YEAR B: HOMILY FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: “Jesus said, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’” (Mark 8:34-35)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
If you really want to follow Jesus, if you really want to live forever with him, the road to take is very clear but clearly perilous. It’s this very message that Jesus impresses upon his disciples in the gospel passage we hear today. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)
How heavy is the price one may be asked to pay? A dozen years ago, Celia, a professional colleague and a medical officer in the Air Force Reserve, sent me an e-mail detailing what happened to one man unafraid to profess his allegiance to Jesus and gospel values. I share with you Celia’s message:
“This pastor has guts! It seems prayer still upsets some people. When Pastor Joe Wright was asked to open the new session of the Kansas State Senate, everyone was expecting the usual generalities, but this is what they heard:
“‘Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance. We know your word says, “Woe to those who call evil good,” but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values. We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery. We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare. We have killed our unborn and called it choice. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem. We have abused power and called it politics. We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forebears and called it enlightenment. Search us, O God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Amen!’ “The response was immediate. A number of legislators walked out during the prayer in protest. But in 6 short weeks, Central Christian Church, where Rev. Wright is pastor, logged more than 5,000 phone calls with only 47 of those calls responding negatively. The church is now receiving international requests for copies of this prayer from India, Africa and Korea.”
So ended the e-mail message Celia sent. While I found myself admiring the spunk of this pastor, yet I confess to being a bit troubled by his black- and-white judgment of a complex problem, the moral, social and political dimensions of life in America not so easily packaged as Pastor Joe Wright would have us imagine in his prayer before the state senate.
But then I focused on Celia, bearer of the message, anxious as she was to share this story with me. She’s a military nurse who had already completed three tours of duty in the Middle East, and I’ve heard first-hand what horrors she’d experienced and what sacrifice had been demanded of her. She’d paid a high price, not only without complaint, but willingly and honorably. Perhaps even more than Pastor Joe Wright, Celia had guts!
It took guts for Pastor Joe Wright to challenge the Kansas State Senate in his prayer. It took guts for Celia to return from her third Middle East tour of duty still committed to her mission as an American citizen and a nurse. It takes guts, Jesus reminds us today, to become my followers, to take up the cross and follow me.