The Way to God

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (8:34-9:1)

Today I congratulate you as we reach the third Sunday and the halfway point of the great fast. Three weeks down and three more to go, before we begin to journey through Holy Week. According to the tradition, the Church brings forth the cross for veneration on the third Sunday of Lent in order to give us strength to continue on the path and to complete the course of this fast.

Whenever we begin a difficult work, we may find it easy to stay motivated for a day or two, possibly for a week or two, but then reality begins to set in. We get tired. We are unhappy with ourselves and the results. We contemplate giving in and giving up on the work we had originally set out to accomplish. Yet the Lord Jesus Christ reminds us of what’s at stake in today’s gospel reading. What is at stake is the soul. Everything that we do as human beings ultimately affects the health of our souls and this is really important because the soul is immortal. It was created by God to live forever with Him. So when our Lord speaks to us about the soul, this is from a completely different viewpoint and perspective than any that we could possible imagine. He speaks to us as one who understands our souls, because He Himself created the soul.

He tells us that there is one path to gaining your soul. One path to a healthy and vibrant soul. To deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Him. The Church brings forth the image of the cross and the words of Our Lord to remind us that much of life involves suffering. Some of that suffering is involuntary and some of that suffering is voluntary. In this case the Lord is telling us to take up voluntary suffering. He is telling us to deny ourselves and take up our crosses. What should we deny ourselves? We should deny ourselves of anything, any thought or inclination, or action that doesn’t put God and those around us, as the priority of our lives.

Sometimes this means denying myself a simple thing like a purchase of something that I really want. Sometimes it means denying myself a certain pleasure or activity because it doesn’t glorify God. Sometimes it means denying myself a certain preconceived goal or a vain idea or ambition because that particular thing doesn’t put others before me. That particular activity might glorify me, but if it glorifies me, then it doesn’t glorify God. Sometimes denying myself and taking up the cross means denying my strong inclinations, even things that I might associate as part of my identity. Sometimes, having or doing what I want means denying something else to my spouse or my children or my friends. It might be a very selfish thing that is in fact the opposite of love.

What separates us from the rest of the world is only our love. Our Lord says “They will know that you are my disciples if you have love for each other.” But Our Lord doesn’t say this in a vacuum, isolated from the world. He says this with the cross in view. He tells us to deny ourselves and to follow Him. And where will He lead us if we follow Him? Will He take us to Disneyland? Or Hawaii? No. If we follow Him, He will lead us to the place where He goes. To the very foot of the Cross.

Who is faithful enough to trust the Lord? Who is loyal and obedient to follow Him wherever He leads us? Who is willing to say boldly “He must increase while I must decrease?” Who is willing to say “Lord, everything in my life and everything that I am, belongs to you.” Christ offers us the chance to be with Him in truth. He offers us a chance to partake of His sufferings and to partake of the joy of the redemption of the world. How? Because we belong to Christ. We are sons and daughters of the Most High. But this high calling cannot be activated within us unless we agree to freely and faithfully follow Our Lord while carrying our crosses. Without the cross it is all just vain philosophy and empty potential. There is no doubt that this will be painful, but through the cross is joy come unto the world!

The Lord invites us to walk the royal path with Him. To partake of His sufferings in order to fully partake of His resurrection. As we partake in these things with Christ we are given new energy and strength to radiate this new life to the world around us.

We give up everything for the sake of Jesus Christ and we find that in return, we gain everything 100 or 1000 times over. We give up earthly desires and pleasures and the Lord replaces them with heavenly visions and radiant joy. We might find that we lose some friends because we follow Christ and then we are surprised that we are grafted into a whole new family and we make friends of the saints. We might lose some treasures because we don’t take a job that keeps us from the liturgy, or we skip on a job that is immoral or unprofitable and then we find that God grants us spiritual treasures of grace that go far beyond our understanding. In short, there is nothing that we sacrifice in this life for the sake of the love of God that God will not restore to us many, many times over.

St. Isaac the Syrian writes,

“Behold, for years and generations, the way of God has been leveled by the cross and by death. How is it with you, that you see the afflictions of the way as if they were out of the way? Do you not wish to follow the steps of the saints? Or do you wish to go a way which is especially for you, without suffering? The way unto God is a daily cross. No one can ascend unto heaven with comfort, we know where the way of comfort leads.” + St. Isaac the Syrian,

We know where the way of comfort leads, but Christ has opened the doors of His Church to us, and taught us also the ways of salvation, in order to open the doors of the kingdom to us. May we take up our crosses and follow Him in faith! AMEN.

Source: Sermons