“Jim and Mary fell in love in college and after graduation they each decided to pursue their careers and postpone marriage, so each went back to their own home, Jim in Boston, Mary in L.A. and they both came from very close tight-knit families and they both enjoyed their families very much and had a lot of interaction with them, but by Christmas time, Jim and Mary had had enough. They missed each other so much. They decided that they were going to move, so they moved to Kansas City and each found an apartment close to the other and each found good jobs. Now Jim and Mary left their father and their mother, their brothers and their sisters and their friends because of love and that’s the way it is in life, is it not? That there are times when we have to make a decision to change, a decision to leave behind not what we don’t like, but what we love for something else, in our mind for something better, for something to which we are called and that is the meaning really of discipleship and Jesus explains it in our Gospel reading today, that we are called to leave behind sometimes, that what we love for something better. Now what we leave behind is not bad, we don’t hate it, but it’s just something that we need to move on from, so when Jesus says, ‘hate’ in the Gospel today. ‘Unless you hate your mother and your father, your brother and sister, you can not be my disciple.’ What he’s talking about is not wanting harm or hurt on anybody, but what he’s talking about is the often difficult decisions that we have to make in life in order to fulfil our dreams, in order to fulfill our calling, so our Gospel reading is about discipleship and each one of us, baptized Christians is called to be a disciple of Jesus. What does that mean? It means to put Jesus first in our lives, not second, not third, but first. It means to love him with all of our heart, with all of our mind, with all of our soul and to grow in that love, especially through our daily prayer and through our efforts to say yes to his will in our lives, to be a disciple of Jesus means to believe in him to truly embrace his teaching, to make them part of our lives. It means to live moral lives according to the teachings of Jesus and to live moral lives in this very spiritually challenged world in which we live. To be a disciple of Jesus means to take up our cross daily and follow after him.
What is our cross? It’s individual for each person according to your life and circumstances and according to what Jesus has called you to live. It may be something very difficult, very hard to embrace, but it is your cross and Jesus helps us by saying, ‘My grace is enough for you.’ His grace is always there, his help is always there for us no matter what our cross may be. For most of us our crosses are not that dramatic, but they are very real. They may be just the day to day challenges that we face. To be a Christian, to live out the life that Jesus wants us to live and maybe something else, maybe sickness, it may be helping someone whom we love who is sick. Our crosses are varied, but Jesus calls us not to run away from them, but to embrace them as we embrace him and to know that carrying our cross is part of our carrying the cross of Jesus Christ.
There was a young Russian soldier named Yevgeny Rodionov. He was 19 years old and he was a very committed orthodox Christian. In Russia, he joined the army and he was sent to combat the Chesny rebels who were Muslim terrorist. Unfortunately, Yevgeny was captured and he was imprisoned for 100 days and during that time his captors tried to make him give up his faith in Jesus, to renounce Christ and to become a Muslim, but Yevgeny steadfastly resisted the torture and the attempts to make him change and he was eventually beheaded by the terrorists. His mother found a way to bring his body back to Russia and provide a funeral for him and at the funeral she held the cross that Yevgeny wore around his neck always as a proclamation of who he was and said, ‘I am proud of my son. He looked death in the eye and did not waiver. He accepted his cross and followed Jesus.’ You and I may never be called to such a commitment, but to a commitment we are called and we are called to examine how we have been truly disciples of Jesus and how we can grow in that discipleship. We are called you and I to take up our cross, whatever it may be and follow after Jesus who took up his cross for you and for me and gave his life on Calvary. What is your cross? It’s varied, but it is there and he calls us to take it up daily and follow after him.
I have a little prayer that I entitled, ‘What Is My Cross?’
What is the cross my Jesus Lord
That you have picked for me
How shall I follow in your steps
And what shall my cross be?
Will it be heavy, hard to bear
In pain will my life lead?
Will I say yes and carry on
With love will I proceed
Or will my cross be found in this
To watch another’s pain?
Will my cross be help someone
To not live in vain?
It’s love whereby I follow you
No matter what life brings
Love in living, love in giving
From generous heart will spring’”