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Embrace it: Walk with Christ will end with a cross

Published: August 17, 2022   
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

When I ask people why they made the choices they made in life, their answer often has to do with the desire to be happy. Once I get married, I'll be happy. Once I get that job or that raise, I'll be happy. Such people think there's something outside themselves that’ll make them happy. But it doesn't work that way. 

Happiness comes from within. It comes not from getting what we want but rather from doing what God wants. We say, "It's better to give than to receive" because that's where happiness is found  — in giving, in living for something bigger than ourselves. In your experience, who are happier--givers or takers? Who has the most friends — selfish people or people who make sacrifices to help others?

We find the answer to that question in Matthew chapter 16, a selection from which we have as our Gospel today. In this chapter Jesus begins to describe the sacrifices he will make to help others: "He has to go to Jerusalem, suffer greatly and be killed," but Peter tries to talk Jesus out of it. He loves Jesus and wants Jesus to be happy, so he naturally doesn't want anything bad to happen to him. 

Unfortunately, Peter still doesn't understand that happiness comes from within, from making sacrifices to do God's will, from helping others. Jesus replies by telling Peter that he's got it backwards because his perspective is too narrow and too shallow: he's "not thinking as God does but only as humans do" and so does not yet understand that to truly live you have to die to yourself as we heard in today’s Gospel, take up the cross rather than try to avoid it. 

"Jesus says that following him means taking the same path he took, denying ourselves just like he denied himself, forfeiting our life like he did his for the benefit of others."

Jesus says that following him means taking the same path he took, denying ourselves just like he denied himself, forfeiting our life like he did his for the benefit of others. Sure, he will be raised on the third day, but don't forget that you can't be resurrected without first dying and here Jesus is talking principally about dying to self for the benefit of others and only secondarily about physical death for others, though this too is included because it is a logical consequence of dying to self.

Notice one other thing: Jesus didn't just endure the cross. He didn't just resign himself to doing the Father's will, to facing bravely those adversities that he may or may not have been able to avoid anyway  — after all, doesn't everyone die whether we like it or not? No, Jesus didn't just endure the cross, he embraced it with love. He went out of his way to be crucified and traveled to Jerusalem expressly for that purpose. He put himself freely in harm's way out of love for us, in order to benefit us, to save us by breaking the power of sin and death. Jesus shows us that if we embrace our crosses with love for the benefit of others, we too will be able to forgive those who do us harm, which is impossible for those who merely endure, grudgingly, those adversities, those crosses that they were not in any event able to avoid.

One of my most memorable hospital visits years ago was to look in on a parishioner who had cancer and was dying a very painful death. Whenever I visited her, she just glowed with happiness despite the pain. One day she said, "Pray for me Father. I don't want to just endure this cross, I want to embrace this cross with love. I want to offer it to God with all my heart for the benefit of my husband and my children. I want my death to be as full of love as possible." 

And you know, even as she lay there dying, she was, in a lot of ways, more alive than some of the sad relatives gathered around her. She knew that hospital was her Calvary and that she had traveled there with Jesus, to suffer greatly and die...and on the third day be raised!

How about you? Is there a cross in your life that you're avoiding? That you need to start embracing with love? If you're following Jesus, there'll be a cross. Otherwise you're probably not on the right path...

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Aug. 5.

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