On this first Sunday of the academic year, as the orientation of our new seminarians at Saint John’s Seminary is completed and we finish our Opening Retreat today, we are challenged with the Gospel message of true discipleship.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Jesus addresses the disciples right after Peter responds to Jesus’ instruction that He must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Peter could not fathom this and insisted that it was not the fate for Jesus. Jesus rebuked Peter.
Jesus was ready and willing to suffer and die for the salvation of the world. He knew that by dying He would transform death itself into eternal salvation. He knew that laying down His life in this way was the greatest act of love; therefore, Jesus did not hesitate. Jesus’ desire is that Peter understand the mystery of God’s plan.
Jesus called Peter a stumbling block. He told him to get behind him – where a disciple belongs. Following the master is not standing in front, directing or correcting him. Jesus makes it clear that being faithful to God implies that personal plans and feelings do not count when they conflict with God’s will.
We have the longer view of history, Church teaching and the Holy Spirit to give us insight to this dialogue between Jesus and Peter. Peter simply could not comprehend Jesus’ suffering and so he desired that He be spared. In this comes the lesson for Peter: get in the position of a disciple and follow the Lord. Later, Peter would live out his own sacrificial mission after the example of His Lord.
Our discipleship likewise needs to be in line with God’s will. The work for each of us is to discover God’s plan for us. We, like Peter, can misinterpret how God is calling us to follow Him.
Perhaps that’s the challenge for each of us to pray about this week: where is God calling me to go in my life that is new, uncomfortable, challenging, or sacrificial? We have a built-in instinct to survive—usually seeking comfort over discomfort, enjoyment over suffering, freedom over restriction. Jesus shows us that perhaps that which seems most unlikely is the actual means to happiness.
Paul’s call to “present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,” as he addressed the Romans, is meant to realize our full potential.
We must strive to serve, live sacrificially, put God’s will first, unite ourselves to Christ, and make service and love for our neighbor our mission in life. This is what Jesus did. When we do this, we take up our cross, follow Him, die with Him, and are prepared to share in His Resurrection. This is the only way to eternal life. In our striving we embrace our conversion; a continued turning toward the Lord.
Saint Francis of Assisi knew that conversion was ongoing. Nearing his death, he shared these words with his brothers: “Let us begin again, for until now we have done nothing.” And, knowing that each brother had their journey to walk according to God’s plan said, “I have done what is mine to do. May Christ show you what is yours to do.”