Sunday, August 28, 2011

Choosing Life in Christ

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
Jeremiah 20:7-9
Romans 12:1-2
Matthew 16: 21-27

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me… What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”

What was Peter thinking when he rebuked the Lord and said: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you”? What was Peter thinking? What are we thinking, when we choose other than the way of the Cross of Christ for our life’s path? Do we think we can refuse the Lord’s will and somehow get by, even though in doing so we have refused the Lord Who loves us and knows us better than we know ourselves?

Jesus is telling His disciples and us in today’s Gospel not about everyday preferences or options but about the Last Judgment; today’s message is the fundamental one about who we are or what we are about. And sadly, I must say, there are times when I get the impression that those who are supposed to be knowledgeable in the Faith even while not denying this truth still tend to dismiss our accountability before the Throne of God and to hold the whole matter of the Last Judgment to be something subtle, complex or in one fashion or another hard to sort out, almost, if not altogether, irrelevant. Many of our Catholic people feel as though they are not really accountable before God for how they live their daily lives. And yet today’s Gospel makes the whole matter of Judgment Day and the consequences of our choices appear rather straightforward… “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me… What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”

The Last Judgment: We must decide; we must take a stand for or against the teaching of the Church as it comes to us from the Apostles and then order our whole life accordingly. The Creed we recite every Sunday at Mass says He (Jesus) will come again to judge the living and the dead and that His Kingdom will have no end. Human life is not just a passing thing; we are destined by God for everlasting life. Make no mistake about it; we cannot escape the ultimate consequences of our choices in this world in terms of the next. God made me to know, love and serve Him in this life, so as to be happy with Him in heaven. My life does not end with my physical death; I cannot consider my life as crowned only by the tombstone or monument my survivors might place on my grave. My life goes on and my reward is in Heaven. When I’m gone, it serves me little if later generations have read my book or my poem, marveled at the bridge I built or been edified by my paintings. I will not be judged on my smarts, my college entrance exam scores or the number of patents I may have pending.

We must choose the Lord as our God, just as God’s People in the Old Testament have always been called to choose; we cannot turn our backs on Christ’s Cross or refuse our share in that Cross. The Chosen People had to leave all else for the service, the worship of the living God. This was the only adequate response to God’s generous love and favor toward them. Jeremiah bemoans this very fact in the first reading for today’s Mass: all the pain which serving the Lord as his prophet has brought to him, but he finds it irresistible to serve the Lord and to fulfill the prophetic mission entrusted to him by God. “I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” Jeremiah knows that he belongs to the one, true God and can do no less than serve Him, no matter what it costs him.

We, the people of the New Covenant in Christ’s Blood, cannot make our own way through life without God in the person of Jesus Christ; our short-term and often selfish calculations or uninformed judgments just don’t carry weight; they don’t count. What counts are God’s will and our correspondence to that will. When Peter hedges or tries to contradict the Father’s Will, Jesus, Who knows God’s will as only the Son can, Jesus says to Peter, don’t tempt me: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”  We cannot simply go with the crowd and seek our own convenience or comfort. None of us can honestly create our own little story, our own little truth amongst others, as if our wishing made it so.

Number 163 of the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church (called YOUCAT) answers the question: What is the Last Judgment? And comments: “When Christ comes again in glory, his full splendor will shine upon us. The truth will come plainly to light: our thought, our deeds, our relationship to God and to other men – nothing will remain hidden… Here it is decided whether we will rise to eternal life or be separated from God forever.”

I find an explanation that helps me understand what was so seriously wrong with Peter’s negative reaction to Jesus’ prophecy of His Passion in a piece which our present Holy Father wrote back in 1992 about the Blessed Virgin Mary:
“Even for the believing man who is entirely open to God, the words of God are not comprehensible and evident right away. Those who demand that the Christian message be as immediately understandable as any banal statement hinder God. Where there is no humility to accept the mystery, no patience to receive interiorly what one has not yet understood, to carry it to term, and to let it open at its own pace, the seed of the word has fallen on rocky ground; it has found no soil.” (MARY, The Church at the Source, Ignatius Press, 2005, page 71)

My choices must be Christ’s. The prophet Jeremiah found it a rough path but an irresistible and right one. Don’t attempt to deceive yourself or your children about choices which fall short of the heights of Calvary. We can indeed be wrong as Peter was (Get behind me, Satan!) If we do not repent as Peter did, we will be called to account. 

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me… What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”

Jesus responded firmly, let’s say, sternly to Peter because of Jesus’ love for Peter and His will that Peter share fully in the great work to be accomplished for the salvation of the world. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which we are called to share each and every Sunday we have that inestimable gift which belongs to those who enjoy the fullness of life and truth which is ours in the Catholic Church; in the other Sacraments and especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation we have the means to return to the path which leads to life if sadly we have gone our own way. No matter how much it may hurt, we must, we can do no better than choose the Way of the Cross. Ultimately, it is the only choice which counts.


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