I preached this homily at the 5pm Masses on September 15th/16th at the Cathedral of Christ the King.
24th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B (Isaiah 50:4c-9a; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35)
You can break down today’s passage from St. Mark’s Gospel into three short vignettes. In the first, Jesus disciples are responding to Jesus question of who people say that he is. Peter closes out this first movement with his declaration that Jesus is the Christ and Jesus promptly tells the disciples not to tell anyone about this.
In the second part of the passage, Jesus shares with the disciples exactly what would be happening to him – and these are things that the disciples did not want to hear. Peter can’t resist. In his best demonstration of “Take one step forward, two steps backward,” Peter rebukes Jesus. Imagine that! Peter telling Jesus what he should be doing! Jesus looks at his disciples and says to Peter, “Get behind me Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
If you are like me, you may be thinking, “How do I learn to think like God does?!? Well, we come to Mass and are fed by God’s word, by Jesus’ body and blood. We read and study scripture. We pray. We ask God to keep us in his will and to give us grace to follow that will to the best of our ability. We perform the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. We come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and ask for God’s forgiveness on a regular basis. Learning to think like God is a life-long process. But it’s a process that doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a process we must consciously choose, each and every day.
I recently read a quote from researcher George Barna who said, “We are a designer society. We want everything customized to our personal needs–our clothing, our food, our education. Now, it’s our religion. America is headed for 310 million people with 310 million religions.”
When Peter rebuked Jesus, Jesus said Peter was thinking as human beings do and not as God does. But is Peter behaving any differently than the culture that George Barna has so eloquently described? We have over 33,000 Christian denominations, all claiming they have the fullness of truth and that all others are flawed in some way. Even many who claim the name Catholic pick and choose what teachings of the Church they will follow; as if they are ordering a pair of custom designer jeans. I think Mr. Barna has nailed our culture to a T. When we think like human beings rather than as God thinks, we create cheap imitations of the truth that God revealed through Jesus and that has been handed down through the Apostles and their successors.
Now we enter the third movement in this passage when Jesus brings the larger crowd into the conversation. While Jesus does not share the “secret” of his own destiny with the larger crowd, what he does do in clear and unambiguous terms is to tell the crowd just what it takes to be his disciple: “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 and that of the gospel will save it.” Now if people from today’s Madison Avenue were advising Jesus on the best way to establish a flourishing church, I doubt if they’d have approved that message for his recruiting brochure.
But Jesus isn’t interested in Madison Avenue marketing campaigns. Jesus is telling us how to think like God. But every day, you and I are immersed in a culture that tells us to think like human beings. We are told we can have it all, pleasure, power … life without sacrifice, life without suffering, without pain; that we can have a religion of our own making; a religion that doesn’t challenge or stretch us; a religion that allows us to do our own, rather than God’s will.
Pope John Paul II once said that we should not be afraid to welcome the cross of Christ into our lives because doing so gives full meaning to life’s joys and sorrows; that in embracing the cross of Christ, we make our own life a gift of love. We all have crosses in our lives, don’t we? Many of you are here today with heavy hearts; heavy crosses in your life; broken or strained marriages; children who are struggling with life’s challenges – who have left the Church; struggles with alcohol, drug or pornography abuse that is tearing apart your family; cancer or other illnesses of the body; unemployment – the list goes on. Yes, we all have crosses that come into our lives.
Pope John Paul II is telling us that we should not be afraid because when we embrace the crosses in our lives, we embrace the cross of Christ. And in embracing the cross of Christ, our lives are transformed into a gift of love for God and for those people God has placed into our lives.
But we can only be free to embrace those crosses, as Jesus said to Peter, if we strive to think like God and not like human beings. Are we willing to deny ourselves, to lay down our own agendas, our own human thinking, our own designer made religion, so that we can be free to pick up our cross and follow Jesus?
I want to close my homily by sharing with you Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha’s journey from death into everlasting life. Blessed Kateri will be canonized next month and when she is, she will become the first Native American saint. After suffering from years of ill health, Kateri died at the age of 24 as she uttered her last words, “Jesus I love you.” It is reported that after her death, she appeared to multiple people. Each person Kateri appeared to heard this same message, “The cross was the glory of my life and the glory of my death, and I want you to make it yours.” Listen closely to these words. (REPEAT).
My brothers and sisters, may we spend the rest of this mass and this week considering this invitation from a soon to be saint of our Church. Blessed Kateri knows what it means to think like God and not like human beings. Blessed Kateri knows what it means to deny herself, pick up her cross and follow Jesus. Like those she appeared to after her death, now she invites you and me to make the cross of Christ the glory of our lives. Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us!