22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 20:7-9, Romans 12:1-2, Matthew 16:21-27
Faith tells us that our dignity as human beings rests in the fact that we have been created in God’s image and likeness. Yet the prophet indignantly complains that he has become an object of mockery and derision wherever he goes. Our faith tells us that we were made for loving God and to live in communion with God, with one another, and with the whole of creation. The prophet complains that there is something wrong with the picture since the Word of the Lord has brought him nothing but derision, rejection, and outrage. Like the prophet, we too think that there should be no pain or discomfort in our lives if we surrender to the call of God. The prophet thought the best way to avoid the pain and distress he was experiencing would be to hold his tongue and say nothing. Then comes the rub! “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” (Jer. 20:9).
The words of the prophet Isaiah are confirmed in Jeremiah’s complaint. “The word that I speak will not return to me empty. It will achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Is. 55:11). The living Word is meant to be proclaimed. Saint Paul responded to Jeremiah’s refusal to speak. “God’s word cannot be chained” (2Tim. 2:9). In his encounter with the Lord outside Damascus, Paul was given an explanation: “it is hard to kick against the goad” (Acts 26:14). To put out the fire burning within him, the prophet had to surrender to the movement of grace. In that act of surrender, he found comfort and strength as the Word produced its intended fruit.
Taking up this theme, the apostle to the gentiles writes: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). The servant of the Lord must be willing to let the Word consume him, making him an acceptable oblation to the one who called him. Because the Lord has entrusted the seed of his word to us, let us surrender ourselves, all we are, all we have, and all we can do to him. As the word becomes a fire burning within us, let us become a light shining among people who are living in darkness. As the fire of divine love consumes us the Lord uses us as a communion sacrifice for the world.
As disciples of Christ we are called take up our cross and follow in his steps. We are invited to walk in the same path Christ walked, ever obedient to the Father’s will. The restrictions imposed upon us by the pandemic do not change our status as children of God, as sons in the Son. Social distancing does not separate us from the Body of Christ. Face masks do not conceal the glory shining on the face of Christ. However, these disciplines do challenge us to find new ways of proclaiming the Word that has been implanted in us. In humble and hidden ways, we are to bring Christ to a fragile and suffering world. The book of Exodus recounts: “Because the Israelites were frightened when they saw Moses’ face, he would cover it with a veil until he went in to speak with the Lord” (Ex. 34:35). Similarly, there is a hiddenness to our apostolate: “In the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, the way of life is total consecration to God expressed in fraternal union, solitude, and silence, in prayer, work, and a disciplined life. By a hidden apostolic fruitfulness, it causes the mystical body of Christ to grow” (CST 7).
By faithfully observing the monastic enclosure, we imitate Christ who veiled his face in a human body as he came forth from the Father’s presence. He made himself poor to enrich the members of the human race. He annihilated himself to bring the children of Adam and Eve to the fullness of life. By entering more deeply into solitude, we join all our brothers and sisters as they journey into their inner depths where they can encounter Christ. As we strive to be alone with The Alone, we find ourselves in communion with one another. I was taken by these words spoken by Pope Francis. “The pandemic is a crisis, and we do not emerge from a crisis the same as before: either we come out of it better, or we come out of it worse.”
In the Letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul reminds us to keep our eyes fixed on the goal as we press on towards the prize of our upward call in Christ Jesus (CF Phil. 3:14). In this way, we will be able to overcome our physical, spiritual, and social infirmities as well as the destructive tendencies that separate us from each other. God has implanted his living Word in us. The implanted Word is living and active within us as we attempt to respond to the grave challenges caused by the present pandemic. As the implanted Word puts forth roots, it also ignites within us the Fire of Divine Love. This is the same fire that consumed the heart of Christ. To be consumed by the fire of love and to become an oblation acceptable to the Father for the healing and reconciling of the world is at the very core of Christian discipleship.
Jesus reminds us that his way is the way of love, and there is no true love without self-sacrifice. If we are followers of Jesus, we must let him lead us, realizing that he will not deliver us from suffering, pain, or difficulty. Instead of seeking our benefit and comfort, we allow every experience – even those moments of distress – to draw us into a closer relationship with Jesus who invites us to lay our burdens on his shoulders. The cross is God’s choice to love anytime and every time; to love anywhere and everywhere; and to love anyone and everyone. Let us offer ourselves like Christ, our Master, and Lord, for the life of the Church and the salvation of the world. Let us be conformed to Christ, who offered himself as a ransom for others. What we follow Jesus we must be willing to take on a mission, similar to Jeremiah’s. Because the Word will not be chained, we must be willing to lay our burdens down freeing ourselves to take up the burdens of others who suffer pain and need our help. In our poverty, we may not be able to prevent pain and suffering, but we can accompany those who suffer. We can be the Instruments God uses to bring about healing in our broken world.