ALWAYS THE CROSS
22nd Sunday of the Year
ALWAYS THE CROSS
"You know, there's a lot they didn't tell me when I signed up for this gig."
It seems that’s what the prophet Jeremiah was saying in the first reading tonight/today.
In his lifetime, Jeremiah watched the people of Jerusalem and Judea fall from bright promise into moral and social decay.
God called Jeremiah warned his fellow believers of their sins, declaring that their crimes and sins against one another were ultimately against God.
As he spoke the truth to the evils of his day, he was laughed at for the Word of God had alienated him from everyone.
Jeremiah, feeling overwhelmed as a prophet declared: "Lord, you duped me!" This is not what I hoped for.
So Jeremiah seeks to abandon his vocation as a prophet and an announced: "I will no longer speak his words!"
Some of us here might have that same feeling in our own vocations as husbands, wives, parents, employees or employers. We may feel overwhelmed in our discipleship with the Lord. We may want to just give up. Our faith is certainly being tested these days, isn't it?
But after Jeremiah tries to keep God's Word to himself, it becomes like a consuming fire within him and he realizes he must continue in his ministry, preaching and proclaiming the truth, and bearing the personal consequences for speaking the truth.
Jeremiah had to tell the truth that the people of God were going to destroy themselves and their nation if they did not turn from their sins.
And as a result of the people’s disobedience and failure to respond to God's Word, the Babylonians were able to sweep into Jerusalem with cruel devastation in 587 B.C. The Temple was destroyed, and Jerusalem was leveled to the ground, and what people were not killed were sent off in exile.
As for Jeremiah, he was stoned to death by his own people.Not exactly the happy ending people like to hear, is it?
Saint Paul didn't realize what he had signed up for either. Paul's words to the Romans are as truthful and timely today as when they were first written.
Paul's message today reads: "I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God…"
Paul meant for us to offer our whole selves to God, entrusting him with our hearts, minds, bodies, and soul. This involves a sacrifice. We are called to be transformed and offered to God!And that involves the Cross.
When St. Paul wrote: "offer your bodies as a living sacrifice" he was being serious! St. Paul Wrote elsewhere: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit...and that you are not your own? You were bought with a price," (namely the Blood of Christ); therefore glorify God in your body" (1 Cor 6.19-20).
So what would Jeremiah or St. Paul say to our culture today?
Let us consider how our world regards the gift of human life and human sexuality today.
Let's face it, The gift of human life has been cheapened. Workers are underpaid and underemployed, often used as mere cogs in the economic machine, and worldwide peoples are impoverished and starving in the shadow of a fast-food world of endless buffets.
And as we are sorely aware, people around the world are being hounded into exile by radical regimes and murderous violence; barbarically martyred because of their faith or bombed because of their ethnicity.
And it is sad that some American companies profit from selling weapons and armaments to warring factions - to the point where Americans are now being killed by U.S. made weapons in the hands of former so-called allies.
The gift of human sexuality has been reduced to the level of entertainment, and human persons are degraded as things, a means to someone else's profit or pleasure ; and irresponsible, casual sex and pornography have become mainstream, and many now defend it.
In fact, romance is rejected outright and conjugal love has even been reduced to violence and domination, as is evidenced in the increase in domestic violence as well as being portrayed as sexy in popular novels and film.
Much of advertising edges on the verge of pornography, as the human body - often the female body - is routinely used to sell consumer products, beer or hamburgers, and even children themselves - the gift of human life - the fruit of marital love - are regarded as undesirable and treated as disposable - unless someone thinks they should harvest their organs.
And, regretfully, it isn’t simply the secular world that has bought into these cultural lies, of so-called freedom. Many of our Catholic and Christian brothers and sisters have done so as well.
[But true freedom is not having the right to do whatever we want; Freedom is having the right to do what we ought to do, (St. John Paul II)].
I realize it is difficult to hear, and having said all that, now we may have a better idea why they killed the prophets, but the prophets were called to critique the culture in light of God's Word.
Again, the Cross looms.
St. Paul further reminds us in today's reading: "Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind."
So how do we do that?
Jesus' words bring us back to reality: "Deny yourself, take up your Cross and follow me." That is the one reality that we cannot avoid: The Cross of Christ.
Many of us here have endured or are enduring our own share in the Cross of Christ.
And we may even be questioning our faith. We may even have our doubts in the face of family illness, tragedy, and senseless, untimely death.
Like Jeremiah, we may feel duped!
Yes, we know the Cross - splinters - nails - a crown of thorns - and all.
But we often desire to avoid the Cross in our lives. Who doesn't?
In the Gospel, Peter does not want Jesus to suffer the Cross, so he says to Jesus, "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
Peter meant well. He didn't want Jesus nailed to a cross.
Yet, in response to Peter, Jesus turned and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
And so Christ takes up the Cross.
Christ is always on the way to the Cross. (And so are we if we are following him).
"For the Cross is the only ladder by which we may go to heaven." (St. Rose of Lima)
Though nowadays there is a cultural Jesus - a Cross-less Christ, a Cross-free Jesus, - that has been fabricated by a narcissistic society that wants Jesus to approve every cultural lie and to allow us to live without the Cross.
The world was always telling Jesus what to do.
And the world is always telling the Church what to do:
Avoid suffering and death.
Avoid the Cross.
Today we hear the critics say: "What does the Church know about sexuality, economics, or justice?"
We hear people say that Jesus never said anything about sexual purity or the dignity of marriage or the lives of children - born or unborn.
We hear people say that Jesus never criticized those who put profit above people or that he never challenged racist attitudes or questioned a nationalistic superiority complex.
These are lies.
Shortcuts away from the Cross.
Jesus tells Peter, "Get behind me, Satan." Do not tell me what to do. Don't tell God how to be God.
If all we do is want to avoid suffering and pain, we will likely never experience true joy.
So today we cannot afford to simply claim a sort of ethnic Catholicism, as if being a Catholic in name only is enough, and that's all there is to discipleship.
St. Paul reminds us: "Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind."
We must consciously, intentionally entrust ourselves to Jesus Christ, in a personal, life-giving relationship, nourished through Sacred Scripture and the Sacramental life of the Church.
And, yes, that comes complete with the Cross.
Anything less is counterfeit.
So by the grace of Christ and the Holy Spirit, we will put on the mind of Christ and begin to think as God thinks, not merely as human beings.
And when we each can become a living sacrifice of praise, we can pray, as did St. Paul, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ Jesus who lives in me. (Galatians 2.20).
However, in following Christ, we may be ignored like the prophets, we may become excluded as were the apostles....
We may experience the same fate as the prophet Jeremiah….
Paul was beheaded....
Now we may not be killed for our faith in Christ – though I cannot promise any of us that – but we may lose some of our human friendships, no longer being invited to certain social soirees, for we will no longer share the same values and interests of the world.
St. Peter said to the followers of Christ, "You are a peculiar people, a people of His own," for we were not meant to fit in; we were born to stand out as lights of truth in a darkened world full of lies.
But so be it.
For we are following Christ.