31 August 2014
Homily of the Apostolic Nuncio
His Grace Archbishop Petar Rajič
In the Gospel reading Jesus offers us the real challenge of true Christian life by inviting us to take up our cross and to follow him. The paradox of our religious life is that we do not avoid hardships and sufferings, but rather we accept them and transcend them through faith in God.
Jesus wanted to warn his disciples beforehand of the hardships he was to suffer at the hands of men. The apostles had difficulty accepting this because they were thinking in worldly terms and some wanted Jesus to be their political saviour. This is why Peter mistakenly attempted to convince Jesus to avoid the path of suffering and defeat. Jesus was very stern in his rebuke of Peter: Get behind me Satan!
In dealing with Satan and all the evil forces of the world, Jesus was firm and serious. The word ‘Satan’ refers to the devil or adversary, any power or authority that seeks the human over the divine, any spirit or idea which attempts to divert us from God in order to fulfill human desires and worldly goals. Jesus knew right away that what Peter was suggesting to him was not the will of God, but the mistaken goals or ideas of his heart, influenced by the worldly mentality. For this reason his rebuke to Peter was a confirmation of his conviction that he had to fulfill the will of the Father before all else. Nothing else mattered to Jesus more than this. After this rebuke, Jesus taught his disciples the meaning of the cross which he was to bear and he then invited his disciples and all who wish to follow him, to take up their own cross and to follow his example of sacrificial love.
Whenever the cross is mentioned, we often think about the negative aspects of the cross, for we know that each cross means hardship, suffering and sacrifice. Yet what Jesus offers us is a very positive approach to life.
Three things are involved in Jesus’ approach to the cross. The first is one must deny himself. In denying ourselves we are saying no to ourselves and yes to God. We must dethrone ourselves and enthrone God as the most important person in our lives. We are giving God worship and glory by giving Him preference and precedence in our very lives.
The second part involves taking up our cross. It is interesting to note that Jesus did not say take up my cross, but rather that each of us should take up our cross. This is so true because our crosses are different from his and they are diverse from the crosses of others. In taking up our cross, we are taking upon the challenge of Jesus to be good. This means striving to be good every day of our existence, avoiding evil and sin at all costs, not compromising with the temptations of the world in our Christian lives. This is the positive approach of the cross, yet it always remains a cross to bear since we know that it is sometimes extremely difficult to be good. We can be ridiculed, despised and even forsaken by people, but we must continue if we wish to follow Jesus, for this is the path the Lord has chosen for us.
The final aspect of bearing our cross is following Jesus. We are invited to deny ourselves, to take upon ourselves our cross, and in the end we must follow him, for he is the only one who can show us the way to true life. He left us an example. Our lives therefore must be in perfect harmony with his. We are playing ‘follow the leader’ with Jesus, in perfect obedience, nothing less, knowing all along that life is no game but a challenge which is waiting for us. In following Jesus’ example we also can have the security of knowing that he will never abandon us and that he himself will be our strength and inspiration all along the way, for in bearing our cross it is actually Jesus who carries it for us, we only carry a sliver in return. What is important for us is that we follow him with our hearts and minds, that our service be a voluntary and free sacrifice worthy of thinking beings. God will not forget the sacrifices we offer him with love, for he will give us the reward of his grace in this life and the joy of his presence in the life to come.
Kryžiu kalnas – The Hill of the Crosses in Šiauliai, Lithuania