Holy Thursday

Taking Up Our Cross. . . To Follow the Lord

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. 1 PETER 5:6–9

 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times.” JOHN 13:36–38 

Father Benedict Groeschel spent a month on life support after a car struck him at a busy intersection in Orlando, Florida. He has no memory of that month but his fellow religious have shared with him the outpouring of prayers and sacrifices on his behalf during that time of uncertainty. Father Benedict was in Florida that weekend because he was scheduled to speak to 125 priests at a workshop the following Monday; instead he was confined to a hospital bed. Monsignor Andrew Cusack, who was in charge of that workshop, stood at the podium in Father Benedict’s place and prayed for the friar’s recovery. A month later, Father Benedict emerged from the hospital. At almost the same time, Monsignor Cusack was laid to rest. He had died suddenly upon his return to New Jersey. None of us knows what the future holds.

“Where Are You Going?”

When St. Peter heard that Jesus was going somewhere, he wanted to follow the Lord. Jesus refused, and told the apostle that he would follow later. Peter protested: He was willing to lay down his life for Jesus (again something that he ultimately would do later). Then Jesus dropped a bombshell: That very night, Peter would deny him three times. The final battle to following Jesus is the battle of self. No matter how pure our motives may seem, until we trust in God more than we trust in ourselves, we are doomed to fail. To truly follow Jesus, we must unite ourselves with him and trust him totally. The story of Peter’s ultimate sacrifice in Rome has long been told. When Nero’s persecution of the Christians broke out in Rome, Peter fled. On his way out of the city, he met Jesus on the Appian Way. Shocked to see the Lord, Peter asked, “Domine, quo vadis?” (“Lord, where are you going?”)

Jesus looked at Peter and said, “I am going to Rome, to be crucified again.” Hearing the words of the Lord, Peter turned back to Rome to face his own death. He was crucified upside down, declaring himself unworthy to die the same way as the Lord he had denied. “You cannot follow me now, but you shall follow afterward,” Jesus had told Peter. And he did, when the time was right.

The Greeks had two words for time, chronos for chronological time (clock and calendar time) and kairos for the “right” or “opportune” time. Jesus often made the distinction to his disciples, who thought more in terms of chronological time than of God’s time. When Peter first declared his intent to the Lord, it was not yet time; the kairos moment—God’s time—did not come until Peter had witnessed to the truth of the gospel in Rome. When the Jews celebrate Passover, the celebration begins with a question: “Why is this night different?” In this way they enter into God’s time—when God intervened, did something to change the very course of history.

On the night before he died, Jesus took bread and wine and declared it his body and blood. “Do this in memory of me.” Once again it was kairos time, God’s time, just as it is every time we interrupt the daily grind of chronological time to enter God’s time in the Mass. Everything happens when God wants it to happen. Following Christ is a matter of surrendering to God’s time, of leaving behind our own plans in order to be led by Christ. Our goals and plans are always secondary to what God intends for us. In a letter, Peter told the followers of Christ to be humble, and God would exalt them. No doubt he was thinking of all the times he had been humbled by Jesus’ superior knowledge of him. In time, Peter grew wiser, and came to understand that the only stance of the follower of Christ is “Lord, depart from me for  am a sinful man.” For it is only then that he will hear the Lord say, “Follow me.” “Be watchful,” Peter also tells us. The path is difficult, and our opponent seeks to overtake and devour us like a roaring lion. This is not a journey for the timid or the proud, but a journey for the humble. There is much to fear ahead, but we know of someone who can be trusted to lead us “through the valley of evil.” “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares for you,” Peter admonishes us. Like Peter, may we learn to listen when the Lord tells us to “let go and to cast your net on the other side.” No matter what perils face us, the Lord will always tell us the way to go.

The Power of the Cross  by Michael Dubruiel is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

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