Taking Up Our Crosses

09-23-2018From the Pastor's DeskRev. Msgr. Ellsworth R. Walden

As much as we seek peace and security in our daily lives, there always seems to be another obstacle to overcome, situation to be resolved, or need that we know we should respond to. In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus seems to complicate the road to inner and outer peace as He says, “the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.”

The road to true peace is not a smooth, straight, congestion-free highway, but is filled with challenges, unexpected surprises, and demands on our time, energy, and resources. How can we be the ones who Rudyard Kipling calls to mind in his poem IF, those who keep their heads when all those about them are losing theirs?

Certainly St. Peter’s response indicates that he thinks Jesus is out of His mind: “Then Peter took Him (Jesus) aside and began to rebuke Him.” Even though Peter had to know about the religious leaders who rejected Jesus, he saw the crowds and the joy, peace, and healing Jesus brought to them. How could something so good be rejected and end? The last thing we want to think of when we seek peace in our lives is carrying a cross. Yet Jesus tells us: “Whoever wishes to come after must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it.” Before we contemplate our own personal crosses it is good to look at the cross of Jesus. Literally, He was nailed to a wooden cross and suffered a painful, unjust death. But that cross did not stop Him from loving and trusting in the Father’s love for Him. His words are words of love and mercy: “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” . . . “This day you will be with me in paradise.” . . . “Woman there is your son, son there is your mother.” What Jesus makes clear is that crosses are not impediments to love, our love for others and their love for us. Yes crosses are challenging. Some we do not even give a second thought to. Parents readily give up time, energy, resources and personal conveniences for their children. They are beautiful examples of not allowing what could be perceived from a selfish point of view to be a burden, but they see sacrificing for their children as the meaning of their lives. Sacrificing does not burden us, but fills us with joy because of the opportunity to enrich the lives of others. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice, He gave His life on the cross to take away our sins and bring us intimately into His life with the Father and Holy Spirit. In calling us to deny ourselves and take up our crosses, Jesus is not calling us to be miserable, but to know the joy of freely loving no matter what as He did and continues to do for us.

We live in a society with countless conveniences. The world and our family and friends are literally at our fingertips with our cell phones, iPads, and computers. Technology enables us to do so many things without even walking out the door. We can shop, read, tweet, and do countless other things sitting on our couches. It is so easy to put ourselves into what we perceive to be a comfort zone. There are people and situations we readily leave our comfort zones for. As I write this, there are newspaper reports on people from New York being sent to help those in the path of Hurricane Florence. But the most damaging storms that take away our inner peace are not from Mother Nature, but from the conflicts, disagreements, disappointments, and demands in our lives in our family, friends, Church, and nation. Crosses become a burden when anger begets anger, harsh words beget harsh words, and hatred begets hatred. These negative parts of our lives bring inner tension and can preoccupy most of our waking moments. These crosses are burdensome because they impede our ability to love and to be loved. They drain life out of us and others. These are not the crosses Jesus is calling us to take up daily. The challenge is to get beyond false comfort zones to be kind, generous, merciful, and compassionate.

Before I began writing this column I went to the bank to wire the money we collected to help the victims of the flood in Kerala, India. Our concern for others opened our hearts, and I was able to wire more than $54,000 to them. That is an example of helping others to carry their crosses. Often the conflict is considering how much to give and how involved to get. Will we have enough resources and time left over for ourselves? But when we do give from our hearts our first concern is not our own security or comfort, but the needs of others. That is what makes the cross of Jesus a powerful source of life for us. For Jesus, there was no one who was below his love. He lived what He preached in the Sermon on the Mount: “Love your enemies, pray for your persecutors. This will prove that you are sons of your heavenly Father, for His sun rises on the just and the unjust. If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that? Do not tax collectors do as much? And if you greet your brothers only, what is praiseworthy about that? In a word, you must be made perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:44-47) It is easy to give to those we love and who respond with gratitude and generosity to us in return. It is more challenging to be truly generous when we give to those we do not know personally or those who do not trust or like us.

As we continue to make headlines in the media because of the past abuse of children by priests and bishops, we continue to rise above our feelings of anger, shame, and disappointment. We as the Church have to carry a cross of shame. But we rise above that shame every time we love as Jesus loves us. Every day our one billion strong Church reaches out with compassion, mercy, concern, and love, and you and I are that Church. When I teach little children how to spell the word church I tell them C H YOU ARE C H. We are the Church, the Body of Christ, which is alive, well, life-giving, and one of the truest sources of hope and love we will ever find or experience as human beings. Let us not live in the shadow of shame or disappointment but in the light of God’s love in Jesus and one another.

Fr. Wald