By Deacon John Girolami
Last week I met a family who were bringing their little daughter to church to be baptized. She was maybe 6 months old. She wore a pretty little white dress and little shoes and around her neck she wore a cross. She would soon be a Christian. With that she would be given a share in the death and resurrection of Christ. She would be given eternal life.
She will also be invited to share in the cross of Christ. Yes, the cross she wears around her neck is a symbol of victory of life over death. It is a symbol of good over evil. It is a symbol of the great love that God the Father has for us. It is a symbol of the great love that Christ has for us, of his suffering to free us from sin and reconcile us with the Father.
But the cross has an even greater meaning for this little girl and for us. It is an ever-present call. It is a call for us to walk the same road with Jesus.
“If anyone wants to become my follower, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” “Anyone” does not mean only heroic martyrs and the saints. It is not only the pope and priests and religious. It is all of us.
Jesus is asking each one of us to dedicate our lives in loving and serving others, even if at times, this involves ridicule, pain, sacrifice and for some even death. But this is not to be seen that Christ is calling us to a life of sorrow and hopelessness. He is asking for us to share our joy in life and our vision of life as a way of sharing Christ with others. He is asking us to share his caring and loving of his people. We must see life as he sees it.
That is not always easy to do. Peter wanted Christ to be the great Messiah with political power and majesty. He did not yet realize that this God of compassion and service and sacrifice is the true Messiah. He did not see that this is the life we should emulate.
Even Jeremiah in the first reading is angry with God at the persecution and ridicule that he is receiving from his people. He plans to stop speaking of God and urging his people to turn their ways to God. But then he tells us that he cannot stop proclaiming the greatness of God. it is part of his inner most being. It is the way God wants it.
Peter, Jeremiah and us are called to see and act with the “mind of Christ”.
When we have the mind of Christ, we can only see our lives in terms of loving and serving others and not solely on self-centered ambitions. When we have the mind of Christ our whole life changes. Jesus is not calling us to a life of sacrifice and suffering. He is calling us to a life of total love and freedom.
Denying oneself is often seen as an act of suppression. It should not be. If seen properly it is an act of letting go of oneself so that we can find who we should really be, who God wants us to be. This leads to what some call embracing or taking up your cross.
This is where true happiness is. It is in living the life God has called us to live even with the challenges that life brings. Living this life brings us to freedom, happiness and peace.
I wear a cross around my neck everyday. It reminds me that I am called to carry my cross. Not a cross of gold, but the cross of my life. My cross is very different than any one else’s cross. In it is illness, loss, insecurity, financial concerns, family struggles, fear of growing old. Maybe your cross looks a bit like mine.
But we can take that cross proudly with us into the world. Jesus will be with us helping to carry it. And when we meet someone who is dying, we can pass our cross over to Christ and we can help that someone carry his cross, at least for a few moments. When we meet a friend who has lost a loved one, we can offer our cross as a crutch to help hold them up.
This is not what the world does. It says “look after yourself, do what makes you happy”. But Paul tells us that we should not be conformed to the world. We should see the world through the mind of Christ.
A wonderful song that encourages us to be “cross bearers” is called “take up thy Cross”. It was written by an American, Charles William Everest. He was only 19 years old when he wrote it.
One verse says this:
Take up thy cross, let not it’s weight
Fill thy weak spirit with alarm
His strength shall bear thy spirit up
And brace your heart and nerve your arm
The cross is no longer a symbol of evil, of torture, of death. It is a sign of victory over death. It is a sign of pure love. We can carry our cross with ease with the help of Christ. Do not despair. A true disciple is a cross-bearer. Embrace your cross. Show that you are his disciple by the cross that is your life.