BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas

HOMILY: Mt. 16:21-27

James was a bright young man who joined the Quiz Show on TV. He was so good that he reached the final round. The host told him, “James, if you answer this question correctly, you will walk away with one million dollars. Are you ready?” “Yes,” he answered. The host continued, “James, this is a question on World History. Everybody knows it is your favorite subject. The question has two parts. You may choose which part to answer first. Let me offer you a helpful tip: the second part of the question is always easier. Now, which part would you prefer to take first?” James quickly answered, “I will take the easier one, the second part.” “Okay,” the host said, “here is the second part of the question: And in what year did it happen?” Taking the easy way is a very strong and extremely dangerous temptation. Why labor when you can turn stones into bread? Why take the cross when you have the power to avoid it? In his humanity, Jesus must have seriously struggled with this temptation. In Gethsemane, he prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me” (Mt 26:39). His human instinct of self –preservation must have resisted the foreseen humiliation, painful torture and death on the cross. But he was quick to take hold of himself and firmly decide, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

In the gospel this Sunday, Jesus was telling his disciples about the passion and death he was about to undergo, in fulfillment of the heavenly Father’s plan for the salvation of mankind. But Peter vehemently objected and said, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you!” He was only expressing his sincere love and commitment to protect the Lord. However, he did not realize that he was being used by the devil to tempt Jesus into taking the easy way, similar to the threefold temptation in the desert. Jesus had to rebuke Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are an obstacle to me! You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”


Hence, in the second reading, St. Paul exhorts us: “Do not conform yourselves to this age” (Rom 12:2). In other words, he is warning us against the “human” way of thinking that is opposed to God’s way. Jesus has time and again reminded his followers of being the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Light has to be different from darkness. Salt has to taste differently from the food. Otherwise, if it loses its taste, “it is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Mt 5:13). This is another way of saying that a Christian is expected to be non-conformist and counter- cultural. In order to be an effective agent of change and conversion, he cannot simply conform to the environment. He has to stand firmly on the Christian principles, even if it means going against the tide of the predominant culture.

In his message during the World Youth Day in Madrid, Pope Benedict XVI urged the young people, “Align your life to the truth, even by making choices that are incomprehensible to the contemporary world.” It is a clear challenge to bring the Gospel to a world that promotes ideas and values that are in conflict with those lived and preached by Jesus. The Pope noted that, “today’s culture, like every culture, promotes ideas and values that are sometimes at variance with those lived and preached by our Lord Jesus Christ. Often they are presented with great persuasive power, reinforced by the media and by social pressure from groups hostile to the Christian faith… Gospel values are once again becoming counter-cultural, just as they were at the time of Saint Paul.” (Address to the young people in Malta, Asia News, April 20, 2010). This is the real problem nowadays in our modern society. Many Christians are afraid to go against the culture of this world that is increasingly foreign and even averse to the teachings of Christ. Most of us prefer to conform to the standards of this world, simply floating with the tide and current of the day like useless pieces of driftwood. In the process, we lose by default to the forces of death and evil. We watch helplessly as society distorts the objective truth and overturns our moral and spiritual values. Behind this passive and timid attitude of many Christians is the unwillingness to take up the cross. We cannot stand up for the truth and for what is right because do not want to be condemned by modern society as insensitive, intolerant, and politically incorrect. We do not want to be persecuted and ostracized. We are careful not to talk about the intrinsic evil of abortion, contraception, divorce and same sex “marriage” for fear of offending the feelings of others. It seems that many would prefer to offend God rather than people.

A quotation warns us: “When the going gets easy, be careful. You must be going downhill.” The easy way is not always the safe way. Avoiding the cross and taking the shortcut to success and prosperity usually ends in misery and total failure. The road to salvation is difficult and narrow. It is the way of the cross. Only few take this road. But the road to damnation is wide and smooth. And many take this road. The choice is ours. Finally, Jesus invites us to think about this question: “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mt 16:26).

Every time we come to Mass, let us always look at the cross on or near the altar. That cross helps to remind us of the saving Passion of the Lord and of his constant admonition: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:25).