Class: 
Cycle C: Twelfth Sunday of the Liturgical Year

 

HOW TO SAVE ONE’S LIFE?

 

  • A real paradox

 

The last sentence from today’s Gospel is a real paradox: “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life for my sake will save it.”  This saying of Christ disturbs us very deeply and even sometimes upsets our feelings. Then so many questions come up to our minds:

  • Is it really possible to practice such a precept?
  • Can we take Jesus’ saying seriously into account and still make our own projects?
  • Is it possible to put this precept into practice without necessarily seeking suffering for the sake of suffering?
  • When we do what Jesus is asking of us here, is there not a danger that we will take pride in performing all kinds of sacrifices?
  • Is Christ against human fulfilment?

You may feel that I exaggerate a bit with all these questions. Yet the words of Jesus are far from dispelling our apprehensions: “Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life for my sake will save it.”

 

 

  • The example of John the Baptist

 

That is what John the Baptist did: he lost his life for the sake of Christ. But what did his austerity mean?

 

At that time, there was a trend of philosophy called “Stoicism” in the Roman Empire. The adepts of that philosophy led very austere lives. They performed various exercises of renouncement in order to attain interior peace and freedom from bodily passions. Even today we find similar movements in Hinduism.

The austerity of John the Baptist had a very different purpose. It was meant to be a sign, or to convey a message. John conveyed his message in deeds as well as in words. Through his external renouncement, he taught us that we must free ourselves from any attachment in order to welcome the Lord in our lives. John the Baptist freed himself in order to welcome and announce the coming of the Messiah. He inaugurated what we witness today in the lives of true prophets. Such people – like Mother Teresa – were ready to renounce themselves in a radical way in order to free their hearts for the service of the kingdom. The Spirit could take hold of them and make them powerful instruments in his hands.

 

 

  • The purpose of this precept for us

 

  1. I would like to show you how these words of Jesus are meant to make us behave like adults, when we are confronted with challenging situations. When we put these words into practice, it is impossible to give way to naivety, pessimism or defeatism.

 

Don’t be naive

 

The life of discipleship implies a lot of renouncement and annoying situations. Jesus had said earlier: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me.” (Mt. 16: 24). He challenged the attitude of those who think that life should always be a “bed of roses.” No! Life implies also renouncement and sacrifices which are given meaning by the death and resurrection of Christ. In other words, we cannot pretend to be true disciples of Christ and quietly run away from the cross.

 

Don’t be pessimistic

 

Jesus does not mean to say that we should always feel sad about life and behave as if there was no hope anywhere. How can we give way to such an attitude when we know that the cross became a symbol of Christ’s victory and our victory over all the forces of evil? Death itself has been defeated by Christ. So, what prevents us from becoming pessimistic is the conviction that “anyone who loses his life for the sake of Christ will save it.” Nothing can spoil our enthusiasm, if we truly believe in Jesus.

We are not seeking suffering for itself. We continue to make plans and carry out our projects, and we are not afraid of taking the means necessary for that. But we don’t get discouraged when our plans are thwarted and we meet with failure. We can transform our failures into means of growth.

 

Don’t give up

 

We have no right to give up under the pretext that God will compensate for our lack of efforts. We cannot have recourse to God’s Providence to justify our laziness. To believe in God’s Providence does not mean that we have to give up our responsibilities. Christ is not there to pull us, but to show us the way.

 

  1. Today, in the consumerist society in which we live, the ideal of renouncement is “out of fashion.” Yet it expresses a fundamental requirement of the Gospel. However, it has to be understood properly, if we want to put it into practice the way Christ wants us to.

 

First, there are two misinterpretations to avoid: to renounce ourselves just for the sake of feeling proud of ourselves, and to refuse renouncement for the purpose of being liberal and broad-minded.

 

Christian renouncement should always be motivated by faith. Thus it helps a person to show greater love in his/her life. We should not forget that, today, we live in a materialistic environment. We are all inclined to satisfy our desires, to acquire more and more material goods and to lead easy lives. This materialistic environment and our inclinations to let ourselves be influenced by it can easily become obstacles to a deeper union with God. For we cannot “serve God and money.” If we are not careful, we can easily be led by our selfish desires.

 

Christian renouncement implies both vigilance and openness. It leads us to control our spontaneous impulses so that they may not prevail over us. It also keeps our hearts open so that we may always be ready to welcome the Lord in our lives. Finally, it is a struggle against ourselves so that we may become freer.

 

One Sunday morning, a man went to visit a church. He got there early, parked his car and got out. Another car pulled up near him. The driver got out and said, 'I always park there! You took my place!' After patiently moving his car, the visitor went inside and, seeing that Sunday School was about to begin, found an empty seat in the classroom and sat down. A young lady approached him and stated, 'That's my seat! You took my place!' Though somewhat distressed by this rude welcome, the visitor changed his seat while saying nothing to the young lady. When Sunday School was over, the visitor followed the crowd into the sanctuary for the Worship Service and sat down. Another member walked up to him and said, 'That's where I always sit! You took my place!'

 

The visitor was even more troubled by this treatment, but still he said nothing as he moved to another pew. During the service, as the congregation was praying for Christ to dwell among them, the visitor stood up, and his appearance began to change. Horrible scars became visible on his hands and on his sandaled feet. Someone from the congregation noticed him and exclaimed with fright, 'What happened to you?' The visitor replied, as his hat became a crown of thorns, and a tear fell from his eye, 'I took your place.' (Original source unknown)

 

  1. To lose our lives for the sake of Christ is a choice that should be made every day till the end of our lives. That is why it will require much patience on our part. We will have to renounce ourselves. For Jesus is honest with us: he does not hide the truth. But note that he does not ask us to take up his cross, but ours which is much lighter. Moreover, on that path of renouncement, we are not alone: he walks with us.

 

However, you may ask: “When is it exactly that we lose our life for the sake of Christ?” Instead of giving you a theoretical answer to this question, I will show you how I have seen some of you doing it.

  • You have lost your life and welcomed Christ each time that you have paid attention to a needy person who came to you for help.
  • You have lost your life and welcomed Christ when you answered an invitation from your priests to play an active role in the parish or in society.
  • You have lost your life and welcomed Christ when you were patient enough to listen to one of your children who had a personal problem and wanted to find someone who would listen to him/her.
  • You have lost your life and welcomed Christ when you went out of your way to accompany a person who was asking you the direction to reach a particular place.
  • You have lost your life and welcomed Christ when you let out a room in your house to a student who was looking for accommodation.
  • You have lost your life and welcomed Christ when you gave shelter to the child of one of your relatives who lost her husband in a road accident.

 

In all these instances and in a thousand similar ones, you have lost a lot of time, humanly speaking. You might have preferred to do something else, but you took the path of renouncement, because you remembered that it is the one that the Lord invited you to take, if you wanted to be truly his disciples.

 

Thus if we are ready to live the Good Fridays of our lives, we can be sure that one day we will reach the morning of the resurrection. If we are ready to lose our life for the sake of Christ, we can be sure that one day we will find it again.

 

 

Author: 
Hervé Morissette, csc