly answers, “You are the Christ.” Jesus isn't playing a trivia game. He's not giving Peter a pop-quiz to check his reading comprehension. Jesus is asking Peter – the Rock – to choose his path, to choose the Way he will live and die and live again. Peter chooses correctly. . .at first. After Jesus prophesies about how he will suffer and die at the hands of his enemies, Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. Mark doesn't tell us why Peter does this, but we can imagine. Peter loves Jesus. He doesn't want to believe that the Christ, the promised Messiah will be tortured and executed by those who hate him. Fair enough. But Jesus rebukes Peter in turn, naming him “Satan” – accuser, betrayer, enemy. Like many of us at different points in our lives, Peter is happy about the idea of Christ but not so happy about actually following Christ. . .following him all the way to the Cross.

So, which will be it for you: the idea of Christ, or actually following Christ? What's the difference? Choosing the idea of Christ means thinking good thoughts about Jesus. Being content with the occasional trip to church. Maybe wearing a cross or a crucifix. Hanging a framed picture of the Sacred Heart in my home. Choosing the idea of Christ might mean I can recite a couple standard Catholic prayers – “Our Father,” “Hail Mary.” It means having a generalized sense of myself as someone who identifies as a Christian. . .as opposed to identifying myself as a Buddhist or a Muslim or an atheist. The idea of Christ doesn't really change that much about how I live my daily life; how I treat my family, my friends, my co-workers. It doesn't influence my moral choices, or in any way disturb my material comfort. In other words, by choosing the idea of Christ I can easily slide into the flow of the world without stirring up any opposition; without being seen as a problem for others. I can pass as a good citizen of this world while thinking of myself as a worthy member of Team Jesus, hoping that I'm never sent it to actually play. Choosing the idea of Christ means privacy, anonymity; a life without sacrifice.

Choosing to actually follow Christ is quite different. As Peter and the other apostles soon discover. It was the idea of Christ that moved Peter to rebuke Jesus. To deny him three times in the Garden. It was actually following Christ that put Peter on a cross in Rome, crucified upside down. Following Christ means denying myself. It means taking myself out of the center of life, replacing me with Christ. It means setting aside my wants, my preferences, my “felt needs.” It means removing from my heart and mind the choices the world has made for me and putting on the heart and mind of Christ – the heart and mind of sacrificial love. Following Christ means becoming alter Christus, another Christ. It means picking up my cross – the instrument of my suffering and death – and carrying it with me. Not as a reminder or a punishment. But as a source of strength and perseverance. While the idea of Christ leaves me to live in comfortable silence, following Christ compels me to teach and preach the Truth of the Good News. I am moved at the core of my being to shout about the Father's mercy to sinners. To tell the world about the new life He has given me. Following Christ is public, prominent; it is a life of sacrificial love.

The Church – the Body of Christ, you and me – the Church during these dark days of scandal and public ridicule must double and triple-down on following Christ. The desire to hide out and keep quiet in the face of media attention is understandable. But if there was ever a time for the followers of Christ to be publicly recognizable as such, publicly committed to the Gospel, it is now. St. James tells us that our faith is empty if we do not put that faith to work. If your faith is a vague notion floating around harmlessly in your head, now is the time to grab it and relocate it to your hands and feet and your tongue. Put your faith to work, following Christ, getting behind him and doing what he did, speaking out about the mercy you've been given; teaching others about the freedom you've received from your Heavenly Father. The Church as an institution that chooses the idea of Christ is dead. It always has been and always will be. The Church follows Christ. The Church – the Body of Christ – denies herself, picks up her Cross, and follows Christ. Do not leave yourself behind. Choose to follow Christ!

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