Just minutes before saying the mass in Eaglehawk last week, I received a text message from my sister in the Philippines that my 18-year old nephew had died. He had been diagnosed of Leukaemia for 4 years and since then I had been supporting him for his monthly check up with the help of a parishioner from St Kilian’s parish. It was a blow. I struggled to finish the mass. If you may recall, the gospel was about the woman who went to Jesus, washed his feet and anointed him for the great love she had experienced from God. So my homily was all about God’s love but when you are in pain, you can’t just pretend to be alright at all. So I just said to the congregation: “My homily is all about God’s love, but it is hard to speak about it when you are so much in pain.” And I sat down.
Friends I am sharing this with you because this is a concrete experience of what it is like to be serious in our discipleship. As we follow Christ we can expect to experience the cross too. We might be dreaming of a smooth-sailing journey with Jesus but it is not always like it. We might be wishing to have a happy, trouble-free and uncomplicated life but it is not just the way it is. There are things that we want to do but we can’t. For example, when I heard of that sad news from my family, I would have wanted to go home at once to be with my family as they grieve, but I can’t. I need to organize another priest to supply my absence. I need to book my ticket, etc. My duties and responsibilities in the parish held me back. I had to sort out my commitments to the diocese. But then again, I have committed myself to Christ and I had to take up my own cross, in whatever form it may present to me. This is how I strive to be serious in my discipleship to Christ.
Nevertheless, this particular experience affirmed my conviction to be serious in my discipleship or in following the way of Christ. In our gospel today, Jesus offers us ways to be his true disciple. In fact he is not just offering us, he is urging us to take on his offer. I would label this the ‘Four Corners’ in our Christian discipleship:
First, is to ask ourselves daily: ‘Who do we say Jesus is for us?’ This is important because this forms the ground of our relationship with God. St Vincent de Paul sees Jesus as the poor and the needy in the world. Mother Teresa would say that Jesus is vulnerable, the neglected, the poor. This is a test for all of us: Do we take a brief moment to look at him as he went about knocking at our door and asking for food or anything? Do we stop a moment and chat with him as he stands basking in our inner city? Does Jesus have a place in our hearts, in our homes, in our workplaces?
Second, is to deny ourselves. This doesn’t mean pretending to be someone we are not or not being who we are. “To deny oneself” the late Pope John Paul II wrote, “is to give up one’s own plans that are often small and petty in order to accept God’s plan. This is the path of conversion, something indispensable in a Christian life’, and he quotes the famous passage from St Paul on Galatians 2:20 “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).
Third is to take up our cross. This doesn’t mean willing to suffer just for the sake of suffering. This means however embracing our cross, accepting it and carrying it up as an expression of our love of God and of our sisters and brothers. Again Pope John Paul II has put it rather beautifully. He wrote: “When the cross is embraced it becomes a sign of love and of total self-giving. To carry it behind Christ means to be united with him in offering the greatest proof of love.” So when we carry our cross with love and faithfully following Christ we come to understand that our suffering has something more to offer- it is redemptive.
And fourth is to follow him. To follow Jesus is to ‘be clothed ourselves in Christ’ to use the word of St Paul in our second reading today, and this must be our resolution everyday. I am aware of the fact though that it is a big challenge for us now to be the bearers of Christ in the world because of the fact that some people chose to be indifferent to Christ, some even had a certain bigotry and hatred to Christians, and some just chose not be bothered at all. But we must go on. We must keep up with our faith. We must not be afraid to stand up for Jesus. If we are afraid to stand up for Jesus we need to ask ourselves: Why are we afraid? What are we afraid of?
To answer this answer this question, I’d leave you with a very good insight about the reality of fear I found on the internet:
You’re not scared of the dark; you’re scared of what’s in it.
You’re not afraid of heights; you’re afraid of falling.
You’re not afraid of the people around you; you’re afraid of rejection.
You’re not afraid to love; you’re just afraid of not being loved back.
You’re not afraid to let go; you’re just afraid of accept the fact it’s gone.
You’re not afraid to try again; you’re just afraid of getting hurt for the same reason.
Translating this in terms of our relationship with and discipleship to Christ, we may come to a realization that we are not really scared of standing up for Jesus and for our faith. What we are afraid of might be the reaction we get from people, the issues and problems we may have to face, and the ultimate price which it may cost us and it could mean our very own life.
As we continue our celebration today, let us pray: Jesus help us to follow you faithfully, draw us to your heart everyday, make us instruments of your love, care and compassion, help us to carry our cross and inspire us to assist others as they take up their own crosses too. Amen.