September 16, 2012

HOMILY for 24th Sunday per annum (B)

Isa 50:5-9; Ps 114; James 2:14-18; Mark 8:27-35

Freshers’ Week can be such a blur of activities, with countless people and things vying for your attention.Special discounts, music, parties and free food are all part of the arsenal of Freshers’ Week lobbied at us to entice us to sign up. And of course, our own CSU has had its share of these including tonight’s wine and cheese event!

But Jesus just wouldn’t fit into this Freshers’ Week mentality of free food and free revelry, and, it seems, he might not have been too successful at the Societies Fair. Because, when asked what he offers if we’re to join him, he says: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”. No free food, no parties, but deny yourself and take up your cross. Perhaps this honesty is refreshing… but Jesus’ offer of the Cross, of his suffering, death, and rising, shocks even his disciples. But that’s because Peter, like so many of us, fails to look beyond the merely superficial, beyond our current human experiences, and to broaden our thinking so that we begin to glimpse the expansiveness and freedom of God’s thinking. For what is it, really, that Jesus is offering us? 

“Deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me”, he says. What he’s offering us is that one thing we all long for, the one thing that will satisfy our restless cravings for something more, the only thing that will fill the void in the human heart. Love. Jesus is offering us love, and he wants to widen our hearts so that we can receive God’s infinite love, and we can learn to love. 

Because, contrary to what we’re often told, we don’t love ourselves by indulging ourselves, and giving in to whatever we want. We love when we deny ourselves, when we sacrifice and give ourselves for a greater good. We often realize how much we really desire something only when we’re willing to make sacrifices for it. So, mothers give up sleep for their baby’s well-being, athletes discipline themselves for Olympic success, and students will have to study diligently for that First Class degree. Each of these, in a certain way, show a measure of love because we’re stretched and widened for something greater, for love. But Jesus says that we can have no greater love than to die for a friend. In other words, to sacrifice one’s life for another is the greatest love. Which is why, if we want to learn to love, Jesus invites us to deny ourselves, and to pick up our cross, and follow him; to learn the way of total self-gift. For Jesus shows us through his Cross, where he gave up his life for us, the greatest love of all: the free unconditional love of God, the most true Friend of humanity, for you and me.

You will, hopefully, learn many things in University. But only true things are really worth learning, and the greatest truth you can learn is to love. Because as St Paul says, “if I have… all knowledge… but have not love, I am nothing”. So, Love is what Jesus offers us, and he offers to teach us to love so that we become genuine lovers, through giving ourselves for the good of others. How different this true sacrificial love is from the prevailing culture of casual hook-ups that masquerades as love! 

That would never bring peace to the fundamental restlessness of the human heart. If we desire to satisfy the hunger of our hearts for beauty, pleasure, and delight, then we have to seek Love, and we shall only find love when we allow ourselves, firstly, to be loved by God who is Love itself. Many people fail to know the unconditional love of Another, of God, for them, and, so, the process of learning to love is short-circuited, and they try to replace God’s love with drugs, drink, sex and other transient pleasures. That just can’t work. So, first of all, know and experience the unfailing love of God. And then, when we are secure in the knowledge that we are loved, we can learn to love ourselves properly, and then, finally, learn from Jesus how to love others. In other words, we’re invited to deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Christ.  

If you want to take up Christ’s offer of love, then this is a good place to start: this chapel and chaplaincy are God’s classrooms! Because here we are reminded of God’s unfailing love and mercy. Because Christ’s Church is like a hospital for the sick and wounded, not a place for impeccable saints. So, we sinners need not be afraid, but are called here to be loved, healed and tended by God’s merciful love especially in the sacrament of reconciliation. We come here to be fed and strengthened with the Eucharist because it is from this Altar that Jesus shows us the depths of his love. He freely gives us his own Body and Blood, his entire self, for our good. This is Love. So, if we come here and meet Christ in his sacraments, we will know God’s love for us. This is fundamental, but here in the chaplaincy, we also learn through the friendships we form that we’re lovable and loved. And this too is an important part of why we come here. 

Once we know that we’re loved, then we can begin to love, firstly by loving ourselves. We learn this when we give ourselves time to relax here with our friends or when we seek peace and refuge with God, our most true Friend, in the chapel. We love ourselves when we come here to feed ourselves well, at the Midweek Meal or Friday lunch, say, but also, to feed ourselves with Truth at the various talks and activities where we learn more about our Faith together. And the highlight of each day is the celebration of Mass because we’re being fed and taught by Jesus himself daily. If we love ourselves we wouldn’t want to deprive ourselves of this grace because loving ourselves, ultimately, means that we desire what is truly good and life-giving, and we choose that each day. 

If we can do this, then we can also desire the good for others, and choose to bring it about for them. That is, we can finally love others. In any community there are many opportunities to love other people; good deeds we can do that bring our faith to life, as St James says. For example, little things like helping to empty the dish-washer can become acts of self-sacrifice that teach us to love. Or bigger things, too, like contributing to the homeless project at St Catherine’s Convent, also put into action Christ’s invitation to deny ourselves, to pick up our cross, and follow him in the Way of Love. 

All these opportunities are open to us for us to know that we’re loved, and to learn to love. Only one question remains: do you dare to take up Christ’s offer? It can be daunting, but do not be afraid. As the prophet Isaiah said: “the Lord God helps me”. 

  1. lawrenceop posted this
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