I heard this phrase recently: “Cushions and Crosses.” It immediately made me think how (being human) we sometimes tend to look for the easiest way through difficulties that crop up in our every day. Today Jesus tell us that “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” We know that doing this always involves embracing the painful consequences of right actions and maybe sacrifice when easier options are available. How tempting is that? The easy way, the “non-confrontational way,” the comfortable cushion, is sooo tempting! But what we must understand as believing Christians is that this is “dancing with the devil.”
All of us have danced this dance at some time; we are human and prone to sin and failure, greed, weakness and fear. So many times we are in positions when we could speak out, and do not speak up when we should—who wants to rock the boat, be branded a trouble-maker or big mouth, or go against the rest and stand out? It always feels like you have just painted a big red and white target circle on your back. “Please, Lord, just let me drag this heavy cross a little, okay?” Or “please, just let me have a seat on this soft cushion…”
It always seems to be more difficult to do the right thing—whether in small or large choices—like: choosing the non-fat, healthier foods over the “good” stuff; or taking a deep, calming breath in the midst of righteous anger; or being kind to that mean person; or taking time for someone when all you really want to do is your own thing. It is about realigning our priorities, being fair, giving the benefit of the doubt, forgiving seven times seventy and putting others before your own self. It is speaking out against war (of any kind), injustice of any kind, prejudice, and judgment (which is not our place). It is feeding anyone who is hungry—not just the “deserving poor.” It is picking up our crosses and choosing the hard work instead of the cushions.
St. Paul urges us today to offer ourselves “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God…” He reminds us to “not conform ourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” We all have those moments when it seems our better angels aren’t operating—when we would rather have our own way instead of giving up something (whatever it is) for the good of another. We may choose the cushion instead of the cross; but living selfishly is to conform ourselves to this age. Just listen to St. Paul’s warning for us today and Jesus’ admonition to Peter in the Gospel. Following St. Paul’s advice is to sacrifice ourselves for good, to sacrifice our cushions for a cross. This is certainly counter-cultural in our “I, instead of we” society, our independence versus community (to which we are called as Christians), but if you listen carefully the psalmist tells us: “As with riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied…”
You may find yourself helping to carry someone else’s burden, even when you have your own to lift. What you may notice, though, is that carrying the cross together actually may make for a lighter load—or at least—good company on the way. These moments of turning from the easy cushion could be looked at in another light, too. They can be moments of grace for us; opportunities to do the right thing, turning from the temptation of the comfortable and conformable. Discipleship does not mean to play it safe and that is why Jesus rebukes Peter today. He knows how hard it is going to get. I imagine Jesus must be tempted by the cushion too, and then Peter offers him a plan to put the cross down and run away! We can see that in the name of love Peter does this, but we know that he has missed the mark. The easy way is the slippery slope, and it is a downward slide. Jesus turns his face to Jerusalem for us, choosing the cross, praise be to God!
“For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay all according to his conduct.” Hmmm. Thank God for His mercy and compassion, forgiveness and grace as we struggle with the choice between our cushions and our crosses. May God enlighten the eyes of our hearts, and may we know the hope that belongs to our call.
Keep Singing in your hearts!
Just a Note:
Take up Our Cross - YouTube
We all look for the answers to the big (and little) questions about life and living—most of us trying to understand the whys and the whats in any situation in which we find ourselves. Like: “What are we doing here?” “Why are we here?” “Why is this happening?” “What does this all mean?” Today (the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time) Christ asks Peter a big question: “…who do you say I am?” Peter answers the question with the truth: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Here is truly a big question and an answer!
Saint Pope John Paul II wrote: “we need now more than ever to look the truth in the eye and call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception.” In this world of the little white lie, the half-truth, the shading of the truth, the “spin” of the truth, it is refreshing to see Peter answer Christ in the way he did. No prevaricating, no rose-colored glasses, no avoidance—just the plain truth in response. It is always a joy to come upon any person who is committed to being truthful: to naming things as they are without some personal agenda for the outcome—with no spin on any situation for personal profit.
Today we, as confessed and Baptised Christians, are asked (like Peter) this same question by Jesus: “Who do you say I am?” As believers we are called to authenticity and truth—a hallmark of our faith in Christ. And we answer this question by our every day truth in deeds and words, by what we say and what we do; by how we say and do it; by our priorities and our choices. We are called to Community with all that this implies: in considering others first before ourselves; in sacrifice and love; in care and kindness and mercy—to live beyond our individualism, selfish wants and pursuits.
We hear today in Isaiah that God bestows the “key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open.” It is authority that is conferred on Eliakim and this is also what occurs in the Gospel when Jesus tells Peter he will give him “the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” How we answer the Gospel question binds us all for good or evil because by our Baptism we too, have been given the keys to the kingdom.
Simon names Jesus as Christ and he changes and becomes Peter and is given the “keys.” Peter is more now than his failings, his sins, his sorrows, his hopelessness, his anger. In his new identity he has the support, love and reconciliation of Christ. He can look at himself in the mirror and call it like it is, and he can ask for forgiveness, and the grace and strength to be transformed. In conforming ourselves to Jesus (a continuing process), our lives must change profoundly; we must be converted and transformed, we must all be the rock upon which the church is built.
So, when confronted with this important question: “Who do you say I am?” Peter should inspire us to always answer with “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” People around us should hear this as our answer by who we are and what we do, by our commitment to the truth, by our love, and beyond ‘justice’ to mercy. This is a big question for us—and I pray we all answer with the truth of Christ to all, and in all things and situations. Keep the questioning, and the answer…and the truth. Who is Jesus to you?
Keep singing in your hearts!
Just a note:
A Psalm in Summer
I strain my ear to hear your voice, O, Lord.
My heart holds silent as it can when anxious thoughts assail.
Where are you in these moments full of doubt --
These days of questioning my very faith?
There! I hear you, God!
I hear you sing in rustling leaves and chirping birds --
In swaying grass caught by a gentle breeze.
You speak my name in every sound that wafts across the summer air.
And every song you sing says, “I am here, and you are mine!”
by Marion van der Loo
FYI the first 5 minutes are preview. We like to go live a little early to ensure there are no technical glitches.
Today is Monday—and my “Sing Praise” article is due (the deadline for next Sunday). I am feeling just a bit worn out; there are many home projects and work projects started and not yet finished—quarantine busy-ness, yes, but needed to be accomplished. We all know our nemesis is time, and we feel guilty not making the most of what we have—however you define “the most.” I know I am a bit worn from “The New Carpet Project.” New carpeting up and down in the house means everything had to be moved, cleaned (after culling--why have I been keeping this?)—then after throwing out, donating or keeping, it needed cleaning before putting it back…including my grand piano ($175.00 to move it 35 feet to the back room, and another $175.00 to move it back to the front room—worth it!). I also did the covid-gardening thing; resetting all the brick borders on all the gardens, planting, weeding, watering. Trying to make the most. I have been sanding my deck for weeks,,,waiting for cooler weather to be able to paint it, and last week was the window to do so.
At work (St. Aidan) I am re-organizing our Music Ministry library, up-dating our data base, cleaning, tuning and repairing instruments, practicing new pieces for interest at mass, and doing some hopeful long-range planning for a (somewhat) distant future for ensemble music at mass—just wanting to be ready and prepared for when we are safe to sing together again. Feeling a bit worn and a bit lacking in inspiration today, I decided to reprint an old article to which, I know that I, myself, need pay more attention. What does all this busy-ness have to do with the Scripture for today (this Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time)?
Last week we heard Jesus say to Peter: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” At times we are all just like Peter; we doubt when God seems far from us and when we see no way clear in trouble—like our current pandemic. And like the “foreign” (Caananite) woman in the Gospel, we must persist in our faith and in our trust in God. This is always easier said than done, especially when we are burdened by trouble, injustice, economic worry, sin and hardship!
I found this guideline (originally sent by a friend) to be a comfort when I re-read it, reminding me to trust God in all things. It speaks of “letting go and letting God.” I know I am worrying about the economic situation, about justice and illness in our world, and what a new normal might mean for us. I know that sometimes I keep busy trying to not focus and think about the upheaval and up-ending of our world (I bet you do that, too). Isaiah tells us today that God says: “Observe what is right, do what is just…” and God promises that His house will be a house of prayer for all peoples. In the Gospel we hear from Jesus that by our faith we will be saved. Let go, and let God.
I thought it would be worth it to have a re-fresher of these guidelines: good advice in the midst of all that is happening right now, so here they are… in the meantime, Keep Singing in your hearts!
THE TEN GUIDELINES OF GOD (Reprint)
1. QUIT WORRYING: Life has dealt you a blow and all you do is sit and worry. Have you forgotten that I am here to take all your burdens and carry them for you? Or do you just enjoy fretting over every little thing that comes your way?
2. PUT IT ON THE LIST: Something needs done or taken care of. Put it on the list. No, not YOUR list. Put it on MY to-do-list. Let ME be the one to take care of the problem. I can't help you until you turn it over to Me. And although My to-do-list is long, I am after all... God. I can take care of anything you put into My hands. In fact, if the truth were ever really known, I take care of a lot of things for you that you never even realize.
3. TRUST ME: Once you've given your burdens to Me, quit trying to take them back. Trust in Me. Have the faith that I will take care of all your needs, your problems and your trials. Problems with the kids, with the finances, with your emotional roller coaster? MY list! I want to help you. All you have to do is ask!
4. LEAVE IT ALONE: Don't wake up one morning and say, "Well, I'm feeling much stronger now, I think I can handle it from here." Why do you think you are feeling stronger now? It's simple. You gave Me your burdens and I'm taking care of them. I also renew your strength and cover you in my peace. Don't you know that if I give you these problems back, you will be right back where you started? Leave them with Me and forget about them. Just let Me do my job.
5. TALK TO ME: I want you to forget a lot of things. Forget what was making you crazy. Forget the worry and the fretting because you know I'm in control. But there is one thing I pray you never forget. Please, don't forget to talk to Me - OFTEN! I love YOU! I want to hear your voice. I want you to include Me in on the things going on in your life. I want to hear you talk about your friends and family. Prayer is simply you having a conversation with Me. I want to be your dearest friend.
6. HAVE FAITH: I see a lot of things from up here that you can't see from where you are. Have faith in Me that I know what I'm doing. Trust Me; you wouldn't want the view from My eyes. I will continue to care for you, watch over you, and meet your needs. You only have to trust Me. Although I have a much bigger task than you, it seems as if you have so much trouble just doing your simple part. How hard can trust be?
7. SHARE: You were taught to share when you were only two years old. When did you forget? That rule still applies. Share with those who are less fortunate than you. Share your joy with those who need encouragement. Share your laughter with those who haven't heard any in such a long time. Share your tears with those who have forgotten how to cry. Share your faith with those who have none, and with those who worship me differently.
8. BE PATIENT: I managed to fix it so in just one lifetime you could have so many diverse experiences. You grow from a child to an adult, have children, change jobs many times, learn many trades, travel to so many places, meet thousands of people, and experience so much. How can you be so impatient then when it takes Me a little longer than you expect to handle something on My to-do-list? Trust in My timing, for My timing is perfect. Just because I created the entire universe in only six days, everyone thinks I should always rush, rush, rush.
9. BE KIND: Be kind to others, for I love them just as much as I love you. They may not dress like you, or talk like you, or live the same way you do, but I still love you all. Please try to get along, for My sake. I created each of you to be different in some way. It would be too boring if you were all identical. Please, know I love each of your differences.
10. LOVE YOURSELF: As much as I love you, how can you not love yourself? You were created by me for one reason only—to be loved, and to love in return. I am a God of Love. Love Me. Love your neighbors, but also love yourself. It makes My heart ache when I see you angry with yourself when things go wrong. You are very precious to me.
Don't ever forget...
David J. Conrad, M.A. Theology. Our Director of Faith Formation.