Living in the shadow of the cross
A reflection for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
by Br. Paul Bednarczyk, C.S.C.
I have the privilege of living in Rome, the centre of Catholicism, the city of saints and martyrs, and the home of the Vicar of Christ. With over 900 churches, it is difficult to walk through the city and not notice a crucifix hanging in a shop window, a cross capping a church dome or adorning one of the many small shrines fixed to buildings on the various street corners.
Although tourists may simply view this as part of the Catholic kitsch
of the city, to a believer, it is a reminder that the cross is always before us, and no matter which way we turn, we cannot escape its presence.
This Sunday’s Gospel reminds us of this reality. Jesus tells his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer under the elders, chief priests, and scribes and to be ultimately “killed and on the third day be raised”. Peter doesn’t accept this and fails to understand why his Messiah would allow himself to be killed. “God forbid Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Jesus forcefully scolds Peter (“Get behind me Satan!”) for his admonition and then tells His disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Poor Peter…like all of us, sometimes he just doesn’t get it. Similar to Peter, we all tend to want the “feel good stuff” of our faith — love, peace, and eternal happiness. After all, isn’t that what the Good News is all about? But what happens when we don’t feel that love, peace, and happiness in our lives? Suddenly we begin to question…Is this what I signed up for? We feel like Jeremiah: “You duped me, O Lord, and I have let myself be duped.”
Suffering, however, is part of the human condition. There is no getting around it. Even though Jesus was the Son of God, He was human like us, so He too had to endure suffering. He knew he must carry His cross on the road of Calvary before He could experience the glory of the Resurrection. By doing so, He shows us the way, as well as what discipleship will cost us.
Whether the cross we carry is a broken relationship, a debilitating illness, or economic hardship, we may understandably try to ease our anguish or distress, but we cannot escape its shadow. The cross is there before us.
In today’s second reading, St. Paul reminds us that suffering is a way to experience God’s mercy, and that by offering our “bodies as a living sacrifice”, we can be “transformed by the renewal” of our minds so that we “may discern the will of God, what is good, pleasing, and perfect”. In other words, if we open ourselves to God’s mercy, we can be transformed and find true meaning in our suffering.
Let me illustrate my point with some examples. A drug addict hits rock bottom, seeks therapy and medical assistance, and now serves as a counselor to others who suffer from addiction. A mother heartbreakingly loses a child to random street violence and becomes a forceful advocate for greater gun control. A cancer patient participates in an experimental treatment program knowing that this study may benefit other cancer patients in the future. Despair, tragedy, pain…all transformed through God’s mercy creating a “renewal of mind” to show us what is “good, pleasing, and perfect”. Having once lost their lives, through God’s transformative grace, they have found it again.
I am reminded of a sentiment expressed in the Constitutions
of my religious congregation. “It remains only for us to find how even the cross can be borne as a gift.” Jesus shows us that they way of discipleship is not an easy one, but its promise is abundantly grace-filled if we open our hearts and souls to the mysterious gift that awaits us.
It is true. The crosses we see on our walls and on church steeples remind us of the crosses we all must bear as followers of Christ. But, as people of the Resurrection, they also remind us of our victories, and for that, we give thanks to our merciful God.
The readings for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, are
Br. Paul Bednarczyk, C.S.C., is the Vicar General for the Congregation of Holy Cross. He formerly served for 14 years as the executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) in the United States.