To deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Christ

12th Week in Ordinary Time
Zechariah 12:10-11, 13-1; Psalm 63;
Galatians 3: 26-29; Luke 9: 18-24

So one of my favorite sports is basketball. And two of my favorite sporting events through out the whole year are March Madness and the NBA finals. Now I confess, recently I have loved the college game a ton more (any Spartan fans?) but recently I have been glued to the NBA Finals. That’s because of Stephen Curry. He is a very Christian man. He loves his faith and he uses it to bring Christ to others. When he pounds his chest and points above he said that this means “he is thanking God for the gift to play Basketball.” He also wears a wristband that says “In Jesus Name I play”.

What I admire about athletes is their dedication. They put their bodies to the limit in training. They are cautious of the food they eat. And, they spend hours perfecting their abilities. The same fervor and dedication that athletes endure to become successful, is the same type of dedication we need as Christians – to become saints! Saint Paul explains this well, Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.

This is what our Gospel challenges us to do in a particular way: 

 If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

I would like to suggest that these three actions: to deny oneself, take up one’s cross, and to follow Christ; is the training regiment we need to become good disciples of Christ.

Most of us have a very concrete experience of denying ourselves. This occurs during lent when we choose to limit something or to grow in some way. But we do not do this for its own sake. Rather, we give up something to grow in virtue, increase our love for our sisters and brothers in Christ, and to increase our love for God. This is how we are to be clothed like Christ (Galatians 3). Recently, I was preparing for my ordination to the diaconate. My spiritual director and I were discussing those things that I cling to that prevent me from growing deeper in my friendship with God. One of those things that can get in the way of my relationship with Christ is this little device (iPhone). The reason is my love for sports. At the time of this conversation with my spiritual director, I had seven sports applications on my phone; so that I could read every news story and rumor regarding all the sports I follow… A little much… He encouraged me to limit it to only ESPN. It has freed me up for prayer and empowered me to be more present to those around me. So, we might ask ourselves today, what is there in my life that I can deny myself of that would help me grow in virtue, loving service to others, and friendship with God?  

The next action that Jesus challenges of us this weekend is to Take up [our] cross. This is definitely the hardest one and the reason is because when ever any of us experience any suffering it almost never makes sense. All we need to do is think about the events from last weekend. The massacre in Orlando is an experience of seemingly meaningless suffering. Why did so many innocent people die? Further, why do all of their families and friends have to suffer with the loss of their loved ones due to this tragedy? The thing about suffering is that it’s never easy. But the other truth about suffering is that God doesn’t allow us to experience suffering that he hasn’t already experienced. Just look at Jesus on the Cross!  Even in this moment, God is close to the people in Orlando and he is with them in their suffering and in a special way he is with them through our prayers. 

Jesus Christ suffered and died for our sake. This is what separates us as a Christian people. Sometimes we suffer for others. For example, Mothers and Fathers here know this well. When a child gets sick, that might mean being with them through the night, and thus not getting enough sleep. That is suffering for the good of another. Jesus never said the Christian life would be easy. It may be difficult but we are called to endure to the end (John 13:1).  

Finally, we are challenged to Follow [Christ]. We are called to say Yes to Christ in the state of life right we are in right now. It means a commitment to loving service of our sisters and brothers in Christ. We might ask ourselves today, how can we better respond to Christ’s invitation to follow him? It also means a commitment to going to Mass every Sunday to be fed by the holy Eucharist. Because, it is the holy Eucharist that gives us the strength to deny ourselves and to persevere in times of suffering. It is the Eucharist that strengthens our bond with Christ. So, today, as we prepare to receive holy communion, we pray for the grace to have the perseverance similar to athletes so that we can give of ourselves completely to Christ by denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and following Christ. 
Pax, 

SJD

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