24th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
Peter – the Rock upon whom the Church stands – receives a stinging rebuke from the Lord! Jesus calls him Satan. What did poor Peter do to deserve such dishonorable treatment from his beloved teacher? First, like many students, he fails to listen to his teacher. Second, when he does pay attention, he fails to understand what he hears. And third, his misunderstanding leads him to a selfish outburst and a rebuke. Not two seconds before Peter's outburst, Jesus lays out what must happen to him (Jesus) in Jerusalem. He's to be rejected, killed, and raised from the dead on the third day. Apparently, Peter only pays attention to the rejected and killed part of this revelation. Still thinking as men do and not as God does, Peter rebukes the Lord. This is when Jesus says to him, “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter must've been crushed. The other disciples must've been shocked. Had they understood the necessity of Christ's suffering and death, they might've rejoiced at the coming of their salvation. Instead, they mourn and miss the truth entirely. So, Jesus explains: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Now, they have something to mourn. Now, they have something to fear.
What is it to “deny myself”? Am I being asked to deny that I exist? That would be a contradiction, so, no. Am I being asking to occasionally deny myself some good thing like a snack or a nap? No, that seems petty in context. Christ is telling us that we must be like him. So, how does he deny himself? He denies himself by placing his human needs aside and taking on our sin. He denies himself by making of himself a sacrificial offering on the cross. He denies himself by setting aside his own will and doing the will of his Father. He does none of these things for his own good; none of these for his own pleasure or purpose; none of these so that he might be praised or applauded. He does them precisely because they all flow from setting himself outside himself as a victim for the cross. I deny myself when I renounce my need to be the center of my world. When I surrender my will to the Father. When I sacrifice all I have and everything I am to do what Christ has done – die for another. If I will to be Christ in the world, then I must strive for perfect holiness through surrender and sacrifice. I can do neither so long as I remain me, me needing, wanting, sinning, failing to love.
What is it “to take up my cross”? We must avoid thinking of the cross as an inconvenience or an annoyance. Oh, poor woman, those children must be a cross for her! My supervisor is my cross! This traffic on I-10 is our cross to bear! No. Jesus is not asking us to take up the petty, mundane irritations of living in this world. He's asking us to find the instrument of our sacrifice, the tool with which we will die for another. Think of the men and women who ran into the Twin Towers 20yrs ago to bring others out. Think of the military personnel in Kabul who grabbed civilians and tossed them on planes as the Taliban approached. Think of our own here in NOLA who help rescue those stranded by the hurricane. Your cross is the way you choose to offer yourself in sacrifice for another. That cross might be motherhood-fatherhood; it might be priesthood-religious life; it might be teaching, doctoring, lawyering – the question is: do you do what you do for the greater glory of God, in His name, in sacrifice for another? Are you willing to die doing it – for another. Not for your glory. Not for applause. Not for a headline in the Advocate. Deny yourself. Take up your cross.
What is it to “follow Christ”? As we continue to watch our world swirl into chaos, following Christ will become the true test of faith. Our Comfy Christ is dead. Cultural Catholicism is dead. Thanks be to God. As the public cost of Christian discipleship increases, we'll see many drop away. Some quietly, some grandly. Those who never denied themselves or took up their cross will count the costs of following Christ to his end and decide that the price is too high. It happened during the Roman persecutions, the Crusades, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution. Millions have drifted off since the beginning of the Sexual Revolution. Following Christ means following after Christ. Step in his steps. Speak with his voice. Think with his mind. Question and answer with his words. It means being his Way, his Truth, and his Life in the world. Does this all sound impossible? Good! Because it is. . .w/o his grace. With his grace, it is more than possible; it is done. Christ is with us always. All we have to do is stay with him in his Church. He will never abandon us. The question, as always, is: will you abandon him? Or will you deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow him?