Discipleship

On the Inside; On the Outside


 

Take Up Our Cross

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What did Jesus mean when He said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  (Luke 9:22-25) What does this look like in our lives?

I don’t think Jesus was referring to our daily toils and trials. To take up our cross and to follow Jesus starts with literally taking up our cross. We can’t take it up for someone else nor can anyone take it up for us. The point is, it is “your cross” to pick up and not mine, and neither is mine for you to take up, so first we must take up our cross, and only then can we follow Jesus. Our cross is not dealing with chronic health problems, dealing with disobedient children, experiencing a relationship issue, or having one of the worst jobs on the planet. I don’t believe we can say, “That’s the cross I have to carry,” if we’re referring to things that cause us problems in life. Jesus wasn’t carrying His cross of being mistreated and beaten by the Roman guards or falsely accused and arrested. His cross meant only one thing for Him; death, but His death would bring eternal life for us, so His cross wasn’t about Himself, but about others.

The only way to God is through the cross … and to follow Him means to take it up. The words, to take it up, are a challenge to us. We often think of the perks of faith and not of the costs. But following Christ is not a passive endeavor. We have to be active in our faith, and being active in our faith will, quite frankly, cost us. This means that if we want to follow Christ, then we must be prepared to nail ourselves up there.

But in order to do that, we need to strip away all those things we cloak ourselves with. We need to strip away selfish desires, rip off arrogance and pride, and scrape off stubbornness. It means making God’s will our will, not creating our own path, but following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Our Lord chose the cross as the means of our salvation precisely because of the great cost it meant for Him and for us, so that in recognizing that cost, we can appreciate the immense joy and peace we find in His victory. So be not afraid. Let’s take up our cross and follow Jesus. It is definitely worth it!

Called to Do Great Things

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A little more than a week ago, Stephanie and I took a group of high school teens from our parish to NCYC, or the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. Together, we were part of the 25,000 teens in attendance for this three day conference.

Our teens heard some of the top Catholic speakers and musicians as they played and prayed throughout the weekend. And they were all in agreement that the Friday night adoration was extremely powerful and moving. (Try to imagine 25,000 + in complete and total silence before the Blessed Sacrament. It was a true spiritual experience.)

The theme of the conference was “Called.” And the message was simple: each of us is being called by God for greater things. This is also the message of our Gospel today (MT 4:18-22).

Andrew, Simon, James and John were fishing – just doing what they always do – when they received the call from Jesus. They were asked to follow Jesus and be fishers of men.

We too, are fishers of people. Each of us is also being called to do great things in God’s name. We are called to follow Christ and to then lead by example through loving and serving others. We are called to be saints so that all may see, through us, the goodness of God.

As our teens learned, each of us receives God’s call every single day, right where we are. This can be a scary thing. But we need to remember that we never fish alone; for we are always accompanied by the One who constantly calls us to do great things in His name.

Perfectly Imperfect

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Today we remember Saints Peter and Paul: two men called by God to do great things. Two men who certainly were not born equipped to serve the Lord, but rather, two men who were equipped by the Lord to preach the Gospel and ultimately to give up their lives for its sake.

Peter was a young fisherman living on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. He was a man prone to outbursts and weak under pressure. He was unstable, impulsive, insecure, and cowardly. He often spoke or acted inappropriately, and was anything but a rock.

Paul was a highly educated Pharisee who persecuted Christians, even ordering the stoning of the first martyr of the Church, Saint Stephen. He was a bigot, self-righteous, manipulative, vindictive, cunning and opportunistic.

Peter and Paul were two unlikely characters for the Lord to call into his service and to establish as apostles of the Church. Yet the Lord chose them, transformed them, and entrusted to them to spread the Gospel.

God called Peter and Paul to use their personalities for the good: Peter to use his passionate love to look after the flock, and Paul to use his training as a Pharisee and his strength of character to ensure that the non-Jews would be welcomed into the church. It is a reminder to us that our strengths and our weaknesses can become God’s means of helping others, if we let it. We don’t have to be perfect for God to work through us. God can work through us, faults and all, just as he did with Peter and Paul.

Spiritual conversion requires the greatest miracle of all, but God’s Word is reassuring. If people like Peter and Paul could become deeply converted and change the world, then we know there is hope for the rest of us.

Off the Rails

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In 1980, Ozzy Osbourne released a song called “Crazy Train.” In this song, Ozzy asks when we can all learn to love in a world gone mad:

Crazy, but that’s how it goes
Millions of people living as foes.
Maybe it’s not too late
To learn how to love, and forget how to hate.

Mental wounds not healing,
Life’s a bitter shame;
I’m goin’ off the rails on a crazy train.
I’m goin’ off the rails on a crazy train.

What the apostles were doing in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 5:27-33) must have seemed a little crazy to much of the surrounding world. The Pharisees and leaders certainly seem to think this. Drawing attention to the public proclamation of Jesus as Lord was indeed crazy.

The apostles preach the gospel, encounter imprisonment, are miraculously released, and immediately get back to preaching the gospel – in the exact same place their message seemed to fail the first time! Crazy, right?

How often are we eager to shake the dust off our feet when opposition to our faithfulness arises? There is a time for counting our losses and moving on, but our scripture encourages us to return to those hard places, to keep at the work of faithfulness, and to proclaim the good news again regardless of the results we see. Twice the apostles preached in the temple. Twice they were arrested. Once they were flogged. And yet, Acts 5 concludes with the apostles rejoicing in their sufferings and preaching in the temple every single day.

Too often, discouragement and indifference creep in, and we cease to proclaim and live the gospel. When we find the strength to obey God’s commands and respond to the promptings of the Spirit, God becomes more present in our lives.

Let us get off of our crazy train and persevere in our faith. If we strive to become witnesses and partakers in God’s joy, we will never go off the rails.

Identifying the Christ

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Peter experiences a moment of clarity in today’s Gospel (Mark 8:27-33). Briefly the clouds part and he speaks from the heart: “You are the Christ.” It is the discovery of one who has followed, asked, watched, and questioned. But as our story unfolds we realize Peter knows almost nothing about the implications of his declaration. He speaks a seed of truth without knowing how, when, or where it will grow.

Jesus’ identity was widely debated. The disciples give a number of answers reflecting the speculations of the people: John the Baptist, Elijah, a prophet of old. All they really know is this one is very different.

But no one has a clue just how different Jesus really is.

For the disciples the declaration implies political freedom, armies, war, riches, and power. God’s Messiah will set Israel free from the clenched fist of Rome. They are imagining a king, a court, and multiple thrones.

So Jesus begins the monumental task of redefining their expectations. He speaks plainly of suffering, rejection, death, resurrection. Peter offers his quiet word of correction. After all, no one will follow into battle if Jesus talks like this. They expect blood to be shed – but not the blood of Jesus.

Jesus’ words are clear but, with the exception of Peter’s rebuke, each time the disciples have nothing to say. Mark offers the only word of explanation later in the Gospel: “Though they failed to understand his words, they were afraid to question him.” (Mark 9:32).

After all, it is so unexpected. So Jesus must slowly open a space in which to reveal God’s suffering, death and resurrection which will lead the disciples to understand how they will be freed by the ultimate sacrifice of God’s love.

Let us pray that we may have that same revelation.

The Cost of Discipleship

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So who wants to be a disciple of Jesus? He certainly doesn’t pull any punches about what it takes (Luke 14:25-33). First, hate your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even life itself. Second, carry your own cross and follow him. And third, give up all your possessions.

It’s that simple and it’s that difficult. Jesus’ words don’t just sound black and white. They are black and white. It is all or nothing. We’re either in or we’re out. Those three things, the cost of discipleship, shaped Jesus’ life and ministry and they are to shape ours as well. Let me break these down one by one. Read More

Living the Way God Intended

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Whenever I ask a group of teenagers to share their favorite story about Jesus, today’s Gospel is the one that always comes up (Luke 9:11b-17). “So much food!” they say. I think one of the reasons this is also such a memorable miracle story is the “go big” nature of it. Jesus doesn’t just give the hungry crowds a little to tide them over, but fills them with so much food that there are leftovers. Read More

St. Patrick – The Real Story

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Everyone knows about Saint Patrick — the man who drove the snakes out of Ireland, defeated the Druids in contests of magic, and used the shamrock to explain the Trinity to the pagan Irish. It’s a great story, but none of it is true. The shamrock legend came along centuries after Patrick’s death, as did the miraculous battles against the Druids. Forget about the snakes — Ireland never had any to begin with. No snakes, no shamrocks, and he wasn’t even Irish! Read More

Here I Am, Lord

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Last weekend, my wife Stephanie and I along with our pastor took a group of 11 teens to the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. Today, I wanted to share with you our experience of this powerful three day pilgrimage. Read More

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