Archive for March, 2012

3rd Sunday of Lent 2012

March 13, 2012

Last week we began to reflect upon the Gospel passage that Fr. John asked us to focus on for Lent this year.  In this passage Our Lord says: “If anyone would come after Me, let Him take up his cross and follow me.”  This reminds us that discipleship is intentional: it involves our free will—we must make a choice to follow Jesus Christ.  If you would follow the Lord: this implies that you can choose to follow or not follow Him.  I mentioned last week that we became Christians at our Baptism: through our Baptism into the death and Resurrection of Christ you and I began to share in His divine life, we became members of His mystical body, we became co-heirs with Christ to the Kingdom of Heaven.  That being said, being a disciple requires our choice to faithfully follow Christ.  Each moment of every day we are free to choose or reject God.

Discipleship, in this sense, is much like marriage.  On the day that two people come to Church and receive the Sacrament of Marriage, they begin to be married; yet being married is ongoing and it involves choices and effort.  Both husband and wife must make an effort for a marriage to be successful.  On the day that a couple is married, they made certain promises to one another.  They promise to love one another, they promise to honor one another, they each promise to put the other ahead of themselves, and they promise to be faithful to one another for the rest of their lives despite whatever difficulties might arise.  Keeping these promises from day to day is a choice.  The couple can either grow in their love and deepen their relationship or they can drift apart.  The love that the couple promises to each other is a choice, it is a commitment; it is not a feeling.  That kind of love has to do with what is done, not what is felt.  On the day that the couple promises to love one another for the rest of their lives, they are filled with excitement and joy.  It is easy for them to make those promises to one another.  It is important to note that by promising to love one another for the rest of their lives the couple is not promising to feel the same emotions that they feel on the wedding day for the rest of their lives.  We cannot control our emotions; we cannot promise to always feel a certain way: we might as well promise to never have a headache again for the rest of our lives—it is a promise that we cannot keep.  When the couple promises to love one another, they promise to put the other ahead of themselves: to truly wish the good for the other and do what they can to bring that good about.

All of these things that I have been saying about marriage is true of our Christian discipleship.  On the day that we were baptized, we began to be Christians, but like the wedding day, that is only the beginning of the rest of our lives.  Like the couple on the wedding day, when we were baptized promises were made: we promised to faithfully follow the Lord.  Our Baptismal promises, like wedding vows, must be lived throughout our lives.  We have to choose to love God: and that love is a choice, not a feeling.  When Our Lord calls us to follow Him He asks us to take up our cross and follow Him.  Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not always easy.  We have a fallen human nature which is inclined towards sin.  Our fallen human nature is inclined towards selfishness, pride, laziness and the other deadly sins.  Faithfully following Our Lord means that we have to take up our cross: it means that we have to put our selfishness to death and choose to follow the Lord.  Following Christ requires that we choose to root sin out of our hearts so that we can do what we know is right despite how we may feel.

In our spiritual journey, we either deepen our relationship with God or we drift away from Him.  God is always there for us: we have to allow Him to act in our hearts and in our lives.  We have to do what we can to grow in our love for Him.  We grow in love by learning about our Faith and by putting it into practice.  Through Jesus Christ God has revealed how we are to live.  He calls us to live a life of love: He calls us to love Him above everything and He calls us to love others.  We are called to put God first in our lives: to put His will ahead of our own, and that is not always easy.  Loving our neighbor is not always easy.  That is why we talk about denying ourselves or putting self to death.  When we talk about it in the abstract, it can sound very daunting.  Yet this is how we were created.

We were made in the image of God and God IS love.  Christ shows us what true love looks like by His death on the Cross.  Love pours itself out for the beloved.  Love gives everything that it has to the beloved; Christ gave all that He had for love of us and He calls us to respond to His love in the same way: He asks us to make a total gift of ourselves—He asks us to imitate Him and to pour ourselves out for love of Him and for love of others.

Pouring ourselves out is the only way that we can be truly fulfilled.  That is the paradox of the Christian life.  A paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement that in reality expresses truth.  It seems contradictory to say that the more we pour ourselves out the more we will be filled: but that is the truth.  We were made for love: we were made to pour ourselves out for others; if we do not love, we remain unfulfilled.  The more selfish we are, the more unhappy we will be.  The more we deny ourselves and put God and others ahead of ourselves, the more joy we will have.  We have probably all had some experience of this at some time or another.  Have you ever helped someone else and then felt happy because of it?   We were made to love and we experience joy when we show love.  May we use this time of Lent to put our selfishness to death so that we can live as true disciples and more faithfully love God and others.


2nd Sunday of Lent 2012

March 13, 2012

Keeping with the theme of the parish mission, Fr. John has asked Fr. Stanley and me to preach on discipleship during Lent.  (If you weren’t able to attend the parish mission, the talks are available on the parish website.)  The Gospel passage that Fr. John has asked us to specifically preach on immediately precedes today’s Gospel reading in the Gospel of Saint Mark.  If anyone would be His disciple, Our Lord says, they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him.  Our Lord says this to a multitude of people and to His disciples.

Picture the scene: there is a crowd around Our Lord.  Some people are there because they have heard that Our Lord performed miracles, some are there because they or someone they love is in need of healing, some are there because they are looking for the Messiah who will bring freedom to Israel and establish an earthly kingdom.  Some of the people in the crowd were His disciples, they already believed in Him; undoubtedly there were some in the crowd who were there merely because they were curious about Him; there were probably even people there who did not believe in Him—perhaps some of the Pharisees or scribes.

To all of those people Our Lord said: “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  In other words, to be a true disciple, one has to do more than simply be in the crowd around Jesus.  To be an authentic disciple we have to do more than merely listen to the words of Our Lord.  Being a disciple means making a choice to follow Jesus Christ even when following Him is not easy.

Being a Christian is rooted in our Baptism.  Baptism unites us to the Body of Christ.  On the day that we were baptized we became members of the Body of Christ, the Church, and the Holy Spirit filled our souls for the first time.  Through Baptism all of the baptized began to live a new life in Christ—but that was only the beginning of that new life.  Living a Christian life from day to day is a choice that has to be made: I have to choose to follow Jesus Christ each day and at every moment.  At Baptism you and I received a share in God’s own divine, supernatural life; yet we continue to have free will and we can either grow closer to God and increase in that divine life, or we can turn away from God and reject that life.

Our spiritual life is a journey that began on the day of our Baptism, but that journey is a life-long journey.  As long as we are alive we must choose to follow Christ.  Discipleship requires our commitment to following Christ.  On the day that we were baptized there were certain promises made: if you were baptized as an infant, those promises were made on your behalf; if you were baptized as an adult, you made those promises yourself.  Either way, those promises are renewed explicitly each year at Easter.  Each year when we renew our baptismal promises we reject sin and recommit ourselves to God.  In fact, every Sunday we renew the second half of our baptismal promises when we affirm our beliefs in the Creed.

When we say that we renounce sin, when we say that we believe in God these are more than mere words.  It is easy to get through the Creed on Sunday without actually thinking about any of the words that we have just rattle off, but the Creed is supposed to be a prayer by which we acknowledge what we believe and commit ourselves to it.  What we believe ought to influence the way that we live our lives and the way that we think, act and speak.

If we really believe that God is our Almighty Father, that He created everything and that everything that we are and everything that we have is a gift from Him, it should influence us: we should be filled with great gratitude to Him.  If we really believe that the Eternal Son of God set aside the glory that He had from all eternity and was born of the Virgin Mary so that He could take the punishment that you and I deserved upon Himself—if we believe that He suffered and died in order to save you and me from sin and death that should have an impact on how we live.  How should faith impact my life?  If I realize that Jesus Christ hung on the Cross for me, because I needed to be saved from my sins the Crucifix takes on a whole new significance for me.  You and I are completely incapable of saving ourselves.  The Cross is what Jesus endured for you and for me.  When you look at a Crucifix remind yourself that He did that for you.  Jesus Christ gave everything He had to give for you.  He gave His very life.  You and I were bought with a price: Jesus Christ paid for us with His Precious Blood; and He asks something of us in return: He asks for our all.  God has given everything to us as a free gift; and we are called to offer it back to Him.  Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means following Him wholeheartedly.  He doesn’t want part of your heart, or part of my heart; He wants all of it.  The greatest commandment is to love God above all things: with all of our mind, with all of our heart, with all of our strength.

The temptation can be to think that if we turn our lives completely over to God that we will have nothing left for ourselves.  Sometimes the Christian life is seen as less.  The opposite, of course, is true: Our Lord tells us that He has come to give us abundant life.  When we turn our focus onto the things of this world, we might be entertained or distracted for a time, but the things of this world can never satisfy us.  We were made for God, and until we give our lives to Him, until He is at the center of our hearts, our hearts will always be restless.  God and God alone can give us the abundant life that we all seek.

May God give us the grace and strength we need to be ever more faithful to our baptismal promises.  Let us strive, this Lenten season, to allow God to reign more fully in our hearts and in our lives so that we can experience the abundant life that Our Lord promised to those who faithfully follow Him.