2nd Sunday of Lent 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.