The past six months have been quite a struggle for us, both our Cathedral Community, and for us as citizens in general. Whether we agree with one side or the other about the proper precautions and safety measures put in place by the Church, or our local, State and Federal governments, one thing is certain; we have been forced to place the needs of others before our own.
In the Gospel for the Sunday after the Holy Cross we hear Christ’s invitation to the Christian struggle. “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8.34) This invitation by Christ is first and foremost offered in love and free will. The very first words, “Whoever desires,” should remind us that God will not force anyone to follow Him or His way of life which is the Church.
Once we have decided freely to follow Him, we must deny ourselves BEFORE taking up our cross. More than two decades of ministry, and five decades of life, have taught me that we will not likely embrace any sort of struggle so long as we are more concerned about ourselves than anyone else. This is true in marriage, it is true in business, and it is true in the Church. Once we have desire for something, struggle is worth the effort. So, what do we desire?
If we desire to follow Christ into heaven, we will accept Christ’s invitation to deny ourselves and take up our Cross so that we CAN follow Him. You have heard me say over and over again, the life of the Church helps to learn HOW to deny ourselves, when we love others more than ourselves, when we serve others’ needs before our needs, when we finally realize that life does not revolve around us. That is where I believe we can learn something from the pandemic.
The pandemic has created the ideal opportunity for us to practice putting Christ’s invitation into action. Over the past six months, I have watched as friends and family battle over the effectiveness or appropriateness of various protocols. I have heard insults launched across the internet at those who refuse to believe as we believe. What I have not seen is much “deny himself” whether it be acknowledging we may not actually know better than someone else, or accepting that our needs and wants may not always be the most important.
If we can learn anything from this pandemic, I pray we learn to accept the invitation of Christ, and deny ourselves, SO THAT we can take up our cross and follow Him into heaven. Until we learn the deny part, we are stuck! So, take whatever time is remaining in the pandemic and practice putting others first. At least we will have learned something useful.