Sunday, September 3, 2017

Serviam! Get behind me, Satan!

Installation of Parish Council,
Lectors for the Philippine Community
Seebach - 3 September 2017
 Jer 20:7-9
Rom 12:1-2
Mt 16:21-27

As Father explained when he invited me, today the Philippine Community is celebrating its new service officials, some elected, some volunteer and no doubt some pressed into service. To all those entering office today, it is really something great that you give of your time and talent for the sake of the greater community and we pray that God will prosper the community thanks to your service.

The readings for this 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time take us to the heart of the Christian message; they talk to us of our need to embrace the Cross of Christ, to follow our beloved Lord on the path to Calvary. For any amount of recognition involved in the duties of those being honored today, there must also be generous giving of self. That goes for all of us in our life as people born to new life in the waters of Baptism.

“Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. ‘Heaven preserve you, Lord;’ he said, ‘this must not happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’ Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

The drama of this exchange between Peter and Jesus is unmistakable; it has to be one of the most heart-wrenching passages in the whole Gospel. Jesus is reprimanding Peter, but you can hear the hurt or disappointment in His voice as He does so. In today’s first reading, the prophet Jeremiah makes it very clear just how painful it can be to follow the Lord’s call to be His messenger. Jesus tells His disciples that salvation comes to those who lose themselves for His sake. The key word in all of this is “sacrifice”.

Since forever and a day (think back almost 2000 years to Peter trying to discourage Jesus from the way of the Cross) in our dealings with God, we, His People, have wanted to write our own ticket; we try to dictate the terms of our discipleship. We balk at the very notion of keeping company with a Savior crowned with thorns. We pay lip service to that which is most central to following Christ: we bishops do it when we complain like Jeremiah of our hard lot; priests do it when they fail to give of themselves totally or they shy away from loving their people enough to challenge them to live the full Gospel. Married people? How do those vows go again? “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part”?  It’s all about the Cross and often enough we do not measure up; we fail and deserve a harsh word from Jesus like His “Get behind me, Satan!” to St. Peter.

Recall our Second Reading, St. Paul’s words to the Romans:
“Think of God’s mercy, my brothers, and worship him, I beg you, in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God. Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you, but let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do.”

What is this “behavior of the world” that St. Paul is warning about, as he asks us to change? Certainly, it is not God’s will, it is not the perfect thing to do. We are speaking about the prevailing culture, if you will, the way things are done whether back in Paul’s day or now in our own. What we mean by behavior of the world mostly has to do with slacking and compromising. It is the tendency to balk at what was obvious for our parents’ generation: assisting at Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of obligation, examining our conscience and making a good confession if we need to before receiving Holy Communion, at home praying before meals and before bed, and offering our day to the Lord first thing when we awake. What used to be normal is now almost heroic and a share in the Cross. We may complain like Jeremiah, but neither St. Paul nor Jesus would have it any other way. I bring up these things because the spirit of this world contests them and gives a pass on being polite or charitable, which of course we also must do.

Fulfilling the obligations involved with the bonds of marriage and family, living virtuously as young people and singles, refusing to go with the flow, living every day in the shadow of Christ’s Cross is God’s will for us and our joy. The duties proper to our state in life are the very same from one generation to another; I cannot wish myself somebody else or pretend that others repay me every kindness or just plain serve me first. This is high culture, as far as I am concerned, and faithfulness to the Gospel. If you were first to live this way at home, at work and at school, you could calm a bit of the anxiety and perhaps witness to others about a possible solution to the refugee question which upsets so many people in Europe. I am thinking of the way the Coptic Christians of Egypt have embraced the Cross and challenged the Moslem majority to think again about right order in society. We pray that our neighbors here and there would come to know Christ crucified and accept His gentle yoke for the sake of the life of the world.

We, like Peter, sometimes think we are entitled to things out of justice. I guess we are as long as they do not get in the way of Christ’s work of salvation for us, for our families, for all those around us. In sorting things out what counts is being able to stand with Jesus and to find or place there with His Cross at the center of our everyday life.

Our Catholic tradition attributes to Lucifer, now called Satan, the prince of the fallen angels, a big “No!” to God in the words: “I will not serve”. Back in the devil’s face, many of the greatest saints and spiritual movements in the Church have adopted the Latin motto: “Serviam” (I will serve! or Let me serve!). May we do the same and never retreat from embracing the Cross of Jesus in our daily lives, both in big ways and in small! Serviam! Lord, let me serve as You in your boundless love for me and for our world would have me! Yes! Serviam!

That our world would be saved and the Holy Name of Jesus be praised by one and all!

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