Once again as Catholics we encounter the hard saying of Jesus: Whoever loves father or mother than me is not worthy of me.” I remember when I was a missionary and was talking with my parish priest. We ran into a fellow and in talking the priest mentioned that he hadn’t see him for awhile and the guy said, “I have been so busy lately that I just spend Sunday with my family. Family must be most important, right Father?” I found this to be an interesting question which many people would struggle to answer. The priest himself was caught off guard and simply didn’t address the question. But it is a good point to reflect on. Questions such as, “Can a mother or father miss Mass to look after their sick child?” The Church says yes because your vocation is how you live out your love of Christ. But is it right to miss Mass simply to be with your family? No, it is not, it happens to be serious matter for Confession. The order of our life is God first, spouse second, children third, family and friends after that. These sayings are hard, why would we follow them? Well, according to God, it is the reward that we are looking for. They say serving God doesn’t pay much but the retirement package is out of this world. But for us as Christians, it is not just about heaven, it is also about living now in freedom and joy.
The freedom in Christ comes from our thanksgiving. Why would we be thankful about things such as crosses? Simply because the cross brings about holiness. If we allow them to be, they are the coal that gets pressed into diamonds. For many years I wanted to follow Christ without a cross. I wanted virtue to be easy and temptation simply to be defeated. Because it is hard and my cross is heavy at times, I have had to turn back to God because I cannot win against sin. My brokenness has made me need Christ so I am thankful my fear has made me need Christ. My sinfulness has made me need Christ. So, I am thankful. Thankful as a man who wound up in the hospital and, in the hospital, met the love of his life.
So yes, we die in Christ and so it is that we can live in Him. We can rejoice always because we will not become great saints unless, like the coal, we are pressed, unless we carry our crosses. There is a story about two desert fathers and each day the two of them would make baskets and at the end of the day the one would take them to town and would use the money to drink, leaving very little for the other to live on. Yet, each day, the one would pray and thank God for his brother and make excuses for him. After a long time, he approached his brother and thanked him for his vice that had made him holy and reliant on God. The brother was ashamed by this and repented and went on to live a very holy life. In our crosses, we are meant to meet our true love. If I wasn’t a sinner I wouldn’t need Christ, then I would have never known the perfect love of the Father and my life would be poor and sad.
The cross will not hurt when we embrace it. In boxing when two people are hitting each other and the one fighter holds the other, it is usually when they have had enough beating. If we try to run from our cross it will hit us harder because it will never be out of reach. When we embrace our cross, thank God for our cross, whatever it is it will lose its power to harm and will help us to become great saints. When we are being thankful we are growing in holiness. We are told not to love anyone more than God because there is no one who loves us more than God and there is no one whose love can do as much in our lives as God’s. God in the Gospel will reward us for everything we do, even a drink of cold water. So thankful is the attitude of a saint. Everything in our lives can be overcome and can be used to make us holy - a grumpy person, a grumpy spouse, an unfaithful spouse, an addiction, a physical or mental aliment, poverty (rarely riches but it can happen) - all these things miraculously are means of our sanctification. As I was preparing to write this homily I could not think of anything to write. Nothing. So, I thanked God that because I wasn’t writing I was in His presence and I trusted He would give me something to deliver to you. I am finished writing before my deadline because, once again, God is good. Our greatest gift to others will be to show them how to bear their cross, how bearing your cross with grace and gratitude brings freedom and makes us saints.