Friday August 9, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Nahum 2:1, 3; 3:1-3, 6-7) Gospel (St. Matthew 16:24-28)
In the Gospel reading, we hear that verse that is so well known to all of us: "Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." These are not easy words when we stop to think about what Our Lord's Cross required of Him and all of the things that happened to Him as He carried His Cross on the way to Calvary. But then He tells us that if we want to come after Him this is the only way. We know that if we are going to follow the Lord, it is to follow Him to Calvary, it is to be crucified with Him.
This is not something which is a popular idea in a society which upholds pleasure and ease, to hear about having to suffer and to have to take up the Cross, to deny the self in a society which tells us exactly the opposite. To indulge yourself is the virtue of America, but there is no virtue in that at all. It is to deny the self that we have to be about, and that is not something which comes naturally to any of us either; that is something which has to be a choice on our part; it is something that each one of us needs to make an act of the will to do. And even if we decided today that we are going to deny ourselves, we know that the minute we walk out the door sometimes that good resolution stays here and we keep walking. It is not something that we can just simply decide that now we are going to try to do this and then forget it. It is something we have to decide over and over and over, which is why Our Lord tells us that we have to deny ourselves everyday. That is what He tells us in Saint Luke's Gospel: "You must deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Me." It is not just a generic one-time thing, but it is something that must be repeated over and over and over - in fact, for some of us it needs to be repeated many, many times everyday, a constant reminder of what it is we have to be about: to be able to die to self so that we can live for the Lord.
That is exactly what He tells us next, He says, "Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." And so again, in America, we hear all about the "good life" and "getting the most from life" and all these different things. The Lord tells us there is only one way: If you really want to find the life that God created you to have, it is to be united with Christ. And to be united with Christ is to be united with Him in everything - everything from Bethlehem to Calvary and into, finally, His Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven. It is to be united with Jesus Christ in every aspect of His life.
But the most important moment of His life, of course, was on Calvary; and it is there that we need to make sure we are united with Him. Most of us run from Calvary rather than running to Calvary. We do not like the idea of having to go to the Cross, but all we need to do is think of the saint that we celebrate today: Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, which means "Teresa, Blessed by the Cross". She is probably better known to most people as Edith Stein, the Jewish convert to Catholicism who became a Carmelite nun and was finally captured by the Nazis and put to death in a concentration camp. She is one of our new saints, one of our saints of the twentieth century that each one of us can look to, to be able to understand - even as she meditated upon the suffering of Christ and was able to write a book that she called The Science of the Cross - to be able to understand the knowledge of the Cross, the importance of it, and so to take the name that she did: Teresa, Blessed by the Cross.
Should not each one of us be able to say the same thing? Just replace the name "Teresa" and put your own there, and then just call yourself "Blessed by the Cross" because each one of us has been blessed by the Cross. Now the question is whether we are willing to live it. She did. She was willing to walk it all the way to Calvary, unite herself to the suffering of her Spouse, and die with Him. Are we willing to do the same? Not just recognize how much we have been blessed by the Cross of Christ in a generic form, but subjectively, are we willing to take up the Cross, to deny ourselves, to walk all the way to Calvary, and to be blessed by the Cross in the fullness of what that means: to be united with Jesus Christ in His Passion, in His Death, and in His Resurrection?
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.