It’s natural to wonder how other persons see us. How often do we take stock of ourselves but want to have a sense of how others look at us. When I was in my second year of seminary: Am I holy yet? Today’s Gospel finds Jesus at prayer with his disciples when he asks a similar question. The answers probably are true enough but with a bit of buttering up the leader. Peter certainly does! Jesus’ reply though catches them totally off guard. Remember they were doing pretty well, preaching, healing. They were on a roll. And Jesus bypasses all that has gone on to say something shocking The Son of man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the Elders, the Chief Priests and the Scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. The first of three predictions about his suffering and death!
Then he tells the whole crowd: my message includes you and, from now on, anyone who wants to be with me: If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and come follow me! Kath hemeran!
This is strong and, in fact, might seem at odds with what Pope Francis is telling us by calling for a Jubilee Year of Mercy. He tells us that Jesus Christ is the human face of the Father’s love. That’s nice but we all still have enough troubles, enough problems. Do we need this? Take up the cross? Every day? Lose your life to save it?
The answer is yes, yes and yes! What Jesus tells us is what HE does, he does for us so that what the Father wants for us he is able to give to us precisely because Jesus is the key to unlock the Father’s love for us. And this the Father does through his resurrected Son as they pour out their love: the gift of the Holy Spirit, an unending gift of merciful love. That merciful fatherly love floods the Church as the bride of Christ where you and I all find the ever forgiving and loving presence of God.
Peter and the disciples don’t yet understand this. Two more times he will tell them this and they still find it impossible to comprehend. But we know now that accepting and living the cross of Jesus and the merciful love of the Father are two parts of one unending gift of life and love from the God who embraces all who have been redeemed by His Son. Jesus is himself the visible expression of divine love in human terms and his cross makes possible for the rest of us to carry our crosses and so be filled by God’s Holy Spirit and rejoice in his everlasting, never stingy, love for each and everyone of us, yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever!
This was true before the coming of Jesus into the world: Think of creation! Think of the Chosen People! Think of Zachariah’s prophecy today: I will pour out on the House of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace, …a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness! But now we know that the Jesus who invites us to share in his destiny has made us true children of God the Father. Paul puts it so well: Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ! Neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female. You are all one in Christ Jesus!
Here is the answer to my question as a young seminarian. We all are holy because we are the sons and daughters of God our Father who sees us as brothers and sisters of His One Son and cannot help but embrace us with the same love he embraces Jesus Christ. Yes there is a cost to being disciples. We must learn from Christ, hear his Word and keep it and count on him for the courage to live as we should, impossibility on our own, but a joyous gift we have from the Father because of His Son. But in Christ Jesus we are a new creation! Neither Jew nor Greek, male or female. We do not lose our own unique personality but we become distinct parts of the Body of Christ united by a common call to be holy as our heavenly Father is holy.
Here is our real identity: an identity that is ours forever, an identity that is symbolized by the cross traced on our foreheads at Baptism, confirmed by the seal of the Spirit and nourished by our Sunday Eucharistic meal. In this we are all one, members of the Body of Christ whose Spirit animates the Church and dwells within us as a share in God’s own life.
How blessed we are that Pope Francis has given us this Jubilee of Mercy! How much more aware we become in this year of the Father’s mercy that he who gives us his love without measure calls us to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful. Recipients of his mercy, strengthened by the gift of God’s love in our lives, can we be anything other than givers of mercy to one another, our families, friends, parishioners and neighbors? And if Jesus did not stop there, can we do less than extend His merciful love through our care for the poor, the vulnerable, the marginalized, those who have offended us and those whom we have offended?
Dear friends, heed the Holy Father’s words: Contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a well spring of joy, serenity and peace! Mercy the Father offers us through His Son: mercy the outpouring of the Holy Spirit! Mercy given freely to us so that we might be merciful like the Father!