Homily for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
September 16, 2018
St. Francis, Fisher – 8:00 AM
Holy Trinity, Tabor – 10:00 AM
Focus: The Cross will come.
Function: Take up your Cross when it comes.
He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly…”
It had to be a hard message to hear…they had seen so many great things – healings, miracles of nature, people raised from the dead…and now this.
The Son of Man must suffer greatly…
He prepared them for it before it would happen.
He summoned them and said to them: Whoever wishes to follow me must deny himself, take up His cross, and follow me.”
In other words, “Strengthen your hearts. Be prepared. Train for it now.”
In the life of every Christian, the cross comes.
We don’t go looking for the Cross – the cross will come. That is a guarantee. But we want to be ready for it when it comes…
Ready to shoulder it and to pick it up like He picked his up and carried it…
Ready to shoulder it with him…
Ready to carry it with our brothers and sisters…
Be ready. Prepare now, or else when the cross comes, it may crush you. It is almost impossible to learn what do with suffering when you are in the midst of it. You must learn how to carry the cross before it comes so that when it comes you are able to bear it.
When the cross comes, people usually react in one of three ways:
They become angry and bitter.
They give in to pity, hopelessness, and despair
Or they join it to the suffering of Jesus and offer it up for the salvation of the world…
Last week, I visited a man and his wife in their home. The man suffers from chronic back pain. It pains his wife to watch him. He can’t do what he used to be able to do…there are only so many crossword puzzles he can do in a day. And the pain is unbearable at times. As we visited, I tried to gage his faith…would he be able to hear this message of the power of offering up his suffering or would he not be able to bear it? His faith seemed strong enough that he could bear it. The message was helpful to him and gave meaning to his suffering. It gave him the strength to bear his suffering with hope.
The Christian carries his cross differently than a non-Christian. The Christian carries his cross with hope because he knows that the Lord Jesus Christ has triumphed over the cross.
Suffering does not get the last word.
The suffering of the cross leads to the glory of the resurrection.
Good Friday gives way to Easter Sunday.
If we can remember that, if we can focus on the end in the midst of our suffering, if we can keep our eyes fixed on Jesus who won for us the salvation of the world by his suffering on the cross, then we will have the strength to carry our cross when it comes.
Jesus’ suffering led to the salvation of the world.
We, as members of His Church, are members of His Body. The Church is the Body of Christ and we are members of his body, and when we suffer, if we choose to accept our suffering because there is nothing we can do about it, if we choose to accept the cross that comes our way, not wishing for it, not looking for a cross to bear, but bearing the one that comes our way…when we as members of his body join our suffering to His suffering, then our suffering becomes his suffering…
And, brothers and sisters, that is redemptive. Christ’s suffering won the salvation of the world!
When we join our suffering to the suffering of Jesus, when we give it to him, when we say: “Jesus, this hurts! There’s nothing I can do about it…I choose to offer it to you, to join it to your suffering. Join it to your suffering and I offer it for [insert name here]…”
When we do that, it is then that we “make up what is lacking in the suffering of Christ”, as Saint Paul says. Not that Christ’s suffering on the Cross was lacking anything – it wasn’t. But as members of his body, when we suffer, he suffers, and if we, like him, offer that suffering up as an act of love for someone, salvation comes about.
Saint John Paul II is known for saying this: “Don’t waste your suffering.” Join it to the suffering of Christ and offer it for someone in need of God’s grace. Offer it for the conversion of those who do not know the Lord, or who have fallen away from the practice of their faith.
Love turns suffering into sacrifice, and that is a powerful gift of grace.
Last year at this time, I celebrated the funeral for a man named Rich. Rich had a heavy cross in his life. In his early 40’s, he was diagnosed with cancer. He was in a lot of pain. He went through chemo and radiation. His cancer went into remission. Praise God. Then he was diagnosed with ALS. It was a huge cross. He experienced more suffering. He was in a lot of pain. Do you know what he did with that pain?
He didn’t become angry or bitter.
He didn’t fall into pity, hopelessness, or despair.
No, he chose to go to his daughter’s volleyball games and cheer her on in the bleachers despite the pain.
Love turned his suffering into a sacrifice of love for his daughter. And his suffering revealed the depths of his love for his daughter.
It is through the Cross the grace rushes in. It was from Christ’s side on the Cross, his side pierced by the soldier’s lance on the cross, where the blood and water gushed forth like a raging torrent, the wellspring of the Church’s sacraments poured out for the salvation of the world…
How will you respond when the Cross comes?
Will you pick up the cross? Will you let the suffering touch you? Will you let it affect you? Will you allow the suffering of a brother or sister, another member of Christ’s body, touch you? Will you offer up your suffering, joining it to that of Christ for the salvation of the world?
Will you refuse to pick up the cross?
Will you get angry, judgmental, or bitter?
Will you distance yourself from the person who is suffering like the 9 apostles who fled from Christ when the cross came for him?
Will you empty the Cross of its power by complaining about the smallest crosses that come your way?
The answer to that question depends on how you train yourself now.
How do you train yourself now?
Deny yourself and pick up your cross in the small things of daily life, so that when the big one comes, you have the spiritual strength to bear it.
One simple example…our bishop has asked us to abstain from meat on Fridays as an act of penance for the Church. It is an ancient practice of joining a small suffering to that of Christ as we remember Friday as the day when he endured his passion, suffering so much for us out of love.
How do you respond to that request? Do you refuse to pick it up? Do you complain, get angry or bitter about it? Or do you pick it up and bear it gladly?
What are some of the crosses that come our way in life?
Physical suffering and the chronic pain that can come with that.
Being ridiculed for standing up for what’s right.
Staying in the Church in the midst of the mess in which we find ourselves right now – responding with honesty and humility when we are challenged as to why we are still Catholic by echoing the words of Peter, “To whom shall we go? [He] has the words of eternal life.”
We carry our crosses when we fight our temptations to sin, whether it be sins of pride, anger, envy, greed, sloth, gluttony, or lust…
We take up our cross when we stand by another in their suffering like Mary who stood by her son’s side at the foot of the cross as he endured the agony of His cross.
We experience the cross when we experience the loss of a loved one or when a family member stops practicing their faith or loses faith in God altogether…
In God’s providence, and in God’s time, we have been hearing a lot about the Cross over the past 3 days.
Friday was the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. On Friday, the Church reminded us that the suffering of the Cross does not get the last word. The suffering of the Cross leads to the glory of the resurrection. Friday reminded us to keep the glory in mind even as we endure the suffering so that we have the strength to offer it up, to carry our cross when it comes.
By the way, do you know the day on which Rich died? The man who knew so much suffering in his life? He died on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. Beautiful.
Saturday was the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. On Saturday, the Church held up Mary as a model who stood by her son’s side in the midst of his suffering. Mary allowed herself to experience Christ’s suffering. The sword of sorrow pierced through Mary’s heart on its way to pierce the side of her son as he hung upon the cross.
We can more easily carry our crosses for Him knowing that he carried his cross for us.
When the cross comes, keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Join the suffering of your cross to the suffering of Him who bore his cross for you.
Do that, and you will participate with him in the salvation and redemption of the world.
Do that, and you will have all the strength you need.