Every Round Goes Higher, Higher – A Homily for the 22nd Sunday of the Year

083014In today’s Gospel the Lord firmly sets before us the need for the Cross, not as an end in itself, but as the way to glory. Let’s consider the Gospel in three stages.

I. The Pattern that is Announced – The text says, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.

Note here that the Lord does not announce only the Cross, but also the Resurrection. In effect, He announces the pattern of the Christian life, which we have come to call the “Paschal Mystery.”

The expression “Paschal Mystery” refers to the suffering, death, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus as a whole. The word “Paschal” is related to the Hebrew word for Passover, “Pesach.” Just as the shed blood of a lamb saved the people from the angel of death and signaled their deliverance, so does Jesus’ death, his Blood, save us from death and deliver us from slavery to sin.

So He is announcing a pattern: the Cross leads somewhere; it accomplishes something. It is not an end in itself; it has a purpose; it is part of a pattern.

St. Paul articulates the pattern of the Paschal Mystery in this way: We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (2 Cor 4:10). It is like an upward spiral in which the Cross brings blessings we enjoy. But we often circle back to the crosses God permits, and then there come even greater blessings and higher capacities. Cross, growth, cross, growth—and so the pattern continues until we reach the end, dying with Christ so as to live with Him.

This is the pattern of our life. We are dying to our old self, dying to this world, dying to our sins; but rising to new life, rising to the Kingdom of God, becoming victorious over sin. The Cross brings life; it is a prelude to growth. We die in order to live more richly. An old spiritual says of this repeated pattern that “every round goes higher, higher.”

Do you see the pattern that Jesus announces? The Lord does not announce the Cross to burden us, neither does the Church. No, the Cross is part of a pattern that, if accepted with faith, brings blessing, new life, and greater strength.

II. The Prevention that is Attempted – The text says, Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Notice Peter’s exact wording: “No such thing shall ever happen to you.” And we ought to ask, “What such thing?” For in precluding that Jesus suffer and die he also implicitly blocks the rising and glorification of Jesus. For Christ cannot rise unless He dies.

Peter, of course, is not thinking this all the way through; he is not connecting the dots. But neither do we when we seek to avoid crosses for ourselves or to hinder others improperly from accepting the Cross. For the Cross brings glory and growth and we run the risk of depriving ourselves and others of these if we rush to eliminate all the crosses, demands, and difficulties of life. Perhaps we do this by enabling behaviors; perhaps we do it by spoiling children.

We also hinder our own growth by refusing to accept the crosses of self-discipline, hard work, obedience, resistance of temptation, and acceptance of suffering, consequences, and limits. In rejecting the Cross we also reject its fruits.

All this explains Jesus’ severe reaction to Peter’s words. He even goes so far as to call Peter, “Satan,” for it pertains to Satan to pretend to befriend us in protesting our crosses while it is really that he wants to thwart our blessings. Peter may not know what he is doing, but Satan does, and he seeks to become an obstacle to Jesus’ work.

Jesus’ severe reaction is rooted in protecting our blessings.

III.  The Prescription that is Awarding – Jesus goes on to teach further on the need for and wisdom of the Cross. The text says, Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.”

The heart of Jesus’ teaching here is the deep paradox that in order to find our life we must lose it. More specifically, in order to gain Heaven we must die to this world. And that dying is a process more so than just an event at the end of our physical life here. Though we cling to life in this world, it is really not life at all. It is a mere spark compared to the fire of love that God offers; it is a single note compared to the great symphony God directs.

Jesus instructs us to be willing to exchange this tiny and dying life for that which is true life. The Lord says that whatever small blessings come from clinging to this life and this world are really no benefit at all. If you choose life in this world rather than the true life God offers, you’re nothing but a big loser.

Of course what the world’s cheap trinkets offer is immediate gratification and evasion of the Cross. We may feel relief for a moment, but our growth is stunted and those cheap little trinkets slip through our fingers. We gain the world (cheap little trinket that it is) but lose our souls. Total loss. Or to quote a modern expression, “FAIL!”

Jesus’ final words, however, remind us that the choice is ours. For the day will come when He will respond to our choice. Either we accept true life and win, or we choose the passing, dying life of this world and we lose. The choice is ours.

This songs speaks of life as a kind of spiral climb between cross and glory. As the spiritual says, “Every round goes higher, higher, soldiers of the Cross.”

8 Replies to “Every Round Goes Higher, Higher – A Homily for the 22nd Sunday of the Year”

  1. What a wonderful reflection. Today’s reading is one I have always marveled at and reflected upon. Enjoyed reading your reflection. So much fruit on this tree.

  2. But if He didn’t want us to enjoy this world then why did He give it to us? Why did he place us in it just to exhort us to deny it?

    1. Original sin happened and our desires went off the chain. The Lord like any loving Father has to set some limits for us. I suspect all or nothing thinking in your question. It is not that God, “didn’t want us to enjoy this world…” as you say. You are extreme here, God is not. But there must be limits and ultimately the world offers only trinkets, some of which must be set aside for greater things.

  3. Monsignor Pope,

    I really enjoyed today’s second reading, Romans 12: 1-2.

    Is that photo from Imitation of Christ? It looks like it.

    Peace and joy!

  4. The Lord exhorts us to be in the world but not of it. The physical world is beautiful, especially God’s gifts of creation, but the mindset of the world is very different from what God wills for mankind, i.e., review the Seven Capital Sins. These are what take us away from our true destiny. As Msgr. Pope says, because of Original Sin our natures are fallen, our intellects darkened, our wills weakened and our hearts are cold. Thus, we don’t choose the Highest Good. In other words, our priorities are all messed up.

  5. We see the absolute, objective goodness in true love, voluntary sacrificial love for the true good of the other and God gives us the undeserved grace to cooperate in His work by our choosing to voluntarily sacrifice, to voluntarily accept crosses we could choose to avoid, and therefore conform our will to God’s divine and perfect will. Since we should pray to persevere in always choosing to love, perhaps we should pray:
    Please, Lord, we beg of you the grace of perseverance, that we always truly ask, “Is there anything more we can and therefore should be doing to cooperate as fully as possible to “hasten” your final, visible, victory”, especially at the “hour” of our death because to not have this attitude is to implicitly slip into complacency, which leads ever so gradually and inevitably to presumption which is damning and therefore we explicitly beg the grace to accept, and even ask for, any possible suffering you might give us, including the pains of purgatory till the end of time, uniting our wills to Jesus’ Divine Will and St. Paul’s words in Romans 9:3, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and separated from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kin according to the flesh”, as we approach death’s door to eternal life and the devil’s last and most dangerous ploy of getting us to lay down our crosses just before Christ’s victory and therefore for us to grab defeat out of the hands of victory rather than the way God wants it and for us to ask for more suffering, in imitation of Jesus, because we should always will to do all we can, especially at our death, and not the little the world says is enough.

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