Sunday, June 23, 2013

To Live the Memory of Christ's Mercy and Affection is the True Witness of the Cross

"Then he said to all, 'If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."  These words are often quoted.  In the face of our various sufferings, there is always some person who will try to alleviate our sufferings by repeating those words to us.  And usually, when they repeat those words to  me, I'm annoyed.  I'm not annoyed because the words are difficult to hear.  I'm not annoyed because the words are false.  I'm annoyed because--very often--the person quoting them seems to be taking the easy way out of confronting the reality of suffering.  "Oh, you were just diagnosed with cancer, your family all died in a plane crash, you lost your job, and your house  burned down?  Well, we all have to carry the cross.  Hope that makes you feel better.  Have a good day now."  The person speaking those words often seems thoroughly impressed with himself for having offered such sage spiritual advice.  In my experience, instead of being a source of encouragement, I sometimes find these folks (who I'm sure mean well) to be more of a burden.  It's like they're dismissive of the true weight of the other's suffering.

On the other hand, there are those people who are able to put one's sufferings into the context of the Christian life.  These people, I find helpful.  They do not use the "take up your cross" imperative as a means of dismissing the reality of suffering, but rather as a way of consoling the one who is suffering.  These persons are able to help the suffering to know the nearness of Christ.  "Yes, you are suffering and this suffering is truly terrible.  But, be confident that Christ is near to you.  He understands your sufferings and he is loving you in the midst of your sufferings."  

 What are some of the ways that we try to save our life and thus lose it?  We try to save our life by not following.  We try to save our life by adopting a worldly mentality.  How many Christians are ensnared in this trap?  There is the young person who becomes convinced that he cannot be generous with his life because he has to make a lot of money and plan for retirement.  There is the married couple who opts not to have children or to close their marriage off to further children in order to enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle.  There is the priest who is always plotting his next assignment in order to advance himself in the hierarchy or in living a comfortable lifestyle.  In the face of this, we need witnesses who show us that in following Christ--in losing our self-determination--we discover true life.  I saw a witness like this during the past few days.  The example of this young person's generosity was a powerful witness to me.

We try to save our life by trying to save ourselves.  In other words, we try to be perfect without Christ.  In the face of this temptation, we need witnesses who show us that with Christ, we can conquer all things.  Christ himself reminds us that the healthy do not need a physician, but the infirm do.  When Christians show us that they were once in dire straights, but that the Lord reached down and saved them, they provide to us a powerful witness.  They encourage us to trust in God's mercy and to depend upon his friendship.  Persons who live Christianity as though Christ were simply an added bonus to their life, but that they were already fine without him, do not inspire others.  Instead, I find that the person who acknowledges his or her total need for Christ is a source of tremendous encouragement.  I think true Christian witnesses are those who say one of two things: 1. I was at rock bottom and Christ saved me, or 2. I would have been at rock bottom had Christ not saved me.  Either way, it is an acknowledgment that I cannot save myself.

Similarly, we try to save our life by trying to make sense of it without Christ.  We go through great efforts to find another way to make sense of life, to justify our faults, to avoid admitting our sins, to avoid repenting of our misdeeds, and to making Christianity something a little less involved than giving our whole life to it.  In so many ways, this is the tactic of fear.  We are afraid to admit that we have squandered our inheritance.  We want to repair our life first and, instead of going back to the Father's House with a repentant heart, we want to go back and show him how well we did.  Witnesses testify that they tried to save their life without Christ, but only made more of a mess of it.  But, in surrendering to Christ, they found true life.

In all of these instances, the witness helps others to see the wisdom of the Cross.  The Cross for all of these persons involves surrendering the notion that they can save themselves.  It means saying, "I sinned."  It means saying, "I made a mess of my life."  It means saying, "I don't have the power to save myself."  It means saying, "I have to give my life away to Christ and follow where he leads me."  When I meet people like this, they attract me to Christ.  They testify to him not by their ability to quote him, but rather by their conviction that they need him and that he has not rejected them or abandoned them.  When I meet them, I am encouraged to pick up the cross and to trust the Lord.  

The world does not need so much people who can memorize Jesus' words and repeat them.  It needs people who, in their very person, live the memory of Christ's mercy and love. We are all called to live in front of others the memory of Christ's mercy and love.  We are called to be witnesses.

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