22 Sunday of the Year A
Gr 20:7-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle A, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2007 and republished in Viet Nam 2010. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable. That might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
Reading the daily newspaper and watching television news, we can see stories full of misery, and crisis of men and women in their suffering. Even though man tries to avoid suffering, suffering is here to stay. The Gospel of today, as well as the Gospels of the 24th Sunday, Cycle B, according to Saint Mark and the 12th Sunday, Cycle C, according to Saint Luke have similar contents and words almost identical. In all three gospels, Jesus revealed to Peter and the other apostles the contradiction of Christianity.
Jesus came to turn our values upside down. Today’s gospel carries with it a meaning contrary to those, who want to turn Christianity into humanism. Christianity is not a religion for people to live according to their personal interest or to satisfy their selfishness. In order to emphasize and discuss Jesus’s word more profoundly, on the 24th Sunday, Cycle B, we will reflect on the meaning of his word: The Son of Man must suffer greatly (Mk 8:31). On the 12th Sunday, Cycle C, we will reflect on his word: Whoever loses his life for my sake, will save it ( Lk 9:24).
In today’s Gospel, we reflect on Jesus’ word: Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross (Mt 16:24). To deny self and take up one’s cross is a condition to be Jesus’ disciple. We cannot follow Jesus without self-denial. Thus, what does it mean to deny self? Before different choices, we cannot choose all. To choose this, we have to give up that. Self-denial means to deny our own will and individual tendencies and our ego. To deny ego is necessary for God to enter our lives. When our ego is too big, there will be no room for God to enter. To deny self so that God can increase as Saint John the Baptist maintains: Christ must increase and I must decrease (Jn 3:30).
To deny self is necessary to carry one’s cross. If we do not deny ourselves, we are unable to carry his cross. So what does it mean to carry one’s cross? To carry one’s cross means to accept one’s suffering for the love of God. Generally, to carry one’s cross means to accept one’s limitations, situations and conditions. There is a question, which people often asked is the question why. Why did God let me suffer? Why did he send his cross to me and my family? The majority of people, except small children, have to carry some crosses in their lives: the cross of illness and disease, the cross of anxiety, worry and fear, the cross of loneliness and rejection, the cross of separation and alienation. Some people had to carry their crosses all their lives.
The purpose of matrimony is to start family life so that husband and wife can support each other materially and emotionally. However, husband and wife can be a burden to each other because they have to live with different temperaments and shortcomings, and differences in eating and sleeping habits. When one person needs to sleep, and another is awake, turning on music loudly, or sleeps, yet snores, it can annoy the other. The religious community life is to support one another in their vocation to religious life, but can be a burden to one another. The story goes that when doing laundry, one sister spread soap bubble to Saint Teresa’s clothes. Teresa did not object it, but tolerated it, considering the soap bubble as spiritual rose petals offered to God for the love of God and the salvation of souls. Jesus did not tell us to go and look for suffering and cross. He just told us to take up our own cross. However, in reality, many times we ourselves head for suffering and cross.
We carry disease and suffering because of our addiction: drinking or smoking, not taking care of our health or our diet. We have to be imprisoned because we break the law. We have to suffer in spirit because of illicit and temporary relationship. When we have to cut off that kind of illicit and temporary relationship, we would feel painful.
A reading from the Book of the prophet Jeremiah tells us the Prophet was saddened when Jerusalem fell and its people went into exile. Despite being opposed and rejected for his defeatism, Jeremiah remained faithful to God. Faith in God does not guarantee us a life free of disease, suffering and cross or crisis and difficulty of life. Thus, believers and non-believers also carry within themselves disease and suffering alike. The difference here is believers do not bear suffering for the sake of suffering as a dead end. They have God as their companion on the way of their suffering and cross. Believers embrace suffering and cross for the love of God in order to share in the suffering of Christ as to participate in his resurrection. Saint John Newman once put it: The cross of Christ calls all human values into question by revealing a love, powerful enough to bridge the terrifying gap between life and death.
A prayer for self-denial and cross bearing:
O Lord, my God! We thank you
for coming to suffer and die on the cross for our sins.
Forgive me for the times I complained, blaming you
for the suffering and cross, I had to bear.
Grant me patience so that I may deny myself
and carry my cross daily.
Be my strength and my comfort
when I have to carry the crosses of life.
Show me the cross that can be the transforming instrument in this life
and the salvific instrument in the life to come. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong