3rd Sunday of Lent 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.

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