June 21, 2023, 6:00 AM

Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10: 38-39

If you and I really want to take up the cross, we will die. There is no way around it. A cross means that we will be suspended between heaven and earth, and we will be pulled apart from one limb to another. We would rather not think this is the case. However, there is no way to carry the cross and not die.

St. Francis learned this lesson at a youthful age. Descending from a wealthy, aristocratic family was not enough to keep him from leaving his inheritance and potentially noble position. In following the way of Christ, he instead chose the way of the cross and became a beggar who encountered hunger, homelessness, and illness. In so doing, he embraced a God who was incarnate in the world – not only in thought, but in the actual physical nature of everything.

For the Christian church today, the concept of taking up one’s cross has too often become diluted, if not totally irrelevant. The image that calls us to leave our life behind has become a decorative necklace, a lapel button, an altar adornment, or a decoration on the finest linens. We miss the point of the cross even while looking at it daily.

The cross is not simply an emblem, but points the way between life and death. Ironically, if we do not die to ourselves, we never find life. Dying to one’s self means dying to a person’s ego. The ego embraces a sense of self which entails believing that we actually know what is going on, that we are somehow more unique than the next person, that we can exist by ourself. The ego is cunning, powerful, and patient. Think that you have your ego under control, and the ego rears its ugly head once again claiming victory.

The most uncomfortable part of change is giving up our illusions. After all, we were taught well by the church and our culture that if we are good people (or at least attempt to be good) that will count for something in order to get into heaven. The problem is that God does not ascribe to arithmetic.

We can live only by dying. Dying to that rambunctious ego that keeps us from being friends with our enemies, speaking out for the victims of violence, looking the other way in the face of atrocities, and pretending all the while that things are OK. Things are only OK when they are in the process of being renewed as we die to the focus on ourself.

How do we know when we are on the cross of Christ and dying to ourself? That occurs when we speak up for those without a voice and are dismissed by others, when we work to stop violence and are blocked from doing so, when we cry out for justice and encounter silence, and when we ask the church to move forward with being more inclusive and encounter “bureaucratic” resistance. In times like these, we feel the heavy dynamic of the cross.

Yet, in faith we keep going following the way of the Christ who continues to lead and love us.

Prayers and Blessings,

Fr. John