This morning, we find ourselves facing one of the defining moments in scripture, when Jesus asks Simon Peter: “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter answers: “The Christ of God.” or the anointed one. This scene actually occurs in three of the four gospels, and is commonly called “The Confession of Peter.”
That these words come from the lips of Peter, who would later deny Jesus, is both ironic and poignant. The one who recognized the Lord most clearly would later become the one who says, just as clearly, “I don’t know him.”
Peter, of course, saw things no one else did. He knew Jesus better than anyone.
The question facing each of us: do we know him?
Who do we say that he is?
Do we understand what it means to follow him?
Do we realize what it means to take up our cross?
It’s a question I think we need to ask ourselves, especially in the wake of the horrific attack in Orlando.
Whatever may have motivated the gunman, our motivation at this moment has to be to remember the call of Christ, and his benediction to a frightened and disbelieving world.
The first words Jesus spoke to his followers after the Resurrection are still his first words to us in our own fear and uncertainty and anger:
“Peace be with you.”
The gospel today challenges us to follow him, the Prince of Peace. That means carrying our cross.
We tend to think of “carrying our cross” as bearing some unwanted problem that you just need to live with—whether it’s an annoying neighbor, a difficult boss, or a spouse who snores.
But that misses the deeper point. Jesus was speaking specifically of something far more serious: a form of execution. He was foreshadowing his own death. And he was saying his followers would have to sacrifice, to face suffering and hardship in order to follow him.
Think about that for a moment.
Think of what led Christ to take up his cross and begin that walk to Calvary.
Think of why he chose to do that. He could have escaped. He could have avoided it. He could have found a way out. He didn’t. He took that cross on his back and took it all the way.
And he did it out of love.
In our own lives as Catholic Christians, sometimes I think the hardest cross—the most difficult challenge—is something that sounds so easy, but it isn’t.
It is the choice to love—and to love as Christ.
In our own time, it is the choice to defy hate—to live out what it truly means to be Christian, to be a follower of Christ.
You want to pick up a cross?
Welcome a stranger. Accept the person others won’t.
Extend kindness to that person in the office people avoid, or disparage, or disrespect.
Speak up when a friend or coworker utters a slur against someone who is gay or Jewish or African American or Muslim.
Remember this teaching of Jesus Christ—one of the hardest in all the gospel, maybe one of the heaviest of crosses:
Love your enemies. Pray for your persecutors.
Last week, our friend Bishop Ed Sharfenberger in Albany put it better than I could:
“Our Christian faith,” he wrote, “teaches us that God loves all human beings without exception, even those whom we may not particularly like, understand or find convenient. It affirms, based on God’s love and the goodness of our common humanity, the unconditional and irrevocable dignity of every human life — without distinction by class or status — from conception to natural death. This, in turn, compels us to love and respect every human being, regardless of how we might personally value his or her thoughts or actions.”
He went on:
“Respect for all human lives includes those who experience the mystery of their sexuality differently from others of their identified gender. Our call is always to accompany, not abandon, all our human sisters and brothers throughout their life journeys, especially when they are in pain or experience exclusion or persecution because of their class or status…Simply said, to devalue one human life is to devalue all human lives. United in the defense of human life we must stand.”
This lies at the heart of who we are as Catholic Christians. Now is the moment we need to affirm that before the world.
The tragedy of Orlando cries out for prayer—for the victims, for their families, for our country.
It also asks us to search our hearts.
Jesus asks: Who do you say that I am?
Peter replies: You are the Christ of God.
But who do we say that we are?
If we claim to be Christians, how do we witness that to the world?
How do we pick up our cross …and follow him?
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