From the Hermitage
"If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
Today's Responsorial Psalm brought to mind other words used by Jesus: Then Jesus said to his disciples, “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 will find it."
Our greatest gift, that which surpasses all the successes that we may have enjoyed or are seeking to achieve, is the gift of our salvation. From a cross on a hill the very Son of God gave up his life and all the crosses he had to carry during his lifetime on this earth for you and for me. At that "It is finished" moment, all of our sins, especially those hidden sins that weigh so heavily up so many of us, the totality of our sins were forgiven. A question: do we take that forgiveness seriously? Many times, as a confessor, I have heard these words: "Father, I have a difficult time living with an awareness and belief that my sins are forgiven. How do I know that Jesus has forgiven me?
Let me suggest that we call to mind the one disciple of Jesus that we know very well. His name is Peter. He was the chief of the disciples. Yet, recall just a few of the times he failed Jesus. More than once he found it hard to believe what Jesus was saying or doing. Peter tried to talk Jesus out of the journey to Jerusalem and the cross. Peter fell asleep while Jesus was suffering in the garden. Late on Holy Thursday evening, Jesus did not stay with Jesus during his trial and he even denied knowing Jesus. And Jesus hid behind closed doors while his friend was pouring out the last few ounces of his blood rather than being there with him, his mother and other disciples. Yes, Peter is an example of the extent of God's mercy, his forgiveness. There is nothing that God will not forgive as long as we take up our crosses and follow him. Likewise, we should not forget the man who became one of the greatest preachers in the history of our Church, Paul! Yes, Paul! We know how much evil he perpetrated against the Christians. Yet, like Peter, he knew that Jesus had forgiven him. Jesus forgave them as he forgives us today. Jesus is the source of salvation for us. But here is the question, the big question: ARE WE READY TO ACCEPT FORGIVENESS? Are our hearts hardened? Do we find it difficult to take up the crosses that come to us in our lives and follow Jesus? Some say that following Jesus is so very dangerous especially in our times.
Consider the cost of being faithful today. Martyrdom used to be a reality in ancient days. No longer. How many are robbed, beaten, raped, executed, murdered, decapitated--all because they refuse to abandon their allegiance to Jesus Christ. And such crosses are not just in foreign lands. How many people are ridiculed, especially young college students who stand up for their Christian faith? Especially the men and women in the business world who struggle to be honest and ethical. Especially those parents who struggle to teach their children that being a follower of Jesus will never, never be a perpetual piece of cake.
In the last thirty years or more "take up your cross and follow me, if you wish to be my disciple" has become so very real, so very widespread. However, we know from many examples in the New Testament where Jesus was very clear: those who live as the Father wishes will one day be with him in his heavenly kingdom. But be sure of this: our crosses will never be heavier than the crosses that Jesus carried throughout his life on this earth. Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it!