Here is a link to the readings: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/090813.cfm
Jesus’ words in today’s gospel could not have been easy for his disciples to hear.
He made it clear that discipleship, if it was to be genuine, would place an incredible demand on their lives, would bestow upon them certain duties and obligations – a heavy responsibility that they were called to shoulder.
No one that I know of likes to talk about the duties and obligations that come from being a person of faith – the demands that our faith places on our shoulders.
I wonder if part of the reason for that is that there already seem to be so many duties and responsibilities that we all shoulder each day.
If we have children, they lay a claim on our lives – this is clear from the very first moments of the first child’s birth.
You can never stop being a father or mother.
And while our parents are still living there are certainly duties and responsibilities that we have to them in turn – they brought us into this world, and we will always be indebted to them at a basic, natural level.
Our brothers and sisters and other family lay a claim on our lives – though we have not chosen them, they are a part of our lives and we have an obligation to look out for their welfare.
If we are married, we have certain duties and responsibilities to our spouse – the promises made at the wedding make it clear that husband and wife have a mutual obligation to work for each others’ good.
And let’s not forget work – the demands that are made of us in order to keep food on the table. Or the many different social obligations and responsibilities that we have – to friends, neighbors, to our community, our country, etc. All of these areas lay claim on our lives, they limit what we do and the choices that we make, they often oblige us to do things that we do not want to do.
Do you feel the weight?
With all of these demands placed upon us, with all of these pressures being brought to bear, life can sometimes feel so heavy, like such toil. And we can be brought to the point where we wonder if we can keep our heads above water, if we can fulfill so many obligations without losing ourselves in the process.
I think it was when she reached that point that my mom would sometimes threaten to run away from home.
I imagine we’ve all been there, we’ve all arrived at the end of a long day only to be asked to give and give and give… more than we feel that we have. Pushed to the point where we even had a hard time making sense of what was going on around us,
to where we wondered if our own sanity would start to fail and our lives would start to fall apart. Maybe it was the job, maybe a huge conflict with our spouse. Maybe it was in struggling with illness, or in taking care of a loved one. Maybe it was when the newborn was screaming all night or at 3 in the morning when the paper due the next morning was still in shambles.
In those moments – when there seems to be nothing left except the brutal weight of life’s demands on our shoulders and we feel the weight of them bearing down on us – that’s when we are carrying those crosses that Jesus is talking about.
And in response to these demands, our Lord gives us only one path forward: pick it up and carry it. If you want to be a follower of Christ, take up your cross and follow him. Following his example of obedience and faithfulness, we are called to shoulder the burdens of life with courage, perseverance, and trust.
I say trust because Christ promises us that it will be in those moments of abandonment to the will of the Lord, that we will be closest to him. After all, he is very acquainted with crosses, he is the Lord of the cross. And not only will be close to him, we will also become more self-aware – more aware of who God made us to be. You want to see what it means to be a man, to be a woman? Look to the cross. We hold it up for a reason. That is the crucified God in whose image and likeness in which we were made. There is no other image and likeness – there is only one, the one that was crucified, Jesus Christ – true God and true man.
That is hard to accept, sometimes, though, isn’t it. To accept the image and likeness of God on the cross. We want to be made in the image and likeness of a God who does not suffer. Of a God who is a happy angel who just floats away from pain and suffering and sin. We like to think that God wouldn’t ask us to bear such things. That he would keep us from having to endure such brutality.
But that’s not the way God is. That’s not what Jesus showed us. Instead of running or refusing to submit, Jesus humbled himself, even unto death, Saint Paul tells us in one place, and death on a cross. Your heart, your mind, your body, your soul – they are made in that image and likeness: and so we can say that every human being is made to carry the cross. Jesus Christ the cross-bearer is the pattern from which we are all made, who we are called to be.
It follows, then, that when we do not submit, when we don’t take up our crosses, we become less human. We betray our hearts, and minds, and bodies – because they are all made in the image and likeness of a cross-bearer. And an interior conflict begins to eat away at us as we become more alienated from our very selves. By refusing the cross, we refuse to be truly human.
Meaning, fulfillment, life, joy – they can only flow from an embrace of the cross in this life. The more we accept that abandonment, the more we let ourselves be nailed down, poured out for the sake of God and others - the more we will understand who we truly are, who we were made to be. And the more we will be open to the grace and mission of Jesus Christ, who works through and in our submission to bring about his kingdom of new life in this world.
Take up your cross and follow Christ. There is no other way, no other image, no other likeness. We cannot rise with the Lord if we have not died with him – if we have not carried the cross by his side. Something deep within each of us that knows this truth – we’ve experienced it over and over. The peace and fulfillment that comes in those times of greatest sacrifice. But how often we need to be reminded!
I urge you to honestly ask yourselves, your families today: where are the crosses that you have refused to lift? The crosses that you are pretending aren’t there or aren’t yours? Where are the crosses that you are running from? Where are the crosses that you carry halfheartedly and with resentment?
Are your crosses too heavy? You can’t carry them alone?
Why do you think we’re here? Why do you think Christ gave us his Church? Why the Eucharist if not to feed us and give us strength, why Confession if not to help us when we falter? Why the scriptures if not to give us encouragement? Why one another if not to sustain each other in prayer and good works?
All these things, all of these gifts, all of this grace that we have received: it is all ordered to one purpose – to help us carry our crosses and follow Christ to new life.
So where is your cross? Get down on your knees and hoist those hard, heavy wooden crossbeams back on your shoulders. Then rise to the full stature and dignity of your humanity: take up your cross and follow Christ.