My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Did the Gospel strike to our heart, mind, and soul today? Especially those of us who are here catching the vigil mass, the first mass of the weekend. We are only a few that cannot wait to come back here to worship God again since we have been waiting for a long week from the last weekend. (For 7:30am mass-even this early in the morning) What Jesus said to his disciples, he said the same thing to each one of us today: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. Whoever wishes to save his life, will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it."
These words are such a challenge, but also an invitation to all of us. If we truly understand what Jesus is proposing to us here, we are at the point of either making it or breaking it. In other words, we are at the point of no return to our old self, to our old way of life.
Jesus said: whoever wishes to come after me... Does anyone of us want to back out? Thanks God no one does. No one is leaving the church. I'm sure everyone here wishes to come after Jesus, right? That is why we are here every Sunday.
Then, Jesus said: "Must deny himself" Why Does Jesus requires us to deny ourselves as the first requirement to follow him? Does it mean that when we give up something during Lent like Soda or meat? Or does it mean when we donate time, money, or talent to the church? These examples are only a small fraction of what it means to deny oneself. Jesus means "deny oneself" is that when at every moment in our life we say no to self and yes to God. It means that it requires from us an absolute obedience to his Word and wisdom even it might cost one's life.
I cannot think of a better example than Dr. Kent Brantly who caught the Ebola virus while volunteering as a medical missionary in Liberia, Africa. While he and Nancy-another American medical volunteer worker were laying in bed of the hospital in Liberia because they both caught the virus. What happened was that there was only one dose of experimental serum available, but he insisted that it go to Nancy. This is what exactly what Jesus means when he said: "whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself..."
Next, Jesus said: "Take up his cross." If we live in the time of Jesus, we understand what a cross means. It means a lot of pain since the Roman crucified people right and left. It means a lot of shame. And finally it means death. What does it mean for us now? We often joke about our spouse as our cross: Oh, my husband is my big cross? Well, if he is your big cross, then Jesus said "take up his cross" means "take up your husband or take up your wife". Today, we're all going home to do that with joy, right?
When Jesus said "take up his cross" means taking up the burden of sacrifice. Our Catholic life is a life of sacrificial services. As the matter of fact, that is the very reason we are here to worship God today because in a little bit we will hear Fr. Jack/ Fr. Cliff will ask us to join him in praying: "My brothers and sisters, my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father." And we respond: "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and the glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church." This is how we are actively participating in the mass when we lift up our own sacrifice mingling with the eternal and ultimate sacrifice of the Lamb of God. God, our Father has invited us to participate into his Only Son's sacrifice on the altar with our daily sacrifice in every Sunday, to be more correct at every mass we attend.
Now, we can come to follow Jesus after we deny ourselves and take up our cross. Is our heart still burning with a desire to follow Jesus? I think it's not so much these are the requirements for us to follow Christ, but if we deny ourselves and take up our cross, we will find him. And then when we find him, we will find the way, the truth, and the life because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. And we will find the truth in what he said: Whoever wishes to save your life, will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it.
Pt Hoàng Thương