30  August 2020: Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

by Deacon Michael Demers

“Come Follow Me!”

In the first reading from Jeremiah we see someone like many of us who are already trying real hard to follow Jesus. We see someone trying to follow God’s ways and yet is experiencing persecution and ridicule for his doing so. You and I too experience rejection and ridicule for believing in Jesus and His Bride the Church. Yet, like in Jeremiah, we may get despondent. But at the same time we feel this compulsion to continue to share the Good News of Jesus’ offer for salvation for all who chose to accept it. We, like in Jeremiah have found in Christ and His Church a “pearl of great price” that, no matter what, we are convicted to stay in faith and (as it says in scripture)  “work out in fear and trembling our salvation” while continuing to support, through prayer and sacrifice, the salvation of others.

In Psalm 63 we find that when we give up those false things that never bring us true lasting joy and satisfaction we find instead the deepest satisfaction in being in God’s presence. We come to realize that the world has nothing to compare it to, nothing to offer us. We have become  “GOD SPOILED”. The result is that we don’t want to go back to our old ways. It has lost its initial attraction.

St Paul is calling us to this in his letter to the Romans. A calling to be transformed. A calling to renew our minds once again. To recommit to Christ. We look with new eyes of faith to see what His will is for us today. True, it means denying ourselves, taking up our cross but by then following Jesus we find a wonderful and beautiful way to keep growing, keep going. It is hard work to change direction, to give up old ways, but as a pilgrim people on THE journey with Jesus we find those things we leave behind were only obstacles and heavy burdens. We are relieved when they no longer weigh us down.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is asking us to follow him more closely. This invitation is given to us when he says: “that we must deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Him”

First, we must deny ourselves. What does that mean? What are we to deny about ourselves?  We are to deny all that is an obstacle to accepting God as the master of our lives. Like Jesus we are to dismiss people who insist that following Jesus shouldn’t have to cost us a thing. Not health, reputation, prosperity, popularity, convenience or comfort.

We are to deny our own will when it is opposed to God’s will. First we seek God’s will and please Him. When we do this we are following the first commandment: “To love the Lord God with our whole heart, mind and strength”.

Then deny ourselves by addressing selfish desires that serve us but don’t follow the ways of God. The second great commandment where Jesus summarizes all the law of Moses is: “To love our neighbor as ourselves”. Therefore, we only find true and eternal joy in the act of putting God first and our neighbor and their needs in the same importance as our own. In regards to the poor and needy more sacrifice is required.

We also deny ourselves when we sacrifice something of ourselves, our wants and desires and sometimes our very needs. This is for the benefit of God’s will and for others suffering any injustice. We find when we do offer ourselves so unselfishly we sense a bond to those less fortunate than ourselves. This bond ties us emotionally, mentally and physically in order to show our heartfelt understanding with the people who are broken, in physical or emotional pain and in various struggles.

Through this denial of self we find our capacity to truly care. Their brokenness, their pain, their struggles become our own. We find no peace until we extend whatever assistance is within our power to provide. This is the cross Jesus is asking us to pick up. Our cross is defined by the actions of caring and accompaniment we embrace as our way to answer Jesus’ second request of His disciples: to pick up THEIR cross in order to follow Him. We see now that having your cross to carry on the journey with Jesus is essential equipment.

Taking up our “personal” cross means the caring for others; it also means taking responsibility for our own selfishness and sinfulness. None of us are perfect. We all are called to work through our own lack of generous and selfless love. We do this by changing the focus to an effort to build a better life on earth “as it is in heaven”. We do so in hope by looking forward to a better life here and always keeping in mind that our ultimate healing is found in the perfect paradise that we seek. We believe our true home is heaven. Always calling to mind that heaven is where Jesus our savior promises to: “…dry every tear” from our eyes.

So to summarize: First, Jesus calls us to deny ourselves which breaks down the obstacles that prevent us from accepting this new way of living. Second, he asked us to take up our own “tailor -made” cross through daily personal effort and responsibility. Working towards a better life for ourselves and others.

That leads us to His final and Third command (or more like an invitation): “… Come Follow Me”.

This is where the denial of self and the daily burdens found in bearing the cross find their true meaning. Now we have purpose and a goal. Following Jesus is our mission and way out of sin, selfishness, self-will, despair, hopelessness, doubts, fears, uncertainty, injustice and hate. These are all vices and weaknesses that remind us that this world is not all that God had intended for us, that we have mostly, by our own actions and lack of actions, caused many of our own problems. Personally, and as a people. But there is hope out of the darkness. Jesus is the way out of darkness. He says it himself: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life”! Following Jesus as our guide is a sure thing to the everlasting light. Still we have to accept his call to follow or to continue to follow Him. Especially when the journey gets hard, lonely, long and seems futile. (We find this same trial is in the bible. Think of Moses and the Israelites in the desert)

We are on the Journey and the journey is our joy because we are following the promised savior Jesus Christ to the promised land of heaven. Where every tear will be wiped away. There we will see that it has been worth every sacrifice, every self-denial of personal desires, evey conflict between God’s will and our will, Every temptation to avoid difficult situations to protect our comfort, Every personal opinion that is opposed to God’s eternal truth. Rather we are invited to a far better plan for our lives than you or I could ever imagine or hope for.

So let’s recommit to the journey with Jesus to the Father of Love. Grab on to the Spirit he has given to strengthen us for the journey. Especially, continue to claim the sacraments as ever-available tools to keep us on the path. Renewed and reinvigorated through the confession and The Eucharist. Come partake of the Bread of Life (Jesus Himself!) to strengthen and give courage for our Journey.

God Bless You!

Deacon Mike Demers