My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,1
I guess every Sunday we have a lot of things to pray for — this weekend is Labor Day weekend, so we especially pray for workers and for work to be a source of providing for our families, our personal needs, and also a means of personal sanctification, encounter God in our daily work.
We also are still praying for our brothers and sisters in Texas and Louisiana, all those who are hurting and struggling after hurricane Harvey. Let us continue to pray for them and for all those who are trying to help.
And we also should pray, today especially, for those who are displaced by the fire — not far from here in the foothills of the Verdugo Mountains — that everybody will be safe. And let us also pray for the firefighters and rescue workers, may God keep them safe. Besides that, we all have our personal intentions, so let’s keep that in prayer.
Today, as I said before, we are remembering the anniversary of the consecration of our Cathedral, it was on September 2, 2002. So, 15 years ago!
And today, as we have this celebration, let us invoke the presence of the angels, and saints, and especially Our Lady, who is the Queen of all the Angels and saints in heaven. May she continue to protect all of us, especially in our Cathedral parish and in our archdiocese.
But that gives us an opportunity to remember that the Church is more than simply a beautiful building. The Church is you and me. It is the family of God, the Kingdom of God that is growing in the world. And the Church is growing through us. Through each one of us, through you and through me.
That’s what is important for all of us to give thanks to God for this beautiful building, but at the same time fill the responsibility of being the Church — the family of God.
In our Christian life — as we are called to reflect on today from the Scriptural readings — in our Christian lives, we are on a journey together in the Church. That is what Jesus reminds us in the Gospel of today’s Mass. As he said:
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.
And every time when we hear these words, we tend to center on the “cross” that Jesus talks about — on the sacrifices, the detachments and sufferings; the things that we have to give up to follow him, to be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ.
But I was thinking that really there are, kind of, “two sides” to Our Lord’s command today. Yes, there is, on the one side, the cross! But the other side is that — when we carry our cross, we discover how close Jesus is to us. We discover that Jesus is walking right there with us. This is what he promises when he commands us, “Follow me.”
He’s not just saying, “you take your cross and I’ll see you at the end of your life.” He’s walking with us.
And I think what Jesus means when he’s asking us to follow him is that we need to change our lives, we need to live in a different way. We need to “lose our life,” as Jesus says. We need to change the way we live.
And that’s what St. Paul talks about in the second reading. He tells us:
Do not conform yourselves to this age
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discover what is the will of God,
what is good and pleasing and perfect.
So, St. Paul is telling us today, once again, that we need conversion. That is what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is one who is in a state of “constant conversion.”
Sometimes we think, well I made the decision to try to be a good Christian, so that’s the way it’s going to be for the rest of my life. I had a beautiful conversation with some of the seminarians at St. John’s Seminary the other day, and we were talking about this — they asked me to help them with a day of recollection.
And I was telling them, you’re in the seminary, so you had a conversation — Jesus is calling you to be a priest. Beautiful. But don’t ever think that just because you are in the seminary, everything’s going to be perfect. You need an ongoing conversion.
Same thing for all of us. And St. Paul tells us, it is not always easy.
By the way, the seminarians were nice to me, so they were not upset because I said you are here and now you have to work on your vocation — so pray for them please.
So, St. Paul is telling us that it is not easy, we need to resist the spirit of “this age” that we are living in.
In today’s passage of the Gospel, we can see that that’s exactly St. Peter’s problem, isn’t it? Jesus tells him that he’s going to Jerusalem and he’s going to suffer and die — and St. Peter says, “No, no, no, Jesus! This is not going to happen. I’m not going to let that happen to you.”
You see, Peter is thinking with the spirit of “this age.” It’s logic, it’s human. The same thing with us in our Christian life, we want thing to be easy. We want to avoid pain, suffering — this is the way St. Peter is thinking. He loves Jesus and he does not want him to suffer.
But Jesus tells him — “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
It’s the same for us. That’s why we need an ongoing conversion. We need to change our way of thinking. Little by little, day by day — we need to try to think more like God does. We need to try to do what God wants, not what we want.
That’s why St. Paul says that we need to be “transformed by the renewal of our mind.” This is the constant conversion that we are called to.
Then, what happens, is that when we listen and try to answer, in a positive way, for this call to a constant conversion, then we lose our own life and we live for him.
When we give our life to him, he gives us a new life. We find that we are living with Jesus everyday, and everything is different — even if we continue to make some mistakes once in a while. But Jesus is walking with us. We are aware that God is with us all the time.
So today, let us ask for the grace not to be selfish, to take up our cross with love and follow Jesus. And as I said in the beginning, each of us is part of the Church that God is building in the world. We are building the Church everyday by taking up our cross and follow Jesus.
And we building the Church, we are changing our way of thinking and seeing that Jesus is working with us in our daily lives. The little things you do to show your love for your children, for your husband or your wife, the kindness that you show to your parents and your family — then you are becoming more and more close to Jesus and then the Church grows by all these little acts of love!
And maybe some practical things that you can think about this week: maybe just to have a little cross with you, have it in your desk, at home, that you can remember — this is what makes the difference in my life. Jesus, who gave his live for me and I want to give my life for him.
Another practical thing might be reading the Gospels everyday, a couple of minutes just to remember Jesus’ life that we can really be more close to him.
Then, daily Mass. Maybe we cannot do it every single day, but once in a while, in the middle of the week, going to Mass — it really changes everything. I was reading today that St. John Paul II said that the center of his day was the celebration of the Eucharist. Beautiful.
So, today, let us especially ask for the grace to have this ongoing conversion in our daily lives — to be aware that Jesus is walking with us and that we are the Church, his family here on earth.
Let’s ask our Blessed Mother Mary, Our Lady of the Angels, to help us. She followed Jesus from the very moment of the Annunciation until the foot of the Cross. May she help us to take up our cross now and follow him and find peace and happiness in our lives.
1. Readings: Jer. 20:7-9; Ps. 63:2-6, 8-9; Rom. 12:1-2; Matt. 16:21-27.