Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 24B
Today, we reach the turning point in Mark’s Gospel. Up to this point, everything’s been going great. Jesus has gathered His disciples, and with great authority He has been teaching, casting out demons, and healing every disease among the people. Crowds of people are always following Him just to hear Him and to get close to Him. They even recognize Him as a great Prophet, and last week as He healed the deaf-mute, the crowds exclaimed, “He has done all things well.” Today, St. Peter even recognizes Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah who would bring salvation. Not everyone was so happy about Jesus, though, and there had been frequent disagreements with the Pharisees and the ruling powers. Today, Jesus spells it out for us, that He doesn’t just bring a naïve ‘prosperity gospel,’ or promise that once we begin to follow Him all our problems and sufferings will go away. Jesus begins to make His way toward Jerusalem, where “the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly.”
Jesus tells us plainly that the Christian Way is not an easy way. There is no easy way. In this life, suffering is unavoidable, but there are two ways that we can approach it. There is the narrow way of following Christ, of freely accepting the suffering that we meet in this life, out of love and obedience for God our Father. And then there is the wide way that many travel, of rebelling against any thought of suffering or loss or limitation, of taking Christ aside and rebuking him, saying, “God forbid that such things should happen to You or to us.” How many of us, the moment we face any trial or touch of suffering, how many of us find ourselves with St. Peter, opposing Christ because we think, “not as God does but as human beings do”? How many of us make ourselves into enemies of the Cross of Christ the moment that our faith is tested? There are two ways, and neither one is easy. We like to think that this second way of rebellion and self-indulgence is easier than actually embracing the crosses of this life, but rebellion and sin bring untold sufferings and deep emptiness that no human soul was meant to endure.
It seems quite popular today to think that we should be able to solve any problem just by being more positive and encouraging. That especially priests should just be smiling all the time, saying how wonderful everything is. And as we look back on history, so many of the Saints and Martyrs for the faith were just too blunt and insensitive in how they communicated the truth. If only they had been more careful to say what they needed to say in a way that their listeners could receive it, perhaps they wouldn’t have had to die. Even Jesus Himself could have kept His persecutors from putting Him to death had He just been more pastorally sensitive, more willing to “accompany” the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
Sadly, I’ve gotten this sense even from other priests, that the Saints were just too extreme, instead of coming to the much more obvious conclusion that we today are cowards. And that if we are trying so desperately to avoid the crosses of the priesthood, the crosses that come with being a prophet in today’s culture of religious indifference, if we are striving to avoid upsetting anyone with a homily against sin, because that would be negative, or having to actually say “No” as a pastor, or to educate and bring people in the direction of the Church’s actual teachings and laws, if even priests are doing everything we can to avoid suffering and conflict, what usually happens is not that we find creative ways of communicating the truth without upsetting anyone. Instead, we simply learn to avoid certain topics altogether, whether we realize it or not. “No servant is greater than his Master.” If they persecuted Christ, they will persecute His disciples. If the world hated Jesus, it will also hate any follower of Jesus, when we’re actually true to following Him.
I think it’s about time that we stop thinking ourselves better than the Saints and Martyrs of past centuries, and instead, start to actually imitate them, to imitate their passion for Jesus Christ, their unquenchable zeal for the honor of His Name and for the spreading of the Gospel. Jesus assures us with St. Peter that the cross and persecution is unavoidable, so let’s stop trying to water down our Catholic faith to make it more palatable and popular. Let’s offer it to the world at its full strength, and witness how Jesus Christ can change hearts and transform lives. I’m tired of being a priest for a Church that seems ashamed of her own teachings and sacred tradition. Jesus told His Apostles, “You will be hated by all because of me, but have no fear of them. Even the hairs of your head are numbered. So take courage. I have conquered the world.” Speak out boldly in the Name of Christ, and you will not lose your reward.