[12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C, June 19, 2016 / Zech 12:10-11; 13:1 / Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9 / Gal 3:26-29 / Luke 9:18-24]
MODERN life is lived in the fast lane. Everything happens at high speed. Sometimes there is no time for reflection or even to learn from mistakes. Like the guy on the horse that is galloping along. “Where are you going,” he was asked. “I don’t know,” he replied, “ask the horse.” But even in ancient Greece, the famous Socrates noted that the unexamined life is not worth living. When things happen too fast the phenomenon of depersonalization occurs. There is no time to assimilate and to connect all the events in life’s rich tapestry. All seems random and with no connection but if we stop and reflect, with a little bit of faith, we can see God’s hand behind gently guiding us in all the evens of life.
Jesus wanted his disciples to personalize their relationship with him. He asked them who the people say he is and the disciples tell him various answers, like he was John the Baptist or Elijah. Then he asks them the million-dollar question: “And you, who do you say I am?” (Luke 9:18-24) In asking his disciples, he is also asking each one of us. Who is the Lord for us? Many times our faith consists in discussions, many times idle, about the Church, the priests, the rules, etc. But as Pope Benedict once reminded us: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (Deus Caritas Est, No. 1).
To the question, who do you say I am, Peter responds: “The Christ of God.” Jesus does not like to be presented as a heroic messiah or Marvel superhero. He tells his disciples that he must suffer greatly. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Sounds harsh but let us delve deeper to discover the good news here. First thing is it is not a command but an invite—if you wish, if you want to. Next the difficult part, we have to deny ourselves. It sounds distinctly untrendy and not in fashion to deny yourself, especially when the buzz word today is indulge. The error here is to think that the denial involves denying something good, like chocolate (which may be the case for some!). But how about denying all that makes us unhappy, such as denying pessimism and fears? One friend told me that Jesus wants him to deny his fears as he uses them as an excuse to not follow the Lord with more daring and radicality. When we have a tendency to pessimism we should ask for the grace to deny that. What do you need to learn how to deny?
Every person has his cross. Each of us has challenges and we actually need them if we want to grow, to mature. To pass from being a caterpillar to being a butterfly. The caterpillar has to work hard to emerge from its cocoon. Once, scientists tried to speed up the process by making the cocoon’s exit hole bigger. The caterpillar got out quicker with less work but the butterfly it became had weak wings that had not had the chance to develop. We need the narrow road to develop.
When Jesus says to pick up our cross we need to pick it up. Not to look at it or just be intimidated by it. Do you pick up the crosses or lose strength procrastinating? St. Teresa of Avila said that the biggest cross is to try to avoid the cross. Sometimes carrying the cross we feel we are being led to our death, and, in a way, it is true! But it is only part of the truth because the whole truth is that there is the resurrection.
Once, we arranged a mission trip for 18 young people from our apostolate in London. They came to the Philippines for three weeks of mission exposure. In one moment I was very stressed organizing their stay here. I thought I would die of stress and anxiety! In these moments it is important not to lose courage but to keep going. Sometimes we can even fall under the weight of our crosses, but our good Lord shows us that even if you fall three times it is still possible to get up and keep going.
It is a bit like when the test pilots were trying to break the sound barrier. Approaching Mach 1 the aircraft would shake violently and many pilots eased back on the throttle. Along comes Chuck Yeager and when he experienced those vibrations, as if the airplane would break up, he opened up the throttle, and BOOM! He broke the sound barrier and experienced the tranquility and stability of supersonic flight. The same with us—carrying the cross we experience turbulence and vibrations, and we think we shall break up. But instead of giving up, if we persevere in prayer in the middle of the struggles and vibrations of “death”—BOOM—we then enter the peace of the resurrection. Like the mission trip, in the middle of the struggles, BOOM, Lord, thank you—now I experience the peace of going supersonic with you! Taking our love and self-giving to new heights!
Let us follow Christ by carrying our cross. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great Protestant theologian, said that when Jesus bids us come follow him, he bids us to die. To die to selfishness, fears and pessimism, which stop us enjoying this short life. Let us ask Jesus for the grace to pick up our cross each day and follow him.