Last week we heard Jesus give Simon the new name, “Rock” and identify Peter as a leader because of his faith and true confession in his belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus told Peter that He will build His Church upon him, and that His Church will not be destroyed but will last forever. In the Scripture passage we will see Jesus Christ establish a Church that will not be destroyed but will last for all eternity- Doesn’t this sound good? - how would you like to be a part of that Church?
What does it mean to be Catholic- or better said what does it mean to be a good Catholic – to be a member of His Church? Is it just believing in Jesus Christ or being baptized into the Church? Does being a good Catholic mean just going to Mass on Sundays? What is the standard, what is required to be full members of this Christ’s Church? Our readings today reveal the standard that our Founder, Jesus Christ, gives to be a member of His Church. In short, our readings reveal, it means there must be a transformation of the human mind and will to be a full member of the Catholic Church which Jesus established.
In our Gospel, Jesus says to the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem suffer greatly, be killed, and on the third day be raised from the dead. However, Peter, with his new identity, pulls Jesus aside to correct him- can you imagine pulling your boss aside right after a promotion? Right after Peter correctly declares his belief that Jesus is the Son of God, listen to what Peter has the audacity to say- “God forbid, Lord, no such thing should happen to you”. Peter basically says, Excuse me, Jesus, but you’re wrong, I’m right, I know that your Father would not want you, the Messiah and Savior, to die.
Jesus responds very strongly – and gets his point across. Get behind me, Satan, you are an obstacle to me, you are thinking not as God does but as human beings do”. So even though Peter has faith in Jesus and was given his new identity, there isn’t yet a full transformation of Peter’s mind- he is still thinking as a human would instead of from God’s will and perspective. He is not seeing the world through the eyes and heart of God, but only through his human perspective. Yes, it is counter-intuitive, humanly speaking, that the Savior of the world would be killed. It is unnatural for anyone, let alone God, to want to die. But Jesus says to Peter that to oppose suffering and death is to oppose how God wills to save the world.
Then Jesus says to the disciples- “if you want to come after me, you must deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me”. To be a disciple, as Jesus is defining it, is a very specific definition. It is not the casual definition that many people today understand. To be a disciple- which literally means to be a student- means more than just believing in the Master or accepting some things that the Master teaches, but it means following, imitating, and acting like the Master. To truly be a disciple of Jesus means that there is a transformation of our mind and will to see everything from God’s perspective to desire His will be done.
Jesus was warning his disciples that He must undergo suffering and eventually death, but His resurrection from the dead will bring about salvation for every human person. And if they wanted to be His disciple, then they too must undergo suffering, carry their crosses in life, with confident faith and even thanksgiving. The suffering of Jesus gives meaning and purpose to our suffering. Our crosses help us to become more like Christ, and through our imitating Christ and sharing in His suffering, our suffering intentionally united to His, will be used for good- the salvation of ourselves and others.
I know it is human nature to want to avoid suffering; but the Gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that there will be suffering in our lives, there is no health and wealth gospel in Jesus Christ. Christ suffered, and so He calls us to suffer also. Our suffering is often caused by many different things and circumstances- some are consequences of our own choices, or by another’s choices. However, some suffering seemingly occurs for no reason, we don’t know why it happens. But my brothers and sisters, whatever the reason for our suffering- all our suffering, if united to Christ’s, can bring about good for ourselves and others. Think of the victims of Hurricane Harvey- this current natural disaster is tragic- God didn’t cause it but He wants to and is bringing good out of it. Even death is not the end, for in Jesus Christ there is no death.
And so, my brothers and sisters, even though it is human nature to want to avoid our crosses and suffering, we need to have a transformation of the mind and heart. If we do, then we will be living as true disciples. Listen again to our 2nd reading, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect”. If we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, if we undergo this transformation of our mind and wills- we will see that it is for us just like it is for Christ- it is through the suffering that God wills to save the world.
St. Therese of Lisieux is one of the saints who had this transformation of mind and heart. Her life is an example for us. Throughout her life she learned to offer little sacrifices, little crosses out of love for God and others. It was the love of God that enabled her to see her suffering differently. With her body eroding from Tuberculosis for over a year on her death bed, and though she was beset by many temptations to doubt, and although she struggled to not despair but tried her best to keep the faith in Jesus Christ, she writes: “While I do not have the joy of faith, I am trying to carry out its works at least. I believe that I have made more acts of faith in this past year than all through my whole life”. St Therese saw her suffering as an opportunity to live out and even grow in faith, that is because she did not see suffering as something that should be avoided but accepted. And she accepted her suffering with great love- and that love transformed her suffering to become redemptive- for her and for others. Many people have their faith weakened in the midst of suffering, because they don’t have a transformation of mind and will to see suffering as redemptive.
We too need to learn how to accept our crosses and suffering- because our suffering, united with Christ’s, is how God will save the world. That point is very important, let me repeat it. Through us, through our acceptance of suffering is how God will save the world. So let’s offer up all our sufferings, both large challenges and small. Finally, look at the Crucifix, listen and take to heart the words of St. Josemaria Escriva, in the reflection, The Way of the Cross. He writes, “Little friend, we are sad, living the Passion of our Lord Jesus. See how lovingly he embraces the cross. Learn from him. Jesus carries the cross for you: You… carry it for Jesus. But don’t drag the cross… Carry it squarely on your shoulders, because your cross, if you carry it so, will not just be any cross… It will be the holy cross. Don’t carry your cross with a reluctant resignation: resignation is not a generous word. Love the cross. When you really love it, your cross will be, a Cross without a cross. And surely, you will ﬁnd Mary on the way, just as Jesus did”.
So, my friends, let’s work on being full members of the true Church that Jesus established. Let us strive to be disciples, transformed in mind and will to the will of God. In doing so, we will recognize that suffering is key for our personal transformation to become like Christ, and through our suffering God will save our world.BACK TO LIST