I’d like to say a few words on our second reading, especially the advice St. Paul offers to all of us: “be not conformed to this world,” in other words ‘let the example and the teaching of Jesus be the guidelines by which we live our lives, not the secular values that permeate our society.’
These words brought to mind something that happened to me just recently. I had a funeral and was going to the cemetery afterwards. A young, newly licensed funeral director was doing the driving. As usual on these occasions we were doing small talk. We talked about how quickly the summer went and about our vacations. I told her I’d been down home to visit the family and asked if she’d taken her vacation yet. She told me she was going to Ethiopia in October with Habitat for Humanity to help build homes. In the past her vacations were to India and Pakistan with the same organization.
She told me she does this to keep in touch with reality. The homes they build are very simple but they are palaces compared to what other people live in. She told me her experience with Habitat makes her appreciate the blessings in her own life and she is committed to live a very simple life style. She is not into ‘shop til you drop’ mentality. Most her friends think she’s crazy, a fanatic. The truth is her values are an affront to them because she does not buy into what is so important to them: the good life.
There are so many good young people who have made themselves aware of and care about the under-privileged in our city, our country and around the world. They are sensitive to the injustice of the economic systems of the world and the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. They are not conformed to the values of this world. Many of them suffer for this. They are resented by their peers.
I don’t know this young woman’s religion, I don’t know if she even goes to church. I do know she is a woman of principle and she will not conform to the consumerism and wasteful lifestyle around her.
In the gospel Jesus speaks in demanding words, “If anyone wants to become my follower let them deny themselves, take up the cross and follow me.” He asks us the question, “what does it profit anyone to gain the world and lose oneself, one’s integrity.” I think when we hear the word ‘cross’ we think about illness or some other misfortune or struggle in our lives. Maybe we could think of the cross as our personal challenge to be faithful to the values to which our Catholic faith calls us.
Along this line someone once wrote, “you work for peace and people accuse you of being unpatriotic. You stand up for the poor and people write you off as a naïve dreamer. You work for nonviolent change like Martin Luther King and they shoot you.” There is a cost of discipleship; it will cost us for being faithful to the teachings and example of Jesus.
Remember Matthew’s description of the judgement we will face at the end of our lives? I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was naked and you clothed me, sick and in prison and you visited me. As often as you did these things to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did them to me. When all is said and done we will be judged by who we were and how we were to one another. Could we imagine that taking up the cross is a challenge to each of us to try as best we can to avoid being conformed to the values of the world? Our cross is in the challenge to be aware of and do something about the unfairness and the injustice in the society in which we live, a society unmoved by hungry children and homeless families and good men and women who cannot find work. Our cross is the challenge to avoid being sucked into the consumerism and wastefulness of our society. Our cross challenges us to work toward a healing of the earth and the healing of society. Our cross, challenges us to do what we can, in any way we can to make our society and our church more just and inclusive.
As we continue this Mass in which we celebrate the reality of Christ’s life giving love for each of us, may we accept the cross of living in such a way that our lives live out the challenge of Christ, “love one another as I have loved you – whatever you do to or for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you do to me.”