Hearing that verse, an image comes to mind from the movie Gandhi. He was an Indian subject of the British Empire. Unlike other empire builders, the English allowed some dissent and respected legal process, but still the Indian people desired self government. After much reflection, Mahatma Gandhi decided to challenge the empire by a simple act: making salt. Surrounded by followers, he stands up, puts his face toward the Indian Ocean and begins his march.
Jesus today takes on an empire more cruel and determined, not just the Romans, but the princedom of Satan himself. After Peter recognizes him as the Christ - the anointed liberator - Jesus shocks his disciples by announcing not a throne, but the cross. Irrevocably he sets his face to Jerusalem.
An analogous moment of decision comes in every human life. Compared to Jesus or Gandhi our own lives could seem trivial. However, precisely because of Jesus, your life and mine is a true drama. The saints and angels watch and pray for the outcome. There arrives a decisive moment when we either embrace our vocation - and the suffering it will entail - or turn from it.
Not long after Gandhi made his momentous decision, a youth in much more hostile situation was also facing a crisis. His mother had died when he was nine, three years later his older brother and finally his father. The young Pole knelt before his father’s casket, spent the entire night in prayer. When he stood up the next morning, he knew what he had to do. Soon Karol Wojtyla entered the underground seminary and embarked on the most remarkable career of the twentieth century.
We admire Pope John Paul because of his unwavering vision - first in the face of the Nazis, then the communists and most recently as the voice against the culture of death. Following Jesus he “set his face like flint.” That did not mean closing his mind. As bishop and pope he has spent an amazing amount of time studying- not just books, but learning from people. If anything he has been criticized for conducting the papacy like a seminar. But the learning, opening ones mind, is really an aspect of the greater enterprise - becoming a disciple.
The pope’s life had its crucial moment. Because of his piety, that is his life of prayer, he recognized it and took full advantage. Today we tend to live so superficially - concerned about health, security, the reactions of other people - that we can miss the moment. In comparison to someone like Karol Wojtyla , I have muddled thru my vocation. Yet I do know something. In Jesus there is always the opportunity to set things right. I can’t lift the locomotive engine back on the rails - but he can. Jesus accepts the smallest gesture in reaching out to him, but he will give us no rest till he claims us totally:
“Whoever wishes to come after me must 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 and that of the gospel will save it.”
How can Jesus make such a radical challenge? The recent Vatican document On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church (Dominus Iesus) helps us understand. This is not a "put down" on other religions nor does it mean we are somehow better than non-Christians. Bill Gates has more money than all of us put together; that doesn't make him better than you or I. Rather he has a greater responsibility. You and I possess an incalculable wealth because of Jesus and his life thru the sacraments. It means we have an immense responsibility. Now is the moment of decision.
Response of Lutheran Pastor (to Dominus Iesus)
From Archives (Homilies for 24th Sunday, Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
St. Mary of the Valley Album
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
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