He had been away from Church for 25 years. He encountered Landings and celebrated a joyful return. A little over a year later he remarked, “Since coming back to Church, life actually became tougher for me”.
The reality is that our daily life is littered with crosses, regardless whether we are a practising Catholic or someone who has lost belief in God. Crosses appear regularly in our life not because God is testing our faith by giving us a bigger cross each day, but because much of our sufferings are a direct consequence of the choices and action of ours or people in our life. Some of these people randomly appeared and we hardly know them.
Life will make a nasty turn into physical challenges if we are hit by a car as a result of the driver’s miscalculations or a moment of carelessness. We remain emotionally hurt when the reconciliation we seek with a loved one is not found because the other person refuses to forgive. These consequences are not because of God but of people’s free choice. We suffer the consequences of each other’s action or inaction. In this way our journey in life is always littered with crosses.
We have almost no control of what may happen to us; we cannot select the crosses that come our way. But quite often it will be through a tough episode in our life that we hear the invitation of Christ to return or to come closer to him. Weighed down by the heaviest of crosses, our hopes of earthly treasures crushed, we desperately look about for salvation. With nothing left on our battlefield but crosses everywhere, there is one that stands out. Some stirring deep in our brokenness turn our gaze onto one particular cross and our eyes fixed “on the one whom they pierced”, the person of Jesus.
There is a way out of this madness and the only way is the Way of the Cross. Beyond the piercing, beyond the death by suffering is the resurrection, the conquest of all sufferings and the new life of perpetual happiness. The “one whom they pierced” showed us this Way. If we want to go that way, we have to follow him. And he said “he must deny himself and take up his cross daily”.
When we “take” our daily cross, we ‘embrace’ it; we accept that we are not in control. We humbly surrender and put all our trust in God. We say we give away our ‘self’ to be dependent on God. We deny self, deny all our own ways and follow his way.
We have power and choices, bad enough to be crosses for people in our lives. People will suffer the consequences of our action or inaction. We can choose to weigh a tonne on the other or we can choose to “deny self”, live our life prioritising others before ourselves. We are called not to give up this power but rather to use it to transform lives around us.
As we renew our faith, we gingerly take the first step towards embracing our daily cross, we also gingerly follow the call of self-denial. Accepting our cross is not climbing onto a cross to be crucified. We can start small, by conceding our opinions and ‘winning’ less arguments, to back off and give space to another. We can climb down from the stand of self-importance and not crucify others for mistakes and imperfections. We can share what we have been blessed with to lighten the burden on others who have nought. We can reduce time to do well for self and increase time in service for others. After all, the time we have is actually the life we have. When our time expires, life expires. When we give time, we give life.
If we want to follow him then we want to be Christian. To be Christian is not about simply believing with our mind but also about living the belief with our hearts. Essentially we need to become doers of the Word. When we “do” we give up something from our “self”; we “deny self” and give life.
So “who do you say I am?” To the one mentioned in the opening paragraph, “You are the Christ who walks with me daily on my life journey. You saw the big crosses ahead of me and so you took me back into your Church to give me shelter. It was because you knew that life would be tougher. You introduced me to people on my walk with me, people who I initially thought was just randomly placed on my path. Looking back to how I weathered my storms I realised that they were all acting in your name. After all, they were just like you, denying themselves, giving time and making effort to welcome me home”.
(12th Sunday in Ordinary Time Zec 12:10-11;13:1, Ps 63, Gal 3:26-29, Gospel Luke 9:18-24)