Today’s Gospel (according to Mark) was written at a time when early Roman Christians were being arrested and tortured. Many of them suffered horrifying deaths, many of them were brutally crucified or thrown into cages to be ripped apart by lions and wild beasts.
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. "
Think about it. At the time of Christ, the cross was a reminder of what happened when you antagonized the authorities. You were publicly crucified to death. The image of a cross was the reminder of a death sentence. Who goes into the battlefield handing the enemy the means to crucify them? Does it not seem logical to instead go to the front lines waving swords and plowing down anyone who stood in our way?
1. We place value on freedom, respect, on being tolerant, looking after the stranger, looking out for the poor. And this is commendable.
2. We also place value on hard work, on making sacrifices, on long hours, on physical endurance, fighting against the odds, investing in our future, and often times at a great personal cost. These are noble qualities indeed.
We are at our best when these two values meet each other, cooperate together, value each other, rather than being pitted against each other. A household divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25).
How does this translate into our Christian discipleship within the Church? We cannot be part of the Church, a disciple of Christ without carrying the cross. Christ will never allow himself to be separated or detached from it. Because the Church is Christ’s Body, as a Church we have to embrace the cross, the sins of the world, our own sins, the sins of the members of the Church.
But when the Enemy gets into our mind, we are often tempted to purify Christ and his Church from the very cross he is attached to.
When we are tempted to embrace Christ without his Cross, we can keep him all nice and beautiful, not a hair out of place - no pain, no suffering, no discipline, no sacrifice. He becomes a gentle teacher. The substitute teacher! A Christ without his cross, a Christian without embracing their own Cross, is weak, soft and nonessential. The Church without a cross becomes a simple social science project.
When we are tempted to embrace the Cross without Christ, our pride will tell us we have all the strength we need to carry it ourselves. Why do we need Christ or God's grace, when we can be self-made superheroes who can lift the cross up high and threaten to drop it on the heads of our enemies. A cross without Christ is a logo, a brand mark to be designed, marketed and mass produced.
In the words of a third-century North African saint, St. Cyprian of Carthage, before he was beheaded on the shores of the Mediterranean by a politically driven lynch mob, some of them former disciples, he asked “how can anyone think themselves a Christian when they are afraid or ashamed to live as a Christian? How can a Christian hope to be with Christ in heaven someday, when they are embarrassed or afraid to belong to Christ and his Church on earth this very day?”
Let us ask our Blessed Mother for a share in her Good Friday strength. It allowed her not only to courageously stand beside the cross of her Son. At the same time, she fully opened her immaculate heart to the grace of God's sacrificial love for all of humanity. May we, with God's grace, do likewise.
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time