Advertisements often promote a message about life. Pharmaceutical companies tell us to “Live well!” Beer distributors remind us that, “You only go round once, so go for the gusto!” In these cases (and so many others), they are speaking about our biological lives that end, sooner than we expect, in death.
How different is the life of which Scripture speaks! The Bible clearly acknowledges the goodness of biological life, but at the same time takes the words we use for life and death and applies them in a richer, more transcendent perspective. In this week’s Gospel we hear the Lord tell His disciples, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” The kind of life Jesus speaks of here is a life that results from misguided efforts to put created things in the place of the Creator. Christ could not be clearer or more direct: “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”
These words sound harsh and upsetting, but we must understand them as Jesus understood them. The Lord’s emphasis is on the “more than Me.” In other words, Christ seeks a complete, total and generous fidelity from those who would be His followers. No material thing, not even the closest of family ties, should interfere with or lessen our adherence to Jesus Christ and to His Gospel. God alone is to be loved absolutely and unconditionally. He asks us to love family and neighbor, but not even these should come before the love of God, which always has priority. All other loves are enriched, purified and encouraged to grow when we love God. We find ourselves able to overcome the obstacles and limitations of self-centeredness that are present in all of us. We become elevated and transformed by the life of grace. The more we die to selfishness, the more truly human we become, and the better we are prepared for eternal life.
Being a Christian is a great grace and privilege, but it is also demanding. The Christian life often involves taking up one’s cross to follow in the Lord’s footsteps. This cross may be large or small, but refusing it will not gain us any advantage. As the Lord says, “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” In the perspective of eternity, the true “winners” are those who, in a spirit of self-denial, are prepared to sacrifice anything and everything that comes between them and the life God offers.
Jesus also points out that when we accept His teachings and those who proclaim them to us we receive our reward from the Father. Our receptivity to the message of the Gospel and its messengers, as well as our acts of kindness and charity to other fellow disciples, will certainly lead us to a share in God’s gift of a life lived fully in His presence.
What is striking about Christ’s words is the boldness and assurance with which He claims our allegiance to Himself: service, loyalty, suffering, even our very lives are to be given to Him. Why? Because Jesus both promises and delivers what nothing else in this world good though it may be can: everlasting peace, everlasting love and everlasting life.
Fr. De Ladurantaye is director of the Office of Sacred Liturgy, secretary for diocesan religious education, a professor of theology at Notre Dame Graduate School and in residence at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, Virginia.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)