Having four kids (and three of them boys close in age) guarantees me at least two things in life: there will always be messes and there will always be fights. The latter is something that is, most days, minor or done in jest. But every once in awhile we get two of the stubborn ones fighting over a beloved toy and chaos ensues. One thing that catches my eye is the outside motivation that defuses the rage. I can usually tell how beloved the object is simply by what gets them to pull away for a second and get their head on straight again. “Oh, you’ll trade me for a cookie?” Then I secretly note the true value of the toy that I can likely donate in the future.
But the ones that really tell me something are the fights that end on their own with little help from me. When I remind them that pulling at the toy will likely break it, the first one to let go is usually the one that truly loves that toy—the rudimentary life lesson that if we truly love something (or someone) we have to be ready and willing to let it go if that is what is best for it.
In this Sunday’s readings we are blasted with the same lesson, only with eternal weight: if we love our own life, we must be ready to lose it all for the sake of Christ. Letting go of attachments to this world isn’t just recommended, it’s mandatory. The message is clear: if we truly love God and want to be with him, we will let go of our wishes and desires and travel a new path, the path of Gospel living.
As an adult, this is a hard concept. It’s easy to be endeared by children fighting over toys learning a similar lesson. Their stakes are low. It’s a replaceable toy. But as we grow and life becomes seemingly more complicated, this lesson in love often grays. What exactly does it mean to die to self? How am I to be transformed by the Gospel? Do I actually have a thirst for God or am I living a two-faced life? The stakes are higher. Christ is truly calling me to a radical way of living for his sake and the sake of building up the kingdom.
Even St. Peter, who knew Jesus intimately and walked with him, was put off by this call at first. We hear in the Gospel today that he was unwilling to accept that Christ would suffer at the hands of the scribes and Pharisees. In many ways, he was clinging to his idyllic idea of life with Christ. He was hoping things wouldn’t be so hard, but Christ rebuked him, sending a clear message that the way of the Gospel is a life contrary to the world.
I don’t blame him. My day-to-day life is filled to the brim with my ideas about how things ought to be. I seek comfort and the easy way most times, especially when it comes to the daily tasks that are ordinary and repetitive. But underneath this current of what I feel things should be, Christ is calling me. Come after me, deny yourself so that you may live.
In Christifideles Laici, St. John Paul II reminds us: “Men and women saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult circumstances in the Church’s history. Today we have the greatest need of saints whom we must assiduously beg God to raise up” (16). In truth, we are being beckoned to rise up in this time. I am here in this day and age for a purpose. You are where you are right now because God has some definitive purpose for you to build up the kingdom. How will we respond?
There will be some of us called to do pretty incredible things. An example from this past weekend is a priest in Houston. Father David was so moved to bring Jesus to his flock during catastrophic flooding that he got in his kayak to seek them out and celebrate Mass. I think for most of us the opportunities will come in small hidden ways, ways that may go unnoticed if we aren’t listening. For me, times like this might come when a friend starts gossiping as we are talking. The comfortable part of me just wants to listen and pretend it’s no big deal. However, when I remember what I really love, I know I’m being called to choose the uncomfortable way. In that hidden moment it’s time to rise up and do something.
My prayer is that we choose to be countercultural saints in the small moments, and thirst deeply for life with God, so much so that we are happy to lose our idyllic life of the world for a life in Christ. Nothing we do for Christ is too small and the Gospel today promises we will be repaid according to our conduct.
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
all that I have and possess.
You have given all to me.
To you, O Lord, and I return it.
All is yours.
Dispose of it wholly according to your will.
Give me your love and your grace,
for this is sufficient for me.
— Suscipe, St. Ignatius of Loyola.