Written as an aid for homilists and a resource for the faithful, this doctrinal homily outline (1) provides insights into the Lectionary readings, (2) explicates a doctrine of Catholic Faith or morals from them, and (3) shows specific ways lay persons can live these truths. (To read more about this approach, click here.)
Central idea: The Cross. Doctrine: The cross of a follower of Christ. Practical application: Taking up one’s cross.
To view Lectionary 124, click here.
Central Idea: The Cross
Reading 1 Jer 20:7-9
You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I must cry out,
violence and outrage is my message;
the word of the LORD has brought me
derision and reproach all the day.
I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.
- Jeremiah was derided by his own people for speaking the word of God.
- Christians throughout the world today are persecuted, many severely.
- Here in the English-speaking west, a willingness at least to be laughed at, at least behind your back, is a minimal condition for being a follower of Christ.
- In fact, if you do not face some rejection from someone, it could be healthy to ask, “Am I really living my Catholic faith or is it so hidden that no one can tell me from anyone else?”
Responsorial Psalm Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
R/ My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.
O God, you are my God whom I seek;
for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts
like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.
Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary
to see your power and your glory,
For your kindness is a greater good than life;
my lips shall glorify you.
Thus will I bless you while I live;
lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name.
As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied,
and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.
You are my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to you;
your right hand upholds me.
- The most profound religious truths are here in the Psalms. One is this: All we need is God. That is, all the things we need and want exist to lead us to the realization that God is the superabundant satisfaction of every human desire.
- Holiness, lost through Original Sin, is nothing more than friendship with God, which in our case, is the friendship of sons and daughters of their infinitely good Father.
- The longing for God and the partial possession of him here below create a joyful pain. It is a spur to keep us moving toward him as our lives move forward in time.
- We can remind ourselves that every material and spiritual good we pine for is really the desire for God mistakenly fixed on security, or admiration, or power, or wealth, or beauty, or skill, or any of many other objects.
- We can also remind ourselves that every time our desire is thwarted we have the opportunity to take up our cross.
Reading 2 Rom 12:1-2
I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.
Do not conform yourselves to this age
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and pleasing and perfect.
- We hear in the Gospel reading Our Lord tell St. Peter and the Apostles, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” God’s will for us is to do “what is good and pleasing and perfect.” This is very often contrary to the mentality we may have because of the age in which we live. Because of this conflict, doing what goes against the grain of “this age” often requires sacrifice. That sacrifice is an act of “spiritual worship.”
- Not always, of course. Before every meal, we say grace, thanking God for the nourishment we are receiving, which is also a pleasurable good.
- So as not to exaggerate, we should admit that normally our lives are full of good things which are legitimate as long as they are enjoyed according to the will of God.
- For example, a married couple can enjoy relations fully according the will of God. But chastity also calls for sacrifices so as not to seek sexual pleasure according to the mentality of the age we live in.
- As Mathetes wrote in the second century about the followers of Christ, “They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh.” (Epistle to Diognetus 5)
Gospel Mt 16:21-27
Jesus began to show his disciples
that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly
from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.
Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him,
“God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”
He turned and said to Peter,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Then Jesus said to his disciples,
“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 will find it.
What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit his life?
Or what can one give in exchange for his life?
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory,
and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”
- Just before St. Peter said to Jesus, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you,” he had declared, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” According to Our Lord, in declaring him the Messiah, Peter was speaking through a divine revelation: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” But now, Our Lord rebukes St. Peter for “thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
- There is really nothing wrong with what Peter says—no one wants to see his friend tortured and killed. Our Lord actually agrees, which is why he rebuked Peter for tempting him. Our Lord’s human nature naturally recoiled from the events he was predicting. This is confirmed in the Garden of Gethsemane when Our Lord prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Mt 26:39,42).
- There is nothing wrong with what Peter says—except that he is wrong! Our redemption, according to the way God thinks, had to pass through the Passion of Christ. And our own Christians lives have to pass through our own cross.
- So, Our Lord lays down the basic principle of ascetical life for the Christian. Suffering of any kind is our own cross, which we must embrace to gain eternal life. Nobody wants to deny himself—otherwise it would not be denial—but it is a way to eternal life and to a reward.
Doctrine: The cross of a follower of Christ
- Holiness for us is being in the condition to be in a right relationship with the Blessed Trinity. Negatively, this means freedom from original sin and mortal sin. Positively, this means being in the state of sanctifying grace through Baptism, or regaining that condition, if lost, through Penance.
- Holiness is simultaneously being in that right relationship with God. This is why we can say that holiness is friendship with God. For us, holiness is the friendship of sons and daughters of our infinitely good Father. It is the friendship with our brother and savior Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son. It is friendship with the Holy Spirit.
- So, God gives us the grace to be capable of being friends with him and he also gives us the actual friendship.
- However, as the Catechism teaches, “The way of perfection,” that is holiness, “passes by way of the Cross” (CCC 2015). In the Gospel, Our Lord said to his apostles, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24; cf. CCC 2029).
- “There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle” (CCC 2015). As St. Paul said to Timothy, “As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim 4:5). It is as if, after establishing friendship with us, Our Lord then said, “We are in a war, you know.”
- Renunciation signifies the negative: what we turn our backs on—acts of sin. Spiritual battle signifies the positive: what we advance toward—acts of goodness. Both can require a dying to self or the cross.
- “Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes” (CCC 2015). Ascesis means self-discipline, originally the kind of training an athlete would undertake. Mortification is self-denial, giving up something you want either because it could hurt you or someone else or because this little dying to self could help you or someone else.
- While we are in this world, the struggle of a son or daughter of God never ends. In fact, we start over every single day. As St. Gregory of Nyssa says, “He who climbs never stops going from beginning to beginning, through beginnings that have no end. He never stops desiring what he already knows” (Hom. in Cant. 8: PG 44, 941C).
Practical Application: Taking up one’s cross
- Everyone has his own cross to bear. This cross is the sum total of all the difficulties in our lives. They can be big (cancer) or little (a paper cut), recurring (having to get up early every day) or unique (the windshield wipers just stopped working), foreseen (the electric bill is due in ten days) and unforeseen (there’s a parking ticket under one of by broken windshield wiper blades), sought (I’m going on a diet) and unsought (Mattie just vomited on the carpeted stairs).
- We don’t need to be told what our cross is since God can show us what they are and what to do with them. As Our Lord said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God’” (Jn 6:45).
- This cross will be different depending on whether you are a man or woman, young or old, what country you live in, your family of origin and family of marriage, the season of the year, what kind of work you do or are not able to do, your social class and educational background, and many other factors.
- Our Lord wants us to embrace our cross as much as we want to embrace the many goods he sends us. God does not will evil on us but he must have a good reason to permit us to suffer in so many ways. One way of dealing graciously with them is to preface every realization of suffering with an, “I guess God wants.” I guess God wants me to have this headache. I guess God wants me to work here for now. I guess God wants me to wait at this railroad crossing till the freight train passes, and so on.
- Our Lord also wants us to offer them back to him. After all, we are a priestly people (1 Pt 2:9). Lord, I offer this bee sting to you. Even better, I offer this bee sting for grandma who is not feeling well.