We heard one of the more uncomfortable demands of discipleship in today’s Gospel account. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny oneself, take up one’s cross, and follow me.” Unfortunately the word “cross” has been softened, so that the saying of Jesus has lost its force. The cross Jesus speaks of is not your arthritis, the difficult co-worker, or a headache, at least not in the first place. These are things that come to us as part of life. The “cross” that Jesus is speaking of is that suffering which comes into our lives because we have chosen to live according to the values of the Kingdom. It is something we choose, that being, to follow Jesus by living his teachings, no matter how difficult or demanding they may be. To do so means to open ourselves up to ridicule and even persecution.
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 challenge. This can result in religion becoming a crutch when it is needed but forgotten when things are going well in life.
We live in a very secular world where values and morals are contrary to those Jesus proclaimed as being part of the Kingdom. This has impacted religion bringing about a division of what we can call religion of devotion, and religion of commitment. A religion of devotion is a religion of comfort, and is often centered on self rather than on others. A religion of commitment is one that challenges, takes risks, stretches a person, one of unselfishness.
Jesus asks for a commitment from his disciples. He asks that the person renounce oneself, take up the cross, and walk in his footsteps. Jesus assures us that anyone who loses their life for his sake will find it. For the committed Christian, suffering is not a likelihood, but a certainty.
Being a Christian is serious business. Yet this does not mean that suffering is something we should seek. But suffering will inevitably be part of the Christian life as it was part of Jesus’ life.
What we must always keep before us is the promise of eternal life in Heaven for fidelity to Jesus and the Gospel. Such fidelity is serious business, but God is always ready and willing to flood us with his grace to achieve it.
— Fr. Dennis, August 30, 2020