120. God’s Way (Mark 8:27-38)

“Devotedly obey our mother, the Roman Church, and revere the Supreme Pontiff as your spiritual father.” – St. Louis

Mark 8:27-38: Jesus and his disciples left for the villages round Caesarea Philippi. On the way he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say I am?’ And they told him. ‘John the Baptist,’ they said ‘others Elijah; others again, one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he asked ‘who do you say I am?’ Peter spoke up and said to him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be put to death, and after three days to rise again; and he said all this quite openly. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. But, turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said to him, ‘Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’ He called the people and his disciples to him and said, ‘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, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. What gain, then, is it for a man to win the whole world and ruin his life? And indeed what can a man offer in exchange for his life? For if anyone in this adulterous and sinful generation is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

Christ the Lord  Jesus is the Lord. Yet many people do not consider him to be so. The question Christ asks Peter is one that he also asks us repeatedly throughout our earthly pilgrimage: “Who do people say that I am? … Who do you say that I am?” It is not enough, from Christ’s perspective, for his Lordship to be something abstract or distant. Sometimes earthly rulers are satisfied with a superficial allegiance – as long as they get our vote, they won’t bother themselves with coming into our personal space. Christ’s Kingdom doesn’t work that way. To be a Christian by name only – a nominal or cultural Catholic, as it is sometimes called – does not suffice. It is not enough to know what other people say about Jesus; we each need to encounter and respond to him personally. Only then, when in our hearts we have accepted Jesus as the Messiah, the Savior, the one anointed by God to come and establish the everlasting Kingdom – only then will we be ready to hear him explain to our hearts the mysteries of his loving plan of redemption.

When he does, we will find the strength to rejoice in our belonging to him instead of being ashamed and uncertain. Like the martyrs of every age, we will boldly bear witness to the Lord in word, deed, and example, and he will joyfully welcome us home when his glory is revealed.

 

Christ the Teacher  “The way you think is not God’s way but man’s.” In other words, God’s ways differ from our ways, but we need to learn to follow him and not ourselves. Christ teaches this lesson in the context of his own passion and death, which he has just predicted to his band of followers. When Peter tries to convince Christ to have the path of the Kingdom bypass the cross and its terrible sufferings, he is sharply and publicly rebuked. And then Christ affirms, explicitly and uncompromisingly, that he and all his followers must “bear the cross,” must experience suffering in this life. He goes so far as to say that those who refuse to accept the sacrifices and sufferings that God sends or allows will “lose their lives.”

The joy of following Christ necessarily involves the pain of self-denial and self-sacrifice. It is not easy to be faithful to one’s conscience, to the teachings of the Church, to the Ten Commandments, and to the will of God; it involves self-mastery and, sometimes, humiliation and persecution. “No disciple is greater than his master,” as Christ says later on (John 13:16); if he had to suffer in order to open the gates to heaven, we will have to suffer as we follow him in. Perhaps no other gospel lesson is more difficult to learn, or more important.

Christ the Friend  Jesus never sugarcoats his call to discipleship; to be his faithful friend involves sharing in his cross, no way around it. But crosses, when borne together with Christ, always lead to the Resurrection. If we follow him on the path of self-denial, losing our self-centered lives (our instinctual tendencies to self-indulgence) in order to be faithful to him and his Kingdom, we will find true life, life in communion with God.

Some people reject God because he hasn’t eliminated human suffering (though the same critics rarely consider how much suffering God does indeed prevent – suffering we don’t know about it, because it never happens). But if God, through the Incarnation, Passion, death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ, has chosen to give meaning to suffering instead of doing away with it, do we really have a right to complain? So much human suffering springs from our own, free (and selfish) choices. To eliminate it, God would have to eliminate our freedom. But if we were not free to reject him, we would not be free to accept him, and he values our friendship too much to turn us into mere subservient pets.

Christ in My Life Lord, I want you to be everything for me, absolutely everything. I want to love you as I ought to love you. You are my Creator, my Redeemer, my confidant, my guide, my brother, my King, my friend. All the good things in my life are your gifts. But you are greater than all your gifts. You are the Christ, the Savior, the way – my way…

I am beginning to understand with my mind the reason you send us crosses: we need to exercise our faith and trust so that those virtues will grow, and crosses are opportunities to exercise them. But even so, the cross still hurts. Teach me to love the crosses in my life as a way of uniting myself more to you and filling my soul with your wisdom…

You never let me bear my crosses alone. You are always alongside me, carrying the cross with me. Teach me to help my neighbors bear their burdens. You told us that there is more joy in giving than receiving. Teach me to be a giver, a self-forgetter, an authentic lover – a true Christian…

PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.

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Art for this post on Mark 8:27-38: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Rétire-toi, Satan (Get Thee Behind Me, Satan), James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, “Inside the Passion”–the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”. His most recent books are “Spring Meditations”, “Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength”, and “Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions”. Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

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