Losing One’s Life for Christ
Homily 13th Sunday Year A: Losing One’s Life for Christ
Fr. Dwight P. Campbell, S.T.D.
Our Catholic Faith, and the teaching of Christ upon which it is based, is full of paradoxes. A paradox is an apparent contradiction.
Take, for example, the words of St. Paul in our second reading today, from his Epistle to the Romans:
In Baptism we died with Jesus and were buried with Him into His death, “so that just as Christ was raised from the dead . . . we too might live in newness of life. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”
So, it is through dying that we live: a paradox, and apparent contradiction.
As Catholics, followers of Jesus, how do we understand these words?
In baptism we are to die to sin and selfishness – a life centered upon self, and we are to live the new life of Christ who is risen from the dead, meaning we are to live no longer for ourselves, but for God and for others.
The words of Jesus in the Gospel today further explain, and reinforce this teaching, again with paradoxical language. Jesus tells us: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
And precisely how do we lose our lives in Christ, in order to truly find our lives, and attain the Kingdom of Heaven? By taking up our daily crosses. Jesus says: “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”
The fact is, in today’s culture, living for God and for others with the hope of attaining Heaven, and taking up one’s daily cross, are not popular ideas. Our popular culture is centered primarily on self. (There’s even a magazine with that title!)
In this week’s Catholic Herald newspaper, Archbishop Listecki addresses this topic, bemoaning how much secular thinking has influenced our culture:
He describes secularism in these terms: “It is the here and now that counts with little concern for the afterlife.” He then describes the problem with this mode of thinking. He says that “When the spiritual aspect of life is eliminated, then the only concern for human beings becomes what is either gained or lost in the present world.”
How sad it is for people to live their lives totally centered on worldly pleasures and is selfish pursuits. Such people will never find true happiness. Why? Because we are made for God, and only God can fill the desires of our hearts.
As St. Alphonsus Liguori says: “Nothing can satisfy one whom God does not satisfy.”
As followers of Jesus Christ who have died with Him in Baptism and now share in His divine life, our lives are no longer our own. We truly belong to Christ who paid the price for our sins by shedding His blood for us on the Cross.
Therefore, we must live lives in service of God and neighbor, rather than making the selfish pursuit of wealth, popularity and pleasure the primary focus in our lives, keeping in mind that if we life a Christ-centered life rather than a self-centered life, we will attain the great reward held out to us: never-ending happiness in the kingdom of Heaven.
Christianity is based on self-denial; there is no Christianity without the cross. Those who value the pleasures which the world offers over and above eternal life and holiness – the latter which includes taking up our daily crosses – will lose the greatest reward: Heaven.
As one ancient Christian writers says: “It is better to die for God’s sake and to live eternally than to live for the sake of human interests and suffer eternal death. Christ died for us, . . . How much more ought we to die for him?”
And here’s another paradox: In living a life of selfless service to God and neighbor, and by taking up our crosses each day for love of Jesus and in union with Him – being patient, kind, generous – we obtain great happiness here on earth as well.
In fact, the people that are most happy, who are most filled with true, authentic joy, are those who forget themselves and spend their lives for God and for others.
To prove this point, all we have to do is look at the Saints – especially the martyrs who were willing to lose their own lives rather than deny Jesus.
The Saints are our models to imitate in following the teaching of Christ that we hear in today’s Gospel.
Here are some words of wisdom from the Saints in regard to bearing our daily crosses with patience, and finding God’s will in doing so, which brings with it true happiness in this life, and never-ending joy in the next:
St. Philip Neri says: “Sufferings are a kind of paradise to him who suffers them with patience, while they are a hell to him who has no patience.”
St. Alphonsus Liguori says something similar: “By the law of nature, there is no pleasure in suffering; but Divine Love, when It reigns in a heart, makes its take delight in its sufferings.”
St. Mary Magdalen di Pazzi (one of the Carmelites painted in our sanctuary) says: “All sufferings, however great, become sweet when we look at Jesus on the cross.”
Yes, we must see all our sufferings as a share in Christ’s suffering on the Cross – for our own sanctification, and for that of others (e.g., the conversion of sinners).
The Saints tell us that we must bear our daily crosses because God has willed them.
St. Alphonsus says: “Patience is a perfect sacrifice that we can offer to God, because in our trials we do nothing but accept from His hands the cross that He sends us.”
He also says: “What does he gain who refuses the cross? He increases its weight.”
St. Gerard Majella insists: “In all trials, I will say always: ‘Lord, Thy will be done.’”
And the Saints assure us of the heavenly reward that awaits those who bear their crosses in this earthly veil of tears:
The great Carmelite Saint and Doctor of the Church, St. Therese of Lisieux (the Little Flower), says: “Life is only a dream: soon, we shall awaken [after death, when hopefully we shall see God]. And what joy! The greater our sufferings, the more limitless our glory. Oh! Do not let us waste the trial Jesus sends.”
These words of St. Therese reflect the teaching of Christ and the Church on merit: By accepting patiently all of our daily crosses which God in His loving Providence arranges for us, we grow in holiness and merit greater glory and happiness in Heaven!
St. John Bosco assures us: “Your reward in Heaven will make up completely for all your pain and suffering.”
Here are more words of wisdom from the Little Flower: “When we shall see Him in Heaven, then we shall understand the price of suffering and trial. Like to Jesus, we shall say: ‘It was truly necessary for suffering to try us and bring us glory.’”
And I’ll end with these famous lines – very beautiful – from another great Carmelite Saint and Doctor of the Church, St Teresa of Avila: “Let nothing disturb thee. Let nothing affright thee. All things are passing; God only is changeless. Patience gains all things. He who hath God wanteth nothing. Alone God sufficeth.”