|From the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey|
“Who do people say I am?” Jesus asked His disciples. Interesting question we could ask today. As we move toward the opening of the Year of Faith, declared by Pope Benedict XVI to begin on October 13, we can reflect on how we would answer that question.
In Mark’s Gospel (8:27-35), Jesus poses the question and Peter answers, “You are the Christ.” Peter knows, but turns around and tries to dissuade Jesus from His mission after Jesus begins to tell them how the Son of Man must be rejected by the leaders, suffer, and die—but He will be raised up in three days. Hardly a path that those gathered wanted to hear, I am sure. Rejection, pain, hardship, all for naught? Who would buy into that invitation?
Peter, unable to contain himself, speaks out, much to Jesus’ dismay. “Get behind Me, Satan,” Jesus tells Peter, in front of all those gathered. What must Peter have felt? Did he react out of love for Jesus or out of fear for his own future?
Jesus is clear: "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 and that of the gospel will save it” (Mk 8:35).
This reading always reminds me of a passage in Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ. I am reminded of this passage at every Mass, as I stand as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, offering the Cup. I am in awe of the reverence many have, taking the chalice lovingly and bringing it to their lips, delicately taking in Our Lord and Savior. Others however, pass by, nary a nod in recognition of the Lord who’s Body and Blood was offered for them. Kempis’ passage reflects:
The Imitation of Christ, Book II, Ch. 11: FEW LOVE THE CROSS OF JESUS
JESUS has always many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross. He has many who desire consolation, but few who care for trial. He finds many to share His table, but few to take part in His fasting. All desire to be happy with Him; few wish to suffer anything for Him. Many follow Him to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the chalice of His passion. Many revere His miracles; few approach the shame of the Cross. Many love Him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him. But if Jesus hides Himself and leaves them for a while, they fall either into complaints or into deep dejection. Those, on the contrary, who love Him for His own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus -- love that is flee from all self-interest and self-love!
Do not those who always seek consolation deserve to be called mercenaries? Do not those who always think of their own profit and gain prove that they love themselves rather than Christ? Where can a man be found who desires to serve God for nothing? Rarely indeed is a man so spiritual as to strip himself of all things. And who shall find a man so truly poor in spirit as to be free from every creature? His value is like that of things brought from the most distant lands.
Let us contemplate how we react when we have the opportunity to meet Jesus in our daily encounters, through prayer, works, others, the Word, and the Eucharist. Will we recognize Him and rejoice or will we pass by, afraid that the cup He offers is too hard from which to drink? Will we joyfully embrace the full meaning of discipleship or will we decide the path is too hard and settle for less than the gift of eternal life offered to those who believe, pick up their cross, and follow Him? In short, are we willing to lay down our life for the One who laid His down for us?
Author’s note: To read the complete text of Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, go to: http://www.leaderu.com/cyber/books/imitation/imb2.html#RTFToC89