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CONDITIONS OF DISCIPLESHIP
Take up your cross ...
22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A
A funny story goes, “Father O'Flannagan dies due to old age. Upon entering St. Peter's gate, there is another man in front, waiting to go into heaven. St. Peter asks the man, "What is your name what did you accomplish during your life?" The man responds "My name is Joe Cohen, and I was a New York city Taxi driver for 14 years" "Very well," says St. Peter, "Here is your silk robe and golden scepter, now you may walk in the streets of our Lord." St. Peter looks at the Father, and asks "What is your name and what did you accomplish?" He responds, "I'm Father O'Flannagan, and have devoted the last 62 years to the Lord." "Very well," says St. Peter, "Here is your cotton robe and wooden staff, you may enter." "Wait a minute," says O'Flannagan, "You gave the taxi driver a silk robe and golden scepter, why did I only get a cotton robe and wooden staff?"
"Well," St. Peter replied, "We work on a performance scale, you see while you preached, everyone slept, when he drove taxis, everyone prayed!"
The story, in its own way, relates to us some basic requirement of true discipleship. But what does it really take to be a disciple of Christ? In today’s Gospel after correcting Peter vehemently for trying to divert Him from His way of the way, Jesus declares three major conditions of discipleship:
1. “You must deny yourself…” (Matthew 16:24) which could be understood as SELF-DENIAL. As a disciple of Christ one has to let go or be detached from things that keeps him/her from being a LOVING PERSON. By denying oneself one becomes focused in fulfilling the basic commandment of love, which Christ taught to His disciples. More importantly, by denying ourselves we allow Christ to fill our hearts in order that we may become His instrument in mind, soul and body.
Richard Leaky, the famous archeologist who worked in northern Kenya, discussed in his book, “People of the Lake,” what it is that separates man from the great apes. It is not man’s intelligence, says leaky, but his generosity. ONLY human beings have the ability to share; are capable of genuine compassion; and are capable of laying down their lives for a friend. Simply put, to be Christ’s disciple is to be true to our human nature!
2. “… take up your cross …” (Matthew 16:24) that is, to CARRY THE CROSS WITH JESUS. This may imply pain and suffering but may also be true when we serve others selflessly or when we share our TIME, TALENTS, and TREASURES to others until it hurts us.
When we share what we have, in a way, we feel the hurt of letting go. But we have to bear in mind always that everything we have is a gift from God and as they are gifts, they too, are meant to be shared. The true nature of love is built upon selfless giving. Love requires a giver, a recipient and a mutual exchange of gift.
3. “… and follow me …” (Matthew 16:24) which means that we BECOME LIVING WITNESSES of the WORD of GOD. To follow someone implies stepping back while letting its leader be at the forefront. In doing so, he/she focuses his/her attention on his/her leader and learns from his/her lead. By following Jesus who asks us to “take up our cross” may be deemed foolish. But in the very words of the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, “to be a fool for Christ is the greatest compliment the world can give. You and I are in good company, because most of the saints embraced the Cross of Christ and were considered fools for doing so.” We should therefore feel honored and privileged by such task of dicipleship.
Among those who showed a perfect example of following Christ was Maximilian Kolbe. He was a priest and a devotee of the Blessed Mother. His faith was important to him but when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, he knew that because of his faith he could suffer and die. As he spoke against the horror of the Nazis, he was arrested and imprisoned in Auschwitz. When a prisoner escaped from Auschwitz, the commandant of the camp lined up the inmates of cellblock 14 and ordered the ten of them to be punished. Upon those selected was Francis Gajowniczek who cried out in tears, “My poor wife and children! I will never see them again!” Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward and volunteered to take his place. His request was accepted and assumed his place among the condemned. By August 14, Kolbe was dead and his body was cremated in the camp ovens.
We might not be able to do the same thing as Maximilian Kolbe did, but in our own little way we are bound to follow Christ’s example of compassion – to suffer with those people who are in need of our help.
It is easier for us to simply underline the conditions of discipleship, but harder to fulfill. It is said that Jesus was an “extremophile” – a lover of the “extremes” as he laid His very own life to fulfill the will of the Father. In a way, we need to be extremophiles for Christ by giving our best or going all out in order that we may live up to His commandment of love. This Sunday He calls us to be His disciples to become instruments of His love for us. A true disciple denies himself/herself and allows Christ to overpower him/her; is willing to suffer selflessly; and a true “fool” for Christ in carrying His cross. What more can we ask if by following Christ we gain for ourselves eternal reward!