A recent discussion with a friend in Brisbane offered an interesting perception on how we choose to live our faith. He shared the thoughts of his Padre from a recent homily on how we should not be confused with being united with the cross and actually, intentionally taking it up.
The Gospel on that particular week was about “carrying our cross” and the homilist shared that personal suffering such as from illness, grief, broken relationships or joblessness isn’t exactly “carrying the cross”. We can unite these to the cross, but it isn’t exactly carrying. To carry is about standing up for Christ, to be Christian and about service to others.
If God is God, why does he allow suffering? This question won’t go away. For some when this question is not answered to their satisfaction, they make a deliberate decision to wander into “the behaviour of the world”. For the rest of us, a large chunk of our personal sufferings are consequences of our own and others’ actions. But some sufferings may remain a mystery that we attribute to God’s will. “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine”; I will allow God to be God and I humbly remain his creature. This humble acceptance is a deliberated action to “take up my cross and follow him”. Let God be God.
Following Christ and taking up our cross does not lead us into a hell of sufferings. Today’s Gospel provides a vision beyond death “for anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it”. This is the promise of eternal life. Embracing this promise and altering our behaviour is to consciously take up the cross and follow him.
The cross will start to feel heavy because to take up the cross is to change our lifestyle into one of service and mission. We adopt this new lifestyle “by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God”. We take up the cross of self-sacrifice where we put others before self. We start with family then friends then colleagues and then strangers which is when we feel our body as a sacrifice and the cross that we took begins to weigh us down.
This cross that we intentionally take up becomes particularly heavy when we realise we need to let go of the things of this world that is precious to us; possessions, desires and even opinions. At the same moment the cross becomes lighter when we yearn for eternal glory beyond death. Let go of our earthly desires and exchange it for the cross that will lead us into the heaven of eternal joy.
There is a greater challenge in today’s disbelieving world. The words of the prophet Jeremiah echoes when we take up a cross that seemingly embrace sufferings, “I am a daily laughing-stock, everybody’s butt….The word of the Lord has meant for me insult, derision, all day long”. To be different against popular opinion is also to intentionally take up the cross. We must dare to be different.
The first cross we take up is the belief that our journey does not end with death. But we cannot lounge around and be camouflaged by the trending behaviours of the world. Instead, we must breakout for our faith, move the boundaries of our giving, lose our life for the sake of the other and take up the cross… intentionally!
22nd Sunday in Ordinary time