15 March 2015

Homily for the Third Sunday in Lent (Holy Cross Sunday) 2015

“No!” "No!" "No!" That’s a word that Fr. John and Kh. Darcy are hearing a lot of, these days. And so do the parents of every two-year old. It’s to be expected, for that’s when children begin to figure out that they’re different from their parents. And they need to learn to say “no,” because in a temptation-filled world, we want our kids not simply to go along with the crowd.  When a kid says “no,” they’re learning to be a human…they’re learning a survival skill.
            In today’s text, our Lord calls us to a higher life. He invites us to share his life, the divine life…the life we were made to live. And just like when we were learning to be human, so also in learning to share his life, we begin by learning to say “no.” But this time, we learn to say “no” to ourselves. “If anyone wants to be my disciple, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” the Lord says.

            Say “no” to ourselves. Ours is a self-absorbed culture. The most popular kind of picture is the “selfie.” I must confess to having taken my first selfie when we were in Poland this past summer, with an infamous statue of Lenin in the background. We are completely caught up in how we look…in what other people think of us. How many “likes” do our posts get? How many FB “friends” can I gather? It’s like living in a hall of mirrors. Turn anywhere and you see yourself.
            The same is true with our obsession with self-esteem. It’s a trap! High self-esteem, low self-esteem. It doesn’t really matter, because the heart of them both is “self.” And focusing on self is disorienting. Try an experiment some time. Look in the bathroom mirror. Just keep looking at your own eyes, and you will find the rest of the background gets dizzying and loses focus.
            Contrast that with the monastery I visit in Texas each February. I was struck, the first time I went, when I realized they have no mirrors. At first it’s jarring…but then it’s freeing. It doesn’t matter what I look like. It matters that I pray, and serve, and love.

            We deny ourselves so we can take up our cross and follow Christ. What does that mean? In part, it means to fight against our sinful flesh. “Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its sinful desires,” says Paul. Lent has a way of bringing our flesh out. We get crabby. Temptations are extra tempting. Are you tempted? Keep fighting! Have you fallen? Don’t despair; get up and fight again. We don’t lose unless we quit.
            In part, it means to embrace the suffering that comes our way as a result of our vocation. “I fill up in my body what lacks of Christ’s affliction on behalf of his body, the Church,” St. Paul said. Paul suffered in his apostleship. You suffer as parent, as child, as friend, as co-worker whatever hardship comes your way for Christ’s sake.

            Deny yourself…take up your cross and follow Christ. And just like the two year old learning to say “no,” this is a survival skill. The Lord Jesus says, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
            Beloved, the cross of Christ alone saves us. But the cross of Christ is never alone. We are saved by his cross, and saved through ours. Over and over again, the New Testament makes it plain. “Through many troubles we must enter the Kingdom of God.” “Don’t be surprised at the fiery trial that comes your way.” “Take your share of sufferings as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”

            Here’s an image to keep in mind. Each week we make the bread for the Eucharist. When the dough is ready, we press this seal, with the cross of Christ at its heart, into the dough. Then we bake it. When the bread is finished, it comes out with an exact stamp of the seal in it. The seal is not the stamp. But the seal conforms the dough into its image.
            Just so, the cross of Christ is not the same as our cross. His cross alone saves us. But his cross alone also marks us and seals us, and so our life is shaped according to his image.

            So as we mark this Holy Cross Sunday in Lent, let us prepare our hearts by learning to say “no” to ourselves. Let us receive in ourselves the image of the life-giving Cross of Christ by resisting temptation, and actively serving, and willingly suffering for Christ’s sake: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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