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Twenty-Second Sunday - Year A

Sunday, 3 September, 2017
Matthew 16: 21-27

The Word of God this Sunday, the twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time, reminds us that the joy of the Gospel is not cheap or shallow, rather it is hard-won, enduring, and comes by way of the cross.

On the one hand, Jesus’ followers have the deep, deep joy of knowing him in prayer, in scripture, in the sacraments, and in the community of the Church. We experience the exhilarating liberation of knowing that our sins can be forgiven and that the fullness of life is available for us, both now and beyond this world, as a free gift for those who can muster up the humility, trust and love to recognise Jesus as Lord of their lives.

On the other hand, living this deep-down joy does not exempt us from the weight of the cross as its leans on us from time to time. In today’s Gospel Jesus calls his followers to embrace the cross, in whatever guise it comes in, and to use it as a tool to purify our love.

The cross, in the truest biblical sense, is not the suffering that comes from any random difficulty or crisis, nor even from a major catastrophe or setback. These things sadly can happen to anyone because of the damage of sin and broken world we live in, and can happen to us whether we are holy or not. Yet, we can transform these unfair pains and difficulties, that can threaten our faith in a loving personal God, into crosses that help redeem us and help redeem the whole world - by actively choosing to keep on believing in - and witnessing to - a loving personal God of mercy and justice despite these obstacles to our faith. These sufferings can thereby be made into a tool to purify and refine our love for God. It’s easy to love God when everything in our lives is smooth and easy. Love that continues to love despite hardships and unfair suffering is real love, and that’s the kind of love we see in Jesus on Calvary.

However, the cross in the truest biblical sense, is the suffering that comes to us precisely because of our fidelity to Jesus, to his Church, and to his in-breaking kingdom. We think today of our brothers and sisters in so many parts of our so-called modern world who are still being shamefully and cruelly persecuted and killed precisely because of their fidelity to Christ. For them we must work hard and pray hard that God’s kingdom of love, justice, and peace may be allowed to roll out all over the world.

In our own lives and in our culture the cross that comes because of fidelity to Christ may be less stark - but nonetheless heavy and painful to carry. Times when our culture scorns us, ridicules us or thinks us simple and old-fashioned or even nasty because of our faith; times when we are put under pressure to shut up and be silent about Jesus, or Mary, or our Church’s teachings about God’s infinite love for us and his desire for us to find joy, peace, holiness and salvation by responding to his call and his helps to holiness and eternal salvation. Witnessing to Jesus with integrity, joy, enthusiasm and love despite these pressures, pains and bullying is a champion way of carrying the Lord’s cross with him, and playing our part in the redemption of all creation.

When our crosses are carried with ongoing faith in Jesus it makes our hearts more like Christ’s in our capacity for selfless, sacrificial love. After all, made in God’s image as we are, any other kind of so-called love is beneath us.

The first reading from the prophet Jeremiah reminds us of the very obvious cross of scorn and ridicule that this world hurls at believers, but it reminds us too that we are to be fearless like the prophet and, like him, almost burst to share our joy in the Lord with others no matter what the world thinks of us or does to us for doing so.

In the second reading from the letter to the Romans the Holy Spirit through Saint Paul reminds us in particular of the shape the cross takes in our lives when we are tempted to take our morals and behavioural norms from the surrounding culture, but choose to make purer choices instead in a way that gives God glory, and that honours the dignity of our own bodies and souls as his children.

The cross of Christ is heavy for sure, but it is our only secure scaffolding; supporting us in our present lives, and leading us upward towards the fullness of life and a joy without end.

- Fr Conor Cunningham PP

Lisdoonvarna, Kilshanny and Doolin