It has been nearly four months ago when eight of us received the Good Shepherd Cross. The cross is an insignia given to Salesians who have embraced the Salesian life forever.
More than a decoration nor a sign that makes a Salesian proud of his standing in the congregation, the cross has a pedagogic significance. It reminds the one who wears it to imitate Jesus, the Good Shepherd and to take heart the words of Don Bosco carefully scribbled on the reverse side of the cross: “Learn to make yourself loved.”
This is my motivation why I have striven to wear my cross always. More than to announce to people that I am a religious, the cross I wear reminds me of the vows I profess and that since I belong to Christ, I ought to behave likewise.
Our Gospel this Sunday speaks of Jesus’ nagging reminder that more than wearing the cross as a manifestation of our following Him, He demands that we ought to take it up and follow Him.
The Word in other words
After securing from His disciples the first explicit profession of faith in Him as Messiah (Matthew 16:13-20), He tells them for the first time of His coming passion: “He must … suffer … and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
This did not sit well with Peter. After all, Peter had thought that Jesus would be a victor and lead them all to glory; as such, suffering should not be part of the picture.
Impulsively, Peter began to lecture Him: “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
I can imagine that Peter’s profound concern must have consoled Jesus. However, He quickly dismissed such feeling since He had already understood and embraced His mission. He knew perfectly well that suffering is the only path to carry it out.
And so, he tells Peter “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.”
Peter, who was just lavished with extravagant praises, is now addressed as Satan.
This must have been a perfect opportunity for Jesus to deliver this oft-quoted injuction on discipleship: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Jesus challenged those who aspire to follow Him to carry their crosses. But we realize that Jesus did more than this since after He carried it, He was crucified on it.
And while He was hanging on it, He breathed His last.
This, He did for our sake. But He did not ask us to go this far.
We’re merely asked to ‘deny ourselves and take up our cross.’
Two thousand years after He carried His cross, this question stares me at the face: How does He expect us to lift ours?
In an instant, I think of the Christians suffering in Iraq and Syria and even in other parts of the globe because of their faith. A consequence of having stood by their faith is they are persecuted because of it: women raped, babies killed, young people killed en masse, the lis is graphically inifite. That is their way of lifting up their cross.
But then again, when we reach out to persons we are not comfortable with, that, too, is our way of lifting up our cross. Likewise, when we say hello to people who make our stomach turn in just by seeing them, that, too is a way of lifting up the cross.
In our moral theology class last week, our teacher called our attention to the a terse summary of the beatitudes: it is a paradox. The beatitudes are contradictions.
Indeed, Christians are contradictions. They appear to signal the coming of the Kingdom. They do not make themselves too comfortable here because they very well know that they are mere transients; that earthly sojourn is, well, just that a sojourn. It is not meant to last forever.
Christianity is called a religion of the book, but more properly, it is called a religion of a “Person, Jesus Christ, the Word of God, to whom the words in the church’s book (the Bible) bear witness” (Harrington, 2005).
We follow Christ. And as such, we deny ourselves, we lift our crosses.