“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God.” (Rom 12:2)
Some years ago, I was in a school when I had a rather profound conversation with a four-year-old. Four-year-olds are some of the wisest people I have ever met. They’re honest, innocent, and can see right through your soul. On that particular day, I was talking to a school mom who had her four-year-old little girl with her who all the sudden engaged me in one of the most insightful conversations I have ever had.
Girl: “Father! I know where you live!”
Me: “Really? Where?”
Girl: “On the cross!”
Me: (Closed my right eye, look up to the heavens and say) “Yea, that seems about right.”
Maybe that little girl perceived something that other adults couldn’t. I remember that day for being lousy. I literally had left my office to avoid the work and messages on my desk to get some fresh air and recharge the batteries. And then this little girl reminded me that the obstacles in the road that frustrate me and the people who try to take away my joy and the constant challenges we receive in carrying out God’s plan are all things that Jesus predicted when he told us in today’s gospel that we have to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow him. Carrying a cross is hard. Being nailed to one is even harder. So I guess that young four-year-old knew something that I had forgotten. As a priest, as a Christian, if I am to be like Christ, it’s not enough to simply carry the cross but be nailed to it as well. Yes, that cross was a profound moment of agony for our Lord, but it was also the ultimate sign of victory over sin and death and the powers of this world.
As Christians, and I have said this before, the crucifix that we wear around our necks isn’t just a piece of jewelry. It is a witness. It is a sign that we are followers of Jesus Christ. It is a sign that we will not let this world bring us down but rather be a sign that we are called to lift this world up. St. Paul tells the Romans in today’s second reading that we must not conform ourselves to this age, to the world we are living in. The Christian must be a sign of contradiction. We should be swimming upstream when the rest of the world is swimming downstream. We should not get caught up in this relativistic culture with its “anything goes” mentality. It’s so easy to get swept up in sinful mentalities, in ideas that go against the will of God, or as Jesus tells Peter in the gospel, “thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” And how do human beings think in this age? Everyone wants to be happy, but they go through extraordinary lengths, most of them sinful, to achieve momentary “happiness.” The thirst for money, fame, and power. The thirst for making one’s self the center of attention. The constant need to look after yourself with little to no regard for your neighbor. ‘What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” Jesus knows that what most of the world seeks is not true life. That can only be found in Him. And in here. In this church. At this altar. With this community. In our home. This church is a home that many have forgotten or simply don’t even know exists. This is where we learn to swim upstream. This is where we gaze upon that beautiful crucifix over our altar and realize that this is where we belong and that we will not find what we are looking for out there.
So my friends, heed the words of St. Paul and do not conform to this age. Be signs of contradiction. Take up your cross daily and follow Christ wherever he goes as he leads you towards the Father’s perfect will. Yes, there will be rough days when we feel like we are hanging up there on the cross with Jesus, but that’s to be expected for those who dare to follow the Messiah. Besides, we can’t ask for better company up there, can we?