Reflection for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
My Dear Good People,
In today’s Gospel (Mark 8:27-35), Jesus says to those who were listening to Him, Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up His cross and follow Me. To the ears of His contemporaries, that would have been unthinkable. Crucifixion was the most ignominious of all forms of capital punishment in their day, so that the Jews would never crucify anyone. In the case of Jesus, it was the Romans who condemned Him to that death and who carried out the crucifixion, (though some in the crowd called for His crucifixion (John 23:21, 23). So for Jesus to make carrying one’s cross a prerequisite for being counted as one of His followers, was to suggest something that would never have dawned on those who were beginning to draw closer to Him, including His apostles. How could it be that they were being asked to undergo the worst of punishments for His sake?
It took a great discernment for these men and woman to really hear what Jeus was saying. In Luke 9:23, Jesus is recorded as saying, Take up your cross daily, and follow Me. Perhaps that was a hint that there is more to this than dying once for Him. Maybe He is speaking of a daily embracing of the cross as it might come in any form—suffering, disappointment, loss of precious possessions, physical suffering, relational heartbreak. We’ve all known it, haven’t we, the daily crosses that can shake us to our core, but which we somehow find the strength to bear with courage for the love of Jesus. The people of His day didn’t understand right away what Jesus meant, but they soon learned, as we do, that our likeness to Christ for which we all yearn comes over the course of time, through our joys, works and sufferings, as we say in our morning offering. Our conformity to the Person of Jesus marks us as a work in progress, but oh, what a mystery is this union with Him.
This week I was with one of our dear older Sisters (formerly a registered nurse) when she received from her doctor the diagnosis of cancer. I felt I had been hit with a brick, but I managed to turn to Sister and say quietly, “Sister, do you understand what this means?” “Yes, Mother. I do.” The doctor told Sister she had already made an appointment for her with an oncologist to talk about surgery. I asked her what she thought about surgery for this cancer. She answered in a voice that sounded as though she were comforting me, “Whatever you want, Mother. Whatever God wants.” After a few more minutes with the very kind doctor, Sister and I made our way down the corridor. As I guided her wheelchair into the elevator I looked down and saw that she had taken from her pocket a laminated image of Jesus, the Divine Mercy, and was caressing Him with her thumbs. I leaned down to her and asked, “Is it alright with you if tonight I ask the Sisters to pray for you because you have ‘lady cancer’? She began to laugh and said, ‘Yes, that would be fine, Mother.” She came home, went to her sewing machine, finished the work she had been doing, and took herself to Chapel. Later she asked me for some more material for a project she was making. When I asked her how she was doing, she said, “Fine, Mother. I’m really fine with this. Whatever God wants.” And you know? She really means it….
That kind of response comes from a lifetime of embracing the large and small crosses as they come every day. You probably know someone who has suffered in a great way, and who glows with the peace of Christ. Perhaps you have found peace in carrying your own daily crosses, big and small, because you have heard Jesus say to your loving heart, If you would be My disciple, take up your cross daily and come follow Me.
Let us not be afraid.
He carried His cross, and He is with us as we carry ours.
Blessed be His Holy Name.