September 16, 2012
ORDINARY 24 (B)
Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. – Mark 8: 34
Dr. Victor Frankel, a psychiatrist imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, observed that the prisoners least likely to survive were those who had given up hope of finding any meaning or purpose to their ordeal. We can be grateful that most of us have been spared such an ordeal. But to some degree at least, do we not all face the challenge of physical suffering & spiritual degradation? Not one of us who enters the gate of life can claim immunity from these hazards.
To be alive is to risk death, injury, sickness, anxiety, embarrassment, shame, rejection, loneliness & betrayal. Because these are risks we must necessarily run, they make us vulnerable to the greatest risk of all: our spiritual destruction, which is despair.
We spend a good part of our lives struggling to achieve some security against these & other risks. We build nest-eggs to secure ourselves against poverty. We follow fashions to secure ourselves against the risk of embarrassment over our personal appearance. We buy insurance to secure ourselves against sickness & disease. We cling to certain people to secure ourselves against loneliness. We keep silent to secure ourselves against ridicule. We get regular medical check-ups, check our brakes & secure our seatbelts, put our money in banks & double-lock our doors, take vitamins & exercise. But try as we may, there is no escaping the fact that to be alive is to face risks. Troubles will come to plague us, sufferings will come to burden us, & death will ultimately overtake us.
Given all this insecurity, by what power & authority do we resist the forces of spiritual destruction? By what power & authority do we dare to assert our human dignity & our significance? For Christians, it is by the power & authority of Jesus & His cross. As His followers, we learn to “deny our very selves”, i.e., to look beyond ourselves for the meaning & purpose of life. The discovery of our true significance lies outside our feeble efforts to secure ourselves against the risks. “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it.” This is not to say that we embrace suffering & bear life’s burdens for their own sake. Suffering devoid of meaning is absurdity.
By following the trail that Christ has blazed for us, & by uniting our distress with His, we discover the redemptive power of the cross – paradoxical though that may seem to the uninitiated. In so doing, we discover that our lives are meaningful & significant to an awesome degree. He teaches us that who we are & what we are to become crucial elements for the fulfillment of His Father’s purpose.
From his cross, Jesus shows us that we can hold onto this even though we may be stripped of everything else. The search for significance does not culminate in the achievement of fame or notoriety or power or wealth or prestige. It comes when we realize that we have been designated by God to play a vital role in all that is going on; that life includes us, & that without us, there would be a void in creation that could not otherwise be filled. No one can take our place in God’s plan – a part of life would not be lived if we didn’t live it! All this adds up to an even greater tragedy from abortion than we might have thought at first.
To take up our cross does not mean a “grin & bear it” attitude. It means that life at it bitterest is not without a meaning & purpose of the highest order. It means that this purging, cleansing moment which we call “life on earth” is always a moment closer to our eternal fulfillment that we call “the Kingdom of God.” Our only real security is to take up our cross & follow Jesus even to the point of death, not because it is easy or pleasant, but because it is the only way the word “happiness” can ever be anything but a hollow promise or a mirage in the desert. AMEN!