Bottom line: Our real cross involves not what we know in advance, but the unexpected. Only by embracing the cross can we enter the joy Jesus has prepared for us.
Today Jesus tells us to take up the cross and follow him. We learned a little bit about the cross on our World Youth Day pilgrimage. Not that we suffered greatly - overall it was wonderful, joyful experience and I am grateful to all who prayed and made financial sacrifices for us.
At the beginning I was nervous about taking a group of 61 people - mainly high school students and young adults - to Europe. After months of preparation, however, they responded beautifully. We did make mistakes and I had occasion to ask forgiveness on behalf of the delegation - or myself. On the final day I apologized to the people at the hotel where we stayed. The man said, "Don't worry, padre. I wish all groups were like yours!" That made me feel pretty good - and proud - of our young people.
The pilgrimage itself was a dream come true: to visit the holy places of Saints Peter and Paul, Saints Francis and Clare and the Martyrs of Spain. We prayed for our loved ones at every spot where we offered daily Mass. We took the intentions of parishioners and the young people wrote their own intentions which I brought back in a prayer folder. We prayed particularly in gratitude to our benefactors - those who made the pilgrimage possible.
We did face some small hardships: the pilgrimage involved a lot of waiting - especially for the World Youth Day events and some of our members got dehydrated in the hot weather. And of course with 61 different personalities, the pilgrimage involved sacrifice in order to work together.
Those were some of the small crosses like Jesus speaks about today: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me." In our Pilgrim Booklet there was a section on Taking Up Our Cross and Following Jesus. It said:
"A cross one knows in advance, even if it is fairly heavy, is not longer the cross of Jesus. Our real cross is always to some degree unanticipated and always seems to surpass our strength. As a rule, we would never chose it."
For example, the evening before the Mass with Pope Benedict we camped out in large field near the Madrid airport. I knew it would be difficult - particularly for us older folk - but in no way was I prepared for what happened. The organizers had prepared for between 500,000 and a million pilgrims. Instead, two million showed up!
When our group arrived, we found ourselves in a vast sea of moving humanity. Then suddenly it stopped. The gates were closed and word circulated that we would not be able to get in. Some turned back, but we decided to wait. We got out our rosaries to pray, but instead of the gates opening, the skies did! A drenching rain fell and the winds picked up. The news later described it as a "hurricane." The rain eventually died down and we made it into the gigantic field. Close to midnight we spread out blankets and sleeping bags. The rain had brought to the surface a species of black ants that looked about the size of watermelon seeds. St. Francis of Assisi might have welcomed such creatures, but I did not!
I won't describe the rest room facilities - or lack thereof - but will say this: For someone who has a hard time making it through the night in the best of circumstances, this was a indeed a cross.
As things turned out, it was well worth the sacrifice. As the sun rose in the morning, I could hear young people begin to chant, "Esta es la juventud del papa!" We are the Holy Father's youth! For me the greatest reward came during the Mass. When Pope Benedict sat down for a minute of mediation, a beautiful silence came over the immense throng. For me that was the deepest moment of unity: with Jesus, with our Holy Father, with our young people and their guides who represent the Church of today and tomorrow.
Joy, Jesus assures us, can only come with cross. Today Jesus sums up what we need to do: deny oneself, take up the cross and follow him. Our real cross involves not what we know in advance, but the unexpected. The real cross is not what we anticipate, but neither is the joy. It exceeds anything we can now imagine. Only by embracing the cross can we enter the joy he has prepared for us. Amen.
From Archives (for Twenty-second Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Parish Picture Album
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Correspondence with Dave Jarvis:
Maybe a comparison would help. Suppose that each time the media does an article on the Obama administration, they refer to the corruption of Chicago politics and the president's use of cocaine. Would that be fair?