The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30
Who wants to be a saint? It is not a question that we ask very often is it? Because we don’t ask the question very often, we rarely think about what is required of us to become saints. We usually don’t think about sainthood, or sanctity as a goal for us but for someone else, perhaps an old monk who lives in the desert or a bishop who serves in a faraway land. But sanctity is not for some other people in distant lands. We are not even sure what it means to be a saint or why we would want that for ourselves or our loved ones. Being a saints means that you have an unending bond of intimacy with the Lord. It means that we are never separated from God, but always growing closer and closer to Him. God has sent the Holy Spirit so that sanctity and holiness would be right within our grasp.
Today’s gospel passage is familiar to us. In this passage the Lord Jesus Christ show us what it means to truly follow Him. According to the Lord it’s not important that one says that they love Him and obey Him. What is important is the walk of love and obedience. If I tell my children that I love them, that is one thing. But it is something entirely different to demonstrate that love through action. The Lord is serious about those who will become His disciples in every age. He reminds them that they can’t love anything or anyone more than they love Him. And He acknowledges that it will be difficult at times. It is for this reason that the Lord tells us “he who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” We’ve all heard this phrase “you’ve got to carry your cross” but what does it actually mean? Have we spent even a moment contemplating the significance of this idea?
When the Lord carried His cross it was brutal and painful, it hurt. The Lord was carrying the instrument of His own death! And yet He carried it with dignity and with courage. I think that we each have moments of courage and bravery. We want to be noble and saintly, but how do we change when the struggles become real? How do we behave when following Christ really means suffering and pain and death to oneself and ones desires?
The Lord is preparing us all. It is not a matter of if we will ever be forced to choose between ourselves and Him. It is a matter of when. It is not a matter of if we will have to choose between our own desires and unwavering obedience to Him, it is a matter of when. When those moments come they are painful. Often this pain is because we have attached our hearts to created things and our attachment to them can mean a detachment from Our Master. Our Lord reminds us that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Love of God is always about our heart and so we must be vigilant over the movements of the heart. We have to be careful not to allow any created thing to take away or diminish our ability to love and follow Christ daily.
Yes it is difficult. It would be completely impossible without the grace of God, who loves each of us. Our road to holiness and sainthood is directly through the carrying of these difficult crosses that are put before us. Sometimes these crosses are unexpected, and in such cases they have even more power to redeem and sanctify us if we will put them on our shoulders and walk. The cross is always heavy and we can’t sprint to the finish line. We can’t wait for the cross to get lighter. We must carry it with all it’s weight, step by step, slowly, all the way to the place where it can be planted in the name of Jesus Christ. When an army conquers a certain land, they must raise up the flag of their people to show that they have conquered the territory. A Christian must conquer the land of his heart and firmly plant the sign of his victory which is the universal sign of victory over everything, even death itself. The cross is trials and suffering leading to true holiness, to real sanctity, to unending joy, to physical and spiritual resurrection, to genuine relationship with the Holy Trinity! The Lord does not take joy in our suffering. Our suffering is not caused by Him, sometimes it is due to outside forces. At other times it is due to our own unruly desires and attachments. In either case Our Lord sees our sufferings and He can redeem them.
In the Christian life, if something starts with promises of sweetness and joy, it will likely end in bitterness and sorrow. We see the example of Adam and Eve in Genesis to prove this point. They looked on the tree with great desires and with false promises that the fruit of this forbidden tree would offer more than all of the other fruits of the garden. We know the result of their actions. Life according to Christ works by the opposite principal, that is, because it is a difficult road, because it starts with some bitterness and sorrow, it may in fact end with true sweetness and unending joy.
The life of obedience, the life of the cross is one that promises us so much reward for our temporary pain. Our Lord says “every one who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My Name’s sake, will receive a hundred fold, and inherit eternal life.” There is no place where one can put his money and have a guaranteed return of 100 times what he has deposited and yet the Lord is generous beyond measure and guarantees just that!
So let’s be faithful to acknowledge Jesus Christ in word, in deed and in thought. Let us love nothing more than we love Christ. Let us each carry the cross with faith that God sees our personal sacrifices and numbers each of them and will never forget them, but will truly reward us by pouring out His Holy Spirit upon us and transforming us into people who are filled with the love of Christ, into people who are illumined, into people who are glorified as real saints. Glory be to God forever, AMEN