My brothers and sisters in Christ,1
Once again this Sunday, in the Gospel we just heard, St. Peter is in a very interesting dialogue with Jesus. And again this Sunday we have challenging readings!
Jesus is telling Peter and the other apostles, for the first time, that he has to go to Jerusalem, where he is going to suffer and be killed. And Peter protests. As we heard, he said, God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you!
So Jesus has to teach Peter a hard lesson. And his words are hard, harsh even. He tells Peter: Get behind me, Satan!
Now, we need to understand: Jesus is not saying that Peter is the Devil! But Peter is thinking like the Devil wants us to think.
Peter loves Jesus and he doesn’t want to see Jesus get hurt. But he doesn’t realize what he is saying. He is basically asking Jesus to save himself. He is trying to talk Jesus out of the Cross — trying to talk him out of doing God’s will.
So Jesus tells him: You are thinking — not as God does — but as human beings do.
It’s our human nature to be afraid of pain and to want to avoid suffering. These are natural reactions. We want to be comfortable, we want to be happy. And we know: God wants us to be happy. He doesn’t want us to suffer. But he knows that sometimes we have to.
Sometimes God allows sorrow and hardship in our lives. The question for us is — how are we going to respond, what are we going to “do” with the suffering that comes to us?
And that’s what Jesus is teaching St. Peter in our Gospel this morning. The lesson is this: God has a plan. God has a plan for your life, for my life, and a plan for the whole world.
In God’s plan, Jesus had to suffer and die on the Cross. By losing his life, Jesus gave new life, eternal life — to all of us.
So we have to trust in God’s plan. Trust that he is in charge of history and our own lives. And we also have to carry out God’s plan, to conform ourselves to God’s will for our lives.
My brothers and sisters, we know all of this. But we need to be reminded. Because it is a challenge in our daily lives.
Sometimes, it is difficult for us to understand the meaning of suffering or sickness. Sometimes it seems impossible to see God’s purposes.
This is the issue for the prophet Jeremiah in our first reading that we heard this morning.
He is trying to do God’s will but he is really suffering, really hurting. Everybody around him is making fun of him, mocking him. Nobody understands him. He feels abandoned by God. And he is tempted to give up, to stop trying to do what God is asking him to do.
Sometimes we feel the same way, don’t we? These are all natural feelings, part of our human nature. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the things in our lives, by our responsibilities.
I know some of you are living with chronic illness or chronic pain. Some of you are taking care of your parents who are getting older, and needing more attention and help. Some of you have family members who are sick or disabled and need your help.
This past week, I spent time visiting two Priests who are in the hospital. They are sick and suffering. So, we all have these kinds of challenges and crosses in our lives.
That’s what Jesus is telling us today in the Gospel. He tells us:
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.
These are hard words, as I said. But there is also something beautiful about the challenge that Jesus gives to us.
We carry our crosses, but we don’t carry our crosses alone. We are walking with Jesus. We are carrying our cross with him. And we are all following Jesus together — all of us. We are walking with one another in the Church, with our brothers and sisters.
There is no place for selfishness in the Church. We are a family — brothers and sisters. This is why the Church is so active and does so much good in our community — helping people, lifting people up, promoting human dignity and social justice.
I also had the Blessing this past week to visit two Religious Communities of Sisters in the Archdiocese, the Good Shepherd Sisters and the Little Sisters of the Poor. Both of them have been in the Archdiocese for more than 100 years ministering to the poor, the most vulnerable and the elderly.
There is a beautiful solidarity, a beautiful communion that we have in the Church. We are here to pray for one another, to help one another. To bear one another’s burdens.
St. Paul says in the second reading that we heard today that we need a whole new of thinking. Be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may discern what is the will of God, he says.
My brothers and sisters, God’s will for us is simple. And it is beautiful. God wants each one of us to be holy, to become a saint. And the way we do that is by following Jesus, by carrying our cross in love.
So let’s make that our prayer this week, as we continue to reflect on this challenging Gospel.
This is Labor Day weekend, as we all know. And our Gospel today helps us remember that our labor — our work, our job — is one of the ways that we serve God and our neighbor.
We need to “sanctify” our work, my brothers and sisters. And we do that, by having a conscious intention to do our work for God, and for others. We should everything out of love. In our homes, in our workplace. This is the way we carry our cross, the way we “lose” our lives for others, for the sake of the Gospel.
So let’s ask our Blessed Mother Mary, who followed Jesus to the foot of the Cross — let’s ask her today to help us to take up our cross and follow him. Help us to be good to the people in our lives. And to embrace the challenges and sufferings in our lives with love.
1. Readings (Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A): Jer. 20:7-9; Ps. 63:2-6, 8-9; Rom. 12:1-2; Matt. 16:21-27.