Fr. Charles Irvin
The Olympic games were recently very much on our minds but as soon as they were over we quickly changed our attention to other things. In our fast moving world it seems to be our way of life, doesn’t it? Cable television presents us with a twenty-four hour news cycle that has replaced what we once knew as the CBS or NBC evening news. Our days are filled with so many things; we move on, we are constantly driven on from one thing to another and then at the end of the day wonder what we’ve accomplished.
Instant gratification and instant pain-relief are advertised throughout these news reports. Our television news programs fill us with images of terrible human suffering and then at the end of every two-minute segment of those news reports we are presented with advertisements telling us how we can make our lives more comfortable. Pain is always and everywhere to be instantly swept away.
But what about those Olympic gold medalists? Didn’t they have to willingly endure a lot of self-sacrifice and pain in order to win those medals? And what about those who have achieved great success in their lives – didn’t they have to give up a whole lot and suffer in order to attain their famed successes? Winning costs – and so does success.
It is in this context that we hear Jesus today saying to us: Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
The “gold” that Jesus is talking about isn’t simply a medal; it is the priceless life of living eternally with God in heaven. And, like anything else worth having, it doesn’t come to us cheap. Easter came to Jesus only after He passed through the horrors of Good Friday. Resurrection comes to us only after we pass through the agonies of this life here on earth. God did not create it to be that way; human arrogance and pride have made it that way. We suffer because of the decisions of others as well as because of the decisions we have made.
The key is found in decisions, particularly our own decisions. Blaming others for what we don’t have is game playing; it’s called “The Blame Game.” Our parents were not perfect; our schools were not perfect; others who have hurt us or caused us loss are not perfect; the world is imperfect. Our task is to bring perfection to it. Olympic sports heroes show us the way; all of our heroes and heroines likewise show us the way. Gold costs; success costs; happiness costs. As my father used to tell me: “You get what you pay for.” Quality doesn’t come cheap; glitz and glitter does. The quality of your decisions has some bearing on the quality of your life. So we should ask ourselves: What about the quality of our relationship with others? Do we add value to them?
And what about our relationship with God? There are those who whine and complain that they don’t come to Mass because they “don’t get anything out of it.” Others have an unspoken elitist assumption that they come to Mass to listen to good music and watch what they consider to be good liturgy. Such an attitude smacks of the entertainment value of Mass. We come to watch and listen, not to participate with others who are… well… so ordinary.
When all is said and done, the Eucharistic liturgy, the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is our willing participation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is our entrance into sharing together in the life of Jesus Christ, a life that took Him through pain, loss, suffering to death, and then to resurrection. God is here in the Mass not to bring us rescue, He is here to bring us resurrection.
St. Peter thought of Jesus in terms of rescue and he balked at the idea of suffering, loss, passion, and death. It was only later, after he suffering the humiliation of his own denial of Christ and loss of closeness to Him that he was able to enter fully into Christ’s resurrected life. He, too, ended up being crucified in one of the Emperor Nero’s arenas to entertain a bloodthirsty crowd. He was buried at the foot of the Vatican hill and in so doing entered with Christ into his own resurrection. Why should we have an easier life than he did? Why should we come to Mass only to be entertained instead of coming to Mass to participate?
All belonging costs. Belonging to God costs. Belonging to the Catholic Faith costs. Being a loyal citizen of these United States costs. Loyalty isn’t something that’s cheap. And 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 is 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 that 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 his soul would starve and 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… and some times terrible costs.
I’m always grateful to 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.
Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?