One of the most challenging demands of Jesus when it comes to discipleship is found in today’s Gospel account. “Unless you take up your cross and follow me you cannot be my disciple.” Unfortunately the word “cross” has been softened, so that the words of Jesus have lost some of their impact. When Jesus speaks of the cross, he is not talking about your arthritis, headaches, or difficult relationships, at least not in the first place. These things are all a part of our life, part of our human frailties. The “cross” in the New Testament means that suffering that comes into our lives as a result of the choices we make for the Kingdom of God. To stand up for truth, for justice, for doing what is good and right, brings suffering in a world that promotes the “get ahead” mentality, no matter how much it may hurt others. After all, it’s all about me!
It has been said that religion asks too little of people. It is too ready to offer comfort and to console, but has lost the courage to confront and challenge. The unfortunate thing is that for many religion becomes a crutch, something to lean on in times of weakness and infirmity. In times when things are well, religion is relegated to a second place, or forgotten.
It is true that faith is the most important support we have in times of weakness and difficulties. But it is so much more than this. Faith should be a positive, motivating force in our lives. Our faith must be active and alive at all times of our lives. Our faith should challenge and stretch us to our limits and beyond, so that one has new standards to judge oneself. One who has faith takes seriously the words of Jesus and their result, “Not everyone who cries out, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my heavenly Father.”
The bottom line is, there is a faith of devotion, and a faith of commitment. A faith of devotion is a faith of comfort, providing one with the warm fuzzies, and is often centered on self rather than on others. A faith of commitment is a faith that is challenged, a faith that is willing to take risks, a faith that is willing to, as Jesus asks, “cast out into the deep.” A faith that is open to change so as to become a better person.
Being a disciple of Jesus is serious business and cannot be taken lightly. Taking up the cross each day is what discipleship is all about. Yes, it will entail suffering at times, but the promise of what awaits those who are faithful to Jesus and the living out of the Gospel way of life is out of this world!
—Father Dennis, September 3, 2017