Today’s Gospel ought to make us a bit uncomfortable. It tells us the shocking truth that Jesus came to die for all of us. That’s how much he loves us. But, it also tells us that he expects us to willingly take up our cross and follow him.
Several years ago, the Red Cross in a small Oklahoma town posted signs all over town containing these words:
I gave my blood--Christ gave his. I gave a pint--He gave all.
The needle is small and sharp--The nails were large and dull.
The table is soft and restful--The cross was rough and painful.
The nurses are kind and gentle--The soldiers were cruel and mean.
The crowd applauds my sacrifice. The crowd reviled him.
Mine, at best, will prolong a life for a while.
His can save all forever.
Jesus died for us. What do we do in response to His love?
Peter rebuked Jesus after Jesus told him that he would suffer greatly, be rejected, and be killed. Peter didn’t understand why Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, must suffer in this way. He couldn’t see the significance of the cross to our savior. Jesus response to Peter was short and swift when he said: “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” We can all relate to Peter in his reaction to suffering. We want to minimize or eliminate the suffering of those we love. We certainly don’t want to cause suffering by any of our decisions. And we struggle to understand the role that suffering plays in our own redemption.
Often, parents experience difficulties, sacrifices, and suffering in raising their children. Now, some people would say that avoiding these difficulties is why they have few or no children. They give a lot of reasons why they are nervous about the prospect of raising children. Some worry about being able to pay for college or even groceries. Yet others wonder how they could possibly have enough time for the children in their busy lifestyle. But by far the most common source of concern about having children that I have noticed comes down to one thing: A fear of sacrifice and suffering.
Of course, more life means more suffering; less life means less suffering. Any time we open our lives to new human beings, whether it's through pregnancy or adoption or missionary work or any other kind of intimate service, we're opening ourselves to the possibility of experiencing suffering -- not just our own, but the heartbreak of seeing a loved-one in pain, which is its own kind of torture.
But, suffering plays an important role in our earthly journey. Because of suffering, our love isn’t just words, its deeds; it’s not just what we say, it’s how we live; no pain, no gain; no cross, no crown. And through the Eucharist, the sacrament of love, we can transcend our suffering and unite it with the suffering of Christ.
Suffering without love is unendurable, it causes despair. Love without suffering is just words, a warm-fuzzy feeling. Love becomes authentic through suffering. Love purifies and perfects suffering. Love transforms suffering into sacrifice. And the Eucharist transforms Jesus’ suffering on the cross into the supreme sacrifice. The Eucharist gives us the capacity to love. It enables us to accept our crosses, to endure them, and even to find joy in them.
Many beautiful stories came out of the tragedy of the fall of the twin towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001--stories of sacrifice and heroism. None is more impressive than the story of Ron Fazio of Closter, New Jersey.
Fazio was Vice President of a company with offices on the 99th floor of Tower Two. When the plane slammed into Tower One, Ron Fazio made one of the best decisions of his life. He ordered his employees to evacuate the building. Even though their building had not yet been hit by the second plane, he insisted that employees get away from the windows, leave their desks and get out of the building. He stood there and held the door, yelling for everyone to hurry, and held the door open until everyone from his company had started down the stairs. They all made it down. So did he. But he remained outside Tower Two, helping others out of the building. The last anyone saw of him, he was giving his cell phone to someone else, after which the tower collapsed and no one ever heard from Ron Fazio again.
That’s the difference between wearing a cross and bearing a cross--the willingness to give our life for others. Now, wearing a cross is fine if we have thought through the sacrifice represented by that cross. That cross we’re wearing represents Jesus holding the door open so that we can walk through to eternal life.