22nd Sun [A] 2005

Fr. Charles Irvin

Jeremiah 20:7-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27

We’ve all heard the expression “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Easily said, hard to do. What do we do? Sometimes the cost of “staying in there” is a terrible cost, one that makes us question whether it’s worth it.

Pain, suffering, loss, agonizing disappointment… they all put us to the test; they all test our mettle, that steely, iron will that we can muster up if we look deep enough within our hearts and souls.

This is particularly so when it comes to sustaining our relationships with others, even our relationship with God, or our Church, or our country, or our marriages, our careers, our jobs. No one escapes these trials. No one sails through life without these kinds of testings.

You and I have watched wives stay with husbands that have been unfaithful, husbands that have been boorish, insensitive, uncaring, and totally self-centered. We’ve seen husbands stay with wives who have, for all intents and purposes, shut them out of their hearts, turned into cold, unforgiving, complaining, and accusing women who make life hellish for their husbands.

We’ve seen parents who have continued to love and care for teenage kids who have completely ridiculed, rejected, defied, and denied any respect or consideration toward their mothers and fathers.

Is there any suffering quite like that when you discover your son has given himself over to drugs, who has died his hair orange, pierced his body parts with rings, needles and the most offensive and even obscene tattoos? Is there any pain quite like that of seeing a young daughter flaunt and use her body in order to be noticed, and usually noticed by young men who are little more than users of girls?

Each of us here today could present stories of excruciating loss, pain and suffering. But what’s new about that? What’s new in observing that life is hard, that bad things happen to good people?

So, in talking about loss, pain, suffering, and terrible challenges, the question isn’t why, or how all of this happens. The question is “what do we do about it?” It’s our response that is at issue, not who is responsible or what they’re going to do about it. The fundamental question is not whether we’re going to call a hotshot lawyer and start suing anybody and everybody, along with whatever institution or group to which they belong. No. The first and foremost question is whether or not we are going to flee, to escape into some form of denial, or simply give up, quit, opt out, and leave the scene.

Some parents fantasize about the day when the last of their children will leave the home, and when the kids go those same parents miss them and regret their loss. People who have difficult jobs may fantasize about the day they no longer have to work, and then miss that work one month after they’ve retired or gone elsewhere. Not always, mind you, but many times.

What former, non-practicing Catholic does not have a still, small voice within them that calls them back to the Church and the Holy Communion that they’ve left. What priest, teacher or coach hasn’t considered quitting, yet each Monday morning they’re back at their posts?

There is compelling power in a life filled with purpose. For it is love that puts fire in our bones. Love has a seductive power to it, one that will not let us go. We yearn for freedom and then when we have it we yearn for belonging along with the commitments that are inherently within any belonging. One cannot belong and be free of loss, pain or suffering.

All belonging costs. Belonging to God costs. Belonging to the Catholic Faith costs. Being a loyal citizen of these United States, being an American, costs. Loyalty isn’t something that’s cheap. Faith is never easy, nor is faith’s sibling, namely love. Anything of great value costs.

Oh, we can (and do) from time to time lapse into escapism and denial. We can (and do) allow anger to replace patient and enduring commitment. We can flee or we can feel — feel the pain, that is.

Simon Peter sought to flee, to escape, and to deny. He’s a great figure for us to contemplate. How many times did Simon Peter waffle? How many times did he deny? And yet Christ named him Cephas, Rock, Peter. In the end we must remember it was Simon Peter who declared, “Lord, you have the words of eternal life. To whom else can we go?” He knew that he couldn’t go it alone. He knew that without the Bread of Life, he would grow weak.

We, too, know that we can’t “go it alone”, that we need our daily bread, the Bread of Life that comes to us from God it nourish, sustain and strengthen us. We need its sustenance in order to sustain our commitments amidst life’s costs — sometimes terrible costs.

I’m always grateful to enter a church and see a cross with Christ’s human body hanging on it. It shows me the cost God paid in order to stay with us. It causes me to ask myself how far I will go to maintain my commitments, to sustain my “being there” for others. When the going gets tough, God doesn’t flee. He hangs in there. And “hanging in there” is what the crucifix and what love is all about.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”