Posted August 29, 2020
22nd Sunday of the Year (Yr A)
‘If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (Matt 16: 24). Every human being will sooner or later be confronted with suffering. There is nothing especially Christian about suffering. In one sense, there is nothing especially Christian about the cross.
In today’s Gospel, though, suffering is linked with Christian discipleship; indeed, it is made a condition of discipleship. All this must mean that it is not the suffering itself but the nature of your reaction to it that makes you a disciple of Jesus. For the Christian, suffering can have a very positive aspect. And if it can have a positive aspect, then we should focus upon that aspect, and it should be a source of strength and consolation for us.
Here are some reflections that might encourage us to discover, and to experience, something positive and consoling in suffering. Consider that when you accept suffering without anger or self-pity, you are accepting Jesus’ invitation to share in his sufferings; you have the opportunity of allowing him to occupy that space in you that was previously occupied by yourself. I cannot think of a better definition of love. The experience of pain and loss can be the moment when you experience your own loving like never before. We talk so much about love, we make expression of it in our prayers, we hear sermons about it all the time, but only in the moment of suffering does love become flesh and blood. And if the experience of it is bitter, what a consolation it is to think that the bitterness is Jesus’ before it is yours. As the poet said: ‘The cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.’ In all eternity you will not be able to love your Lord or be loved by him more intensely than in that moment of painful exchange.
But if it goes on and on, and we can’t bear it? We must try to fortify ourselves with the thought that Jesus knows each of us by name. His invitations are tailor-made. The Letter to the Hebrews assures us that ‘because Jesus himself has suffered and been tested, he is able to help those who are tested’; and that ‘God is faithful, and he will not let you be put to the trial beyond your strength, but with the trial will also provide a safe outcome, that you may be able to endure it.’ We must have the courage to believe that that is true. The Jesus who says in St Matthew’s Gospel ‘Deny yourself and take up your cross’ also says, in the same Gospel, ‘Take my yoke upon you … You will find rest for your souls. My burden is light and my yoke is easy.’
There is a lovely passage in St Paul’s letter to the Philippians where, having just described the cross in the starkest possible terms as the reality that should constitute the Christian mindset, St Paul urges the community to set their minds on ‘whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious’. As if to say: Yes, we are invited to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus, but when suffering comes, may it find in us minds that are full of loveliness, full of graciousness, full of appreciation for life’s goodness and for God’s promises and for the certainty of sharing in Jesus’ resurrection as we shall have shared in his sufferings.
May this Eucharist make us far-seeing; may it console us and make us brave, even while we bring to it the bitterness of our sufferings. For in the Eucharist we share the Lord’s sacred tears and step with him into a joyful destiny.
Fr Tom Deidun