You have to accept your crosses to gain salvation

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Aug. 9 during the seminarian retreat.

In today’s Gospel we have a very peculiar interaction between Jesus and Peter.

Jesus has just declared that Peter is the rock on which he will build his Church. Now he calls him a satan and accuses him of trying to make him trip and fall.

What gives? Peter is OK with believing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, but he can’t handle the thought of Jesus’ death. But this is the course he is on and so Peter’s opposition to the cross is not helpful — indeed, his concern for Jesus’ physical well-being is an obstacle and a temptation.

Earlier the real Satan had tempted Jesus in the desert and at that time he refused to use his miraculous powers to relieve his hunger or to impress unbelievers or take a short-cut to establishing his kingdom. Now Peter tempts him as he begins to face the cross, and here Jesus steps over the trip hazard of Peter’s misplaced concern: he will go to the cross.

Every one of us has to face hurdles in this life. When we see hurdles coming we can prepare ourselves for what we know will be a difficult challenge — I think of the death of Betty Friend five months ago. But trip hazards can be worse because they catch us unprepared.

One moment we’re on our feet, the next moment we’re flat on the ground and don’t know what happened. Sometimes these are really big things too: we were blindsided by the death of Daniel Phillips and the accident of Joseph Chan. But many trip hazards are small; that’s why they’re so dangerous.

Naturally Peter didn’t want Jesus to suffer, but if that was God’s will, if that was the price of our salvation, then to push for anything else was a trip hazard. None of us wants any of our loved ones to suffer, but God’s plan for that loved one may be beyond our capacity to understand. The cross they have to bear may be what saves their soul and, for that matter, ours.

I once had a parishioner who came to faith as a result of being arrested. His whole world had come crashing down and in his despair he turned to his wife’s religion for comfort. He attended RCIA while his case was awaiting trial and later I received him into the Church in jail. One day he said something to me that I’ll never forget.

He said, “This is the most horrible thing I’ve ever had to go through, but you know, if I had not been arrested, I may never have come to faith. If this is the price of my salvation, then I guess it’s worth it.”

That’s what Jesus is telling us. The cross is the price of our salvation — Jesus’ cross, of course. But also the crosses that we have to bear and the crosses of those whom you will one day serve as priests.

The New Testament talks not only about the pain of the cross (which is obvious to us) but also about the scandal of the cross, which most people don’t understand. The Romans crucified people to discredit them by humiliating them in the most obscene ways possible. Jesus was stripped completely naked in a culture that was very modest, and then as his heart weakened the whole lower half of his body began to engorge, with the obscene results displayed for all to see.

So also the crosses Jesus invites us to bear may be humiliating as well as painful — even though we remain fully clothed. And yet when you invite Jesus to help you bear your cross, it becomes salvific for you and for those who know you.

And when Jesus uses you help your parishioners to bear their crosses, these also become salvific. Jesus implies that every person bears a cross and it is a serious trip hazard to deny it, to pretend that it isn’t there.

That’s what Peter tried to do. And that’s what we are often tempted to do in ministry — wishing problems away instead of embracing them, embracing reality, the broken human condition. Jesus says that whether we are willing to face it or not, the cross is there.

The issue is what we do with it: that we take it up, that we embrace it freely, that we learn to love it: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”

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