I don’t want to run to the Cross. I want to run from the Cross. And today, the Monday after WYD the Cross beckons me.
Today, exhausted, after a week of 16-hour days, I complained to Jesus that I had to do all the work by myself. Actually, I didn’t even complain to Jesus; I just complained. But Jesus answered right away: “Today is the feast of Martha and Mary. “
I’ve always liked Martha: She is the example of the service that Pope Francis keeps reminding us of. She reminds me of diaconal service. Her service is diakonia. And this is what this papacy seems to be about. When Francis was elected I said that the Church would become a more diaconal Church. I think that it’s fair to say that it already has. And here in Rio de Janeiro, we have just spent a week of Pope Francis reminding us of this call to service, but he didn’t call it service; he called it love. How do we build the Church? We love.
I’ll never forget the three words that he gave us on Thursday night when telling us that we need to be athletes of Christ. How do we train? We train through prayer, the Sacraments and love of the other. They’re all important, yet so often the story of Martha and Mary is interpreted to mean that prayer is the most important part.
I don’t mean to imply that prayer is not important; so are the Sacraments, but true, deep and authentic prayer will always lead us to love of other, to service, diakonia. Perhaps that is what was wrong with Martha: Not that she was serving, after all, the guests need to eat and we are called to divine hospitality; but that she was anxious and worried about many things. Had she been rooted in prayer and in the Sacrament that was sitting in her living room, the focus of her service would have been love and her desire to serve would not have made her anxious.
And how often does the “doing” of Church make us anxious? How often is it stressful. How often is it exhausting? How many people are made anxious by WYD? How many youth leaders need things to be a certain way? How many broadcasters rely on things having to be a certain way? And then we have a new pope and the schedule changes and the liturgies are changed and translations are not available. Then the program in the pilgrim guide is not the actual program, and then the satellite goes down. And there is rain and flooding and the site has to be changed from Guaratiba to Copacabana. And the Vigil is not Evening Prayer but Adoration. These are the surprises God sends us. These are the opportunities that Pope Francis referred to at the Shrine of Aparecida when he said that we need to be open to being surprised by God.
And this was the WYD of surprises. Martha was also probably surprised to hear Jesus tell her to slow down. I’ve always imagined Jesus saying that they could just order take-out. Surprise! “We don’t need a fancy meal, lets just order pizza.” And I wonder if Martha struggled with that busyness for the rest of her life. Did she struggle to stay rooted in prayer and the Sacraments? I struggle with that. Maybe that’s why I like Martha so much.
On Friday night, at the Way of the Cross, we heard a testimony from a young seminarian. He prayed for strength to be able to carry the Cross of being a priest. I’m not a priest, but there is also a Cross of being a deacon. And it’s the Cross of service. It’s easy to stay in our comfort zone, inside the Parish, in the comfort of the hospital or seniors home, in our scheduled ministries. It’s not as easy to truly love the other: The other in our families, in our workplaces, in our communities, our neighbour. Who is my neighbour? The guy who lives next door to me. That is my neighbour.
And Pope Francis keeps reminding us that the doors of the Church need to be open, not so that people can come in, but so that we can go out. Go and make disciples of all nations. Go be missionaries of love. We don’t have to venture too far from home to do that. How do we rebuild the Church? We love.
Yet love means the Cross. Laying down your life for someone else is the Cross. Being open to God’s surprises is the Cross. Having to be present to the other, being authentic to the other is the Cross. Still, when we do it out of love, and it is rooted in prayer and the Sacraments, it doesn’t feel like a cross.
On Saturday night, at the Vigil, Pope Francis told us that it doesn’t have to be perfect. “There will always be thorns and rocks in life.” But all we need is a little bit of good soil. He said using Argentinian slag, that we just need to make a “little bit of good soil (un cachito de buena tierra) in your hearts.” “You will see how it grows.” It’s okay to struggle and it’s okay to fall, all we need is a little bit of good soil.
On Sunday morning, in front of 3.2 million pilgrims, Pope Francis again gave us three parting ideas: Go, without fear, to serve. I’m afraid to go, yet Jesus says “I am with you always.” He will always help us carry our Cross. I am afraid to serve but Jesus sends us two-by-two. I am afraid to be surprised, yet Jesus asks, “do you trust me?”
And it was that same Martha who was too anxious and worried, when her brother Lazarus died and Jesus asked her, “do you believe?” who gave one of the only five confessions of faith found in the Gospels. She said, “Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.” If I am to say the same, I have to let Him be God.
As I reflect on all of this, I remember our little English Mass at a local parish a block away from Copacabana Beach the Sunday before WYD with Bishop Vincent Long of Melbourne, Australia. The Gospel reading was the story of Mary and Martha. And so, for me, this WYD took place between two Marthas: One who was anxious and worried, and one who was open to being surprised by the one who is the resurrection and the life.
This was the WYD of transformation. The WYD where pilgrims came as disciples and left as missionaires. And what is found in-between those two? The Cross. It is the Cross that allows for this transformation. It is in being able to say, “not my will be done, but yours,” that God can truly use us.
Eleven years ago I had my first WYD experience, one that began my journey from disciple to missionary. The journey has taken me many places, to Salt + Light and to so many experiences and relationships and now to the permanent diaconate. It was love that beckoned. I was love that asked us, through the witness of a young man in a wheelchair on Saturday night, to open our pilgrim bags and take out the pilgrim cross: To hold the cross; to lift up our cross. “Love lifted on the Cross for me…”
And now it is that very Love, the One who is Love, that calls me by name, to pick up my Cross and follow Him to the ends of the earth to go make disciples of all nations.
At his Angelus address after the Closing Mass on Sunday, Pope Francis said, “During these days, Jesus has insistently and repeatedly invited you to be his missionary disciples; you have listened to the voice of the Good Shepherd, calling you by name, and you have recognized the voice calling you (cf. John 10:4). Could it be that in this voice, resounding in your heart, you have felt the tenderness of God’s love? Have you experienced the beauty of following Christ together with others, in the Church? Have you understood more deeply that the Gospel is the answer to the desire for an even fuller life? (cf. John 10:10). Have you?”
Pilgrims responded with a resounding, “yes!”
And then referring to the Visitation he said, “There, my dear friends, we have our model. She who received the most precious gift from God, as her immediate response sets off to be of service and to bring Jesus. Let us ask our Lady to help us too to give Christ’s joy to our families, our companions, our friends, to everyone. Never be afraid to be generous with Christ. It is worth it! Go out and set off with courage and generosity, so that every man and every woman may meet the Lord.”
I don’t want to run to the Cross, but I do want to run towards Love. Come with me. Let’s not stay up in the balconies; let’s be protagonists of change: Let us go and make disciples of all nations!