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Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “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. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his life? Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” He also said to them, “Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the Kingdom of God has come in power.”
Opening Prayer: Lord, thank you for the grace that moved me to desire this time with you and then helped me follow through and actually pause from doing all the things that keep me busy. What is more important than being with you and letting you speak to me? Nothing. That sounds so basic, but in the demands of daily life, it is so easy to forget. Lord, I pray for an increase in my faith, hope, and love so that I prioritize you and your will above all else.
- The Crowd: Throughout the Gospels, Jesus taught the crowds in parables. When the disciples asked him why he did so, he answered, “The mystery of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you. But to those outside everything comes in parables” (cf. Matthew 13:10-11). Here, Jesus takes a different approach; he summoned the crowd and spoke bluntly to them and to the disciples: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” We can imagine his eyes meeting the eyes of each person in the crowd as he both invited them to follow him and described what it required. Today, Jesus invites each of us to consciously decide to follow him (“Whoever wishes to follow me…”), knowing that it entails the cross and self-denial. However, it is a bit like giving Jesus a blank check; he doesn’t give a list of the ways one must deny himself nor does he specify what the cross means. God works in each person’s life personally. Our self-denials, our crosses, are specific to our lives and we carry them as we learn to see God’s presence in the reality of our lives and hear his voice.
- Ashamed: We can be assured that each one of us is called to holiness (CCC 2013), and holiness necessarily involves self-denial and the cross (CCC 2015). Holiness means conforming ourselves to Christ himself: “Christ’s disciples are to conform themselves to him until he is formed in them” (CCC 561). When we live as a cultural or “cafeteria” Catholic, we prioritize our ideas, our priorities, and our values above what Christ asks of us. We cling to what we think will give us happiness, fulfillment, and success. We may fail to share the Christian view of situations or social problems out of concern for others’ opinions. We participate in social activities incongruent with the God-given dignity of the human person because we want to be liked and included. We disregard the Church’s teachings as impractical or unrealistic in today’s world and keep our faith hidden from those who might question us about it. In short, we are ashamed of Jesus and his words. When we truly follow Christ, our lives are as lamps, lit and set on a lampstand, giving light to the world around us (Luke 8:16). The source of the light is Christ himself. May we echo St. Paul when he says, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:12).
- The Kingdom: If we think of the Kingdom solely as something that comes at the end of time, we may wonder about the last sentence in today’s Gospel reading. Yet the Kingdom is present today. Jesus used the parable of the mustard seed to describe the Kingdom: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches’” (Matthew 13:31-32). In fact, the Catechism tells us, “‘The kingdom of Christ is already present in the mystery,’ ‘on earth, the seed and the beginning of the kingdom’” (CCC 669, quoting Lumen Gentium 3, 5). It is our responsibility, through the working of the Holy Spirit, to make the Kingdom visible by our words and actions, not just in our personal lives, but in our interaction with society. When we choose to follow Christ, we are choosing to build the Kingdom: “The initiative of lay Christians is necessary especially when the matter involves discovering or inventing the means for permeating social, political, and economic realities with the demands of Christian doctrine and life” (CCC 899).
Conversing with Christ: Lord, forgive me for all the times I have set your teaching aside in my own life, for all the times I have spoken negatively about it to others, and for all the times I have refused to deny myself and pick up my cross. Forgive me for seeking a comfortable living out of the faith with which I was entrusted in my baptism rather than an authentic faith rooted in a growing love for you. Forgive me from failing to let my life shine as a light in the darkness of today’s world. Jesus, I ask that you fill me with your love and draw me to yourself so that I will grow in desire to build your Kingdom.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will share a favorite Scripture verse with a friend or acquaintance.
For Further Reflection: Watch Fr. Mike Schmitz as he presents How to Pick Up Your Cross, or Catholic Imaginative Vision by Prime Matters (www.primematters.com), an educational outreach project of the University of Mary.
Janet McLaughlin and her husband, Chris, live on a mountain in rural northeastern Oregon. She puts her Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies to work as she shares the beauty and importance of the lay vocation in her writing, speaking, and teaching on spiritual topics.