Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Jeremiah 20:7-9
Romans 12:1-2
Matthew 16: 21-27


August 30-31, 2014, Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

That is the quintessential Catholic prayer. In this very short and concise prayer we express the most basic beliefs we hold as Catholics. We profess our belief that our God is not monolithic but is a community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We have to use our body to sign the cross which expresses the fact that our faith is incarnational: we have bodies that are an essential aspect of who we are and that God became human. We make the sign of the cross which stands for the Pascal mystery: Christ lived, suffered, died, and rose again from the dead. As fundamental as the cross is to our faith, I suggest that many Catholics, and most non-Catholics do not fully understand the full significance of the cross. Today's readings speak directly to that full significance, and the misunderstanding that Peter shares with many of us today. I would like you to take a moment and reflect on what you hear Jesus saying when he says to the disciples: Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.

So how did your summer go? As many of you know, the house that Betsy and I have lived in for 39 years was struck by lightning on July 27th and destroyed by the resulting fire. We both made it out safely and are facing a year or so of dealing with insurance companies and contractors as we tear down and rebuild our house. We are blessed with wonderful family and friends and a great insurance agent so we are coping with all this very well. We are very much in the middle of taking up our cross and following Christ. But as I suggested a moment ago, what that means to us is probably different from what you are thinking.

Peter didn't get to enjoy his designation as the Rock on which Christ would build church for very long, did he?. One minute Jesus is praising Peter for acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah and the next, Jesus is calling him Satan and telling him to get out of his sight. NowJesus is not saying that Peter is evil; The word we hear translated as Satan in Hebrew means "the opposer", the one opposed to faith. Peter's opposition is not any of the things we typically consider "sins"; it is his attempt to deny the fact that doing God's will usually means sacrifice. For Jesus, the sacrifice was suffering and death. For most of us, our sacrifice is much less dramatic but I am not sure it is any less difficult. We face many "Satans" in our lives in this culture: people or things that oppose our faith by promising pleasure or comfort or power or safety if we only have this or do that. Often this involves backing away from truth, or ignoring the humanity of those around us. These Satans try to dupe us into thinking that we can avoid the sacrifice that comes with loving. Or readings today remind us that the key is to trust in God; that is what the cross means to Jesus. When Jesus urges us to deny ourselves and take up our cross, he is asking us to trust in God. Sometimes it is not easy to place our complete trust in God.

I am guessing that most people interpret "taking up your cross" as meaning that Catholics are supposed to embrace suffering, or willfuly avoid pleasure. But the will of God is not for suffering or evil, as Paul tells us in that passage from Romans; God's will is for what is good and pleasing and perfect. But because of human sin we have made the world a place where we encounter suffering and evil. God's plan is that even when we encounter pain and suffering, God is there to take that suffering or pain and turn it into something good. The cross is the perfect example of this. The Father did not will that Jesus suffer and die but he knew that Jesus would encounter this pain in the world. Jeremiah and all the prophets encountered this opposition to speaking God's word; we just celebrated the beheading of John the Baptist this Frdiday as another example of this . Jesus trusted in the Father that no matter what happened to him, the Father would be there to somehow make something good out of the worst situation. And so he did, making the suffering and death of his son the occasion for the salvation of the world. Because Jesus never lost his trust in the Father, the worst situation we can imagine was transformed into the best moment in history.

That is what it means to deny ourselves and take up our cross. It means to trust in God's help no matter how bad it gets. It does not mean sitting down and expecting God to do things for us, or expecting God to shield us from suffering. It means that if we open ourselves to God through prayer and sacraments, God will use our pain and suffering to bring about what is good and pleasing and perfect. Betsy and I are trying to embrace the cross we have been given, not as a sign of suffering and loss, but as a sign that God is leading us to what is good and pleasing and perfect. So I pray that all of us resist the temptation to conform to this age, instead to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and allow God to transform us as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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