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September 14, 2015 | Volume 90 Number 23


Believe as you Pray »

In Light of Faith »

photo: Genevieve McQuade

believe as you pray

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 20

Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
Psalm 54:3-6, 8
James 3:16-4:3
Mark 9:30-37

When we are confronted with an idea we don’t understand we might remain silent or change the subject to avoid embarrassment.

Or if we don’t know what to do about a situation, we may skirt around it to dodge confrontation. Human nature? That could be.

Jesus had been with his disciples for a few years. He hoped they would understand him and his goal by now, the kingdom of God.

He had been instructing them over time. This time, he was informing them of his impending death and resurrection, but they did not understand. And anyway, they were having an intense discussion over their status at the moment, a very important issue to them.

What were they thinking? Had they joined up with Jesus to be a righteous and collective defense against their Roman oppressors, to gain power and justification, to gain a higher position among peers, or was it something else?

Was Jesus only a doorway to gain some advantage other than what Jesus had in mind?

They loved him, but their vision was a bit distorted.

Jesus stops them, sits down, as was the mode of teaching of rabbis, then further instructs: “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”

Wait a minute! What a contrast to their estimation of self-importance and power!

Jesus emphasizes the extreme difference between their views of rank vs. the symbol of a child. By law, a child was powerless in that society, insignificant, yet this was how one was to receive “the One who sent me.”

Jesus greatest work, being crucified, was his weakest moment though only in appearance.

One must have an attitude of openness and willingness to serve the Creator, to be childlike and vulnerable.

When we consider our own thoughts, are we ambitious for our renown or seek the One we serve out of love?

It is often difficult to separate the two, for we do need affirmation, like a pat on the back, and feedback to know if we are bearing fruit by our efforts, that is, being on the right track. Great fruit can bring about a kind of prominence.

Beware! We must keep it in perspective.

Self-evaluation is a good thing, but it must be considered in the light of the Lord’s sacrifice for us, owing all to the Lord. It’s about humility, meaning we can indeed acknowledge our giftedness and praise God for it, but also sincerely thanking God as the source.

Subduing our ego, which can be viewed as a weakness or powerlessness, actually makes one stronger in the Lord. Honor can then be redirected to the Lord’s influence on us through his Holy Spirit, as witness to others of the Lord’s grace in our lives.

All we do is to cooperate.

If Jesus asked you,”What were you thinking? My child, you know I died for you,” how would you answer?

Would you change the subject, be silent, avoid Him, or answer, “I know, Lord. Enable me to use the gifts you’ve given me for your glory, not mine.”

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in light of faith

Exaltation of the Cross

Seated among nearly 2,000 attendees that came to hear Bishop-Elect Robert Barron in Hampton last month, I hoped his talk would not be a repeat of what he had covered in his numerous “Word On Fire” videos — and it wasn’t.

Not only was the material completely different, but I left with an understanding of Jesus’ human and divine natures that has remained with me.

During the course of his talk, Father Barron told us that while Jesus had two distinct natures, human and divine, his human nature was radiated by his divine nature.

Hearing this turned out to be one of those water-shed moments for me. The doctrine of Jesus, one person with two natures, had always seemed far beyond my understanding, but all of a sudden, it made perfect sense.

It was like seeing a rose in full bloom. Only moments earlier, I had seen only tightly constricted petals, but with no effort on my part, the interior of the blossom, which had previously been hidden, was suddenly in full view.

Weeks later, I continue to reflect on Father Barron’s words, and the image of a rose in full bloom lingers, each petal inviting a deeper appreciation for Jesus’ human nature, which was perfect because his divine nature shined through it.

This new insight helped me better appreciate why the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross — celebrated on September 14 — is a stand-alone feast.

On Good Friday, we remember the Passion of Jesus and venerate the Cross, and at Easter we celebrate his Resurrection. But the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross invites us to see the glory in the cross itself, not simply as a means to an end, a necessary evil so to speak, but as a moment in time when human suffering was transfigured into an act of love for all eternity.

To view the cross merely through the lens of human understanding is to see only the horror of it. It is what prompted St. Paul to proclaim, “The cross is a stumbling block for the Jews and a folly for the Gentiles.” (1 Cor. 1: 23) However, when viewed as a mystery, we see in the crucifixion the light of Divine love shining through the figure of Jesus - his blood, the wine of compassion, his flesh, the embodiment of perfect obedience.

Compelled by divine love, Jesus embraced the cross because His divine nature could not do otherwise. The act did nothing to diminish His human suffering. Rather, it transformed His pain into a life-giving sacrifice of love that freed the world from the darkness of sin.

Just as His divine nature shined through Jesus’ human nature, so a portion of that divine spark shines in the lives of those who follow Jesus’ command to pick up their cross and follow him.

It is this type of heroic virtue that sets saints apart, enabling them to be instruments of Divine love, and empowers martyrs to go joyfully to their death,

As Christians, we are called to be transfigured by the cross. Rather than curse the darkness or lament the state of the world, we are called to embrace the light of Christ that is hidden within the crosses of life, and be transformed by them.

No longer viewed as a stumbling block, the cross becomes a stepping stone, a fulcrum rather than folly, for those who have eyes to see. When Jesus told us we must pick up our cross daily and follow him, he was inviting us to be for one another what He is for us: a way to the Father.

As the most recognized symbol of Christianity, the cross sets us apart. I recall a friend telling me that when a Muslim friend asked him why he wore a cross around his neck, my friend told him that he wore the cross not for others to see, but as a reminder of who he was and to whom he belonged.

Several years ago, when my husband and I worked as volunteers on an Indian reservation in the Arizona desert, migrants crossing the border were drawn to the Mission by the cross on the Church steeple. For them, the cross represented a safe haven, a place where they would find food and shelter.

As Christians we are called to pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus, but more often than not, we want to play it safe. We prefer to wait outside the tomb while others ascend the hill of crucifixion.

Today, the cross no longer stands on Calvary. It is embedded in the events of everyday life. It comes to us as illness, broken relationships, job loss, war, disaster and in the deaths of those whom we love. Even in the best of times, disappointments and heartaches find their way into our life.

Thomas Merton wrote that nothing has the potential to embitter people as quickly as suffering, but when consecrated, suffering becomes holy. And to that I would add: and so do we.

The church celebrates the cross, not because it was an instrument of death, but because it is the tree of life. And when we unite our suffering to the suffering of Jesus, the tree of life bears fruit again and again.

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