Image: My ordination to the priesthood, April 24, 2004
Nahum 1.15, 2.2, 3.1-3. 6-7 | Canticle Deuteronomy 32 | Matthew 16.24-28
The passage from today’s gospel reading, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their crosses and follow me.” is what I chose to put on the back of the prayer card for my ordination to the priesthood sixteen plus years ago. It struck me as fitting at the time both because of its source and because of its invitation.
The source is of course Jesus, who I saw walking the lonely way of the cross on his way to Calvary in order fulfill the mission he had come to proclaim.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3.16-17)
I figured that if I was going to offer my life to a cause it seemed that following someone who saved the world would be a meaningful endeavour. This was about more then saving the rainforest or combatting climate change or protecting endangered species, this was about God saving, literally, the whole world.
So, I responded to the invitation to take up the cross and, in my own small way, I chose to take on that mission and try my best to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Of course, I fail all the time. Sometimes I get distracted and wander offer, sometimes I fall down and do not want to get up, and sometimes I just stop and pout and refuse to move ahead. But overall, I hope, the direction has been generally forward.
In the time between then, when I was first ordained, and now something has changed. The experience that I have gained along the way has given new meaning to that quotation from the scriptures. I have come to realize that by giving my life to Christ as a priest, and following the Way that he showed us, has not been so much about saving the world as it has been about coming to better understand my place in the world and my relation to others.
I have learned that taking up the cross is not about carrying a heavy burden in loneliness but rather it is a gift that has allowed me to discover many new aspects about myself and has allowed me to enter into meaningful relationships with so many people. By responding to the invitation, I have been richly blessed and have received far more than I can ever possibly give. Perhaps this is what saving the world is really about, becoming the best person we can be and allowing and helping others to do the same.
On the front of my prayer card, where the portrait of the newly ordained usually goes, I chose instead to put an image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Mary walked the path that I was hoping to journey and she did so with such unwavering faith. She took up God’s invitation when she was just a young woman and gave over her life to participate in God’s great plan of salvation. As I thank God for the gift of my vocation I continually ask, through Mary’s intercession, that I will be able to continue with the same perseverance that she had, and that I will have the same faith she displayed while at the foot of the cross of her son.
The cross which Jesus invites you to carry is not be feared, nor is it a burden. It is an opportunity to discover the depths of God’s love for you as you follow in the footsteps of the Saviour.