“With the wish to understand that if we deny ourselves we will give up our limited and miserable project in order to embrace the God’s one.”
Archbishop Francesco Follo
XXII Sunday of Ordinary Time – September 3, 2017
Ger 20: 7-9; Ps 63; Rm 12.1-2; Mt 16: 21-27
Is 65: 13-19; Ps 33; Eph 5: 6-14; Lk 9.7-11
First Sunday after the martyrdom of St. John the Precursor.
Denying oneself is not a choice for death but for life
1) Choosing the Cross is to choose Life.
In last Sunday Gospel we were reminded that Simon, the fisherman of Capernaum, professed that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. Thanks to this faith, he received from Christ the name of Peter and the authority to be the foundation stone in the Church in the service of love and truth.
In the Gospel of today, which is the direct continuation of last Sunday gospel, we are told that Peter is rebuked by Christ because he does not understand and does not accept that the Messiah has the Cross as the necessary passage for the resurrection. Today, Jesus explains that “he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”(Mt 16, 21)
Everything seems to be overturned in Peter’s heart and mind. It seems impossible that “the Christ, the Son of the living God “(Mt 16, 16), may suffer up to death. The first of the apostle’s rebels, does not accept this path, takes the floor and says to the Master “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” (Mt 16: 22). The divergence between the design of love of the Father, who comes to the point of sacrificing His Only Begotten Son on the Cross to save mankind, and the expectations, the desires, and the projects of the disciples, is evident.
One can proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God, and yet do not realize that He is a God of Love, of crucified love. Prisoner still of the logic of men, Peter tries to stop Jesus from conforming to the logic of God. Jesus responds to the disciple, whom a few moments before he had called foundation stone and now with his objection becomes stone of scandal (=obstacle), “Go behind me, Satan! You are scandalizing me because you do not think according to God, but according to men! “(Mt 16:23).
Walking the streets according to the thinking of men is to set aside God, it is not accepting his project of love almost preventing him from fulfilling his wise will. Today, Jesus repeats that “the way of the disciples is to follow Him, [to go after Him], the Crucifix. In the three Gospels, however, He explains this following in the sign of the cross … as the path of “losing oneself”, which is necessary for everyone and without which it is not possible to find his or herself “(Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Milan 2007, 333).
By this, Christ describes his path that – through the cross – leads him to resurrection. It is the “path” of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground, dies and, doing so, brings fruit. With the Way of the Cross that is filled with love, Jesus reveals the essence of love. Let us be loved by the one who loves us from the Cross.
Starting from the center of his personal sacrifice and the love that in it reaches its fullness, the Messiah reveals that God’s true power is to love giving himself up to death. It is the supremacy of tenderness, and the powers of the world will be impotent against it: on the third day Christ has risen from death.
2) Denying oneself means total abandon to Christ
By voluntarily accepting death for love, Jesus takes the cross of all men and becomes a source of salvation for all humanity that is invited to understand that denying one means to throw oneself into the arms of Christ on the Cross and receive from Him life.
On the Cross, in fact, our weakness is delivered to Christ who has the power to make it the tabernacle of his tender, almighty, and victorious love. “The victorious cross has illuminated those blinded by ignorance, released those who were prisoners of sin, and brought redemption to all humanity “(St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesis XIII, 1 on Christ Crucified and Buried, PG 33, 772 B).
It is clear at this point what it means to truly follow Jesus, the imperative that once again he gives to his disciples: ” Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me “(Mt 16:24).
Denying ourselves means giving up our own idea of God to accept the one of Jesus.
Denying ourselves is not a choice for death, but for life, for beauty, and for joy. It is to follow the Word of God to learn the language of true love. In following Christ who reveals himself as God in love and the gift of self, we also learn to change the logic of our own existence: not any longer a life lived for its own benefit, but a life lived donating it. This is basically the logic of the Cross, both for Jesus and his disciples.
Denying oneself to follow Jesus “means taking up our own cross – We all have it … – to accompany him on his way, an uncomfortable journey that is not the one of success and of transient glory, but the one that leads to true freedom, and the one that frees us from egoism and sin. It is a clear rejection of the worldly mentality that places our “self” and our interests at the center of our existence: this is not what Jesus wants from us! Instead, Jesus invites us to lose our life for Him, and for the Gospel to receive it renewed, realized and authentic “(Pope Francis, Angelus of September 13, 2015)
Denying ourselves means “losing” our life for Christ and in Christ to receive it renewed, realized and authentic because following the Cross leads to resurrection and to a life full and definitive with God.
Denying ourselves is accepting to be malleable clay in the creative hands of God who makes us pots of grace and love.
Denying ourselves means giving up our fragile thoughts and inconsistent feelings to have in us the feelings of Christ.
Denying ourselves means leaving everything to follow Him, our Master and Lord who has become Servant of all. It means walking behind him and listening closely to him in his Word and Sacraments to learn how He felt, to conform our way of thinking and taking decisions to the feelings of Jesus conforming to Him, and being “like angels on this earth “(Saint Ambrose of Milan). This is not in the sense that our lives escape concrete reality, but because we already testify today that the destiny of man is played with reference to Christ.
The Holy Bishop of Milan goes further. In the Commentary of Saint Luke Gospel, Saint Ambrose speaks of the “generation of Christ”. Explaining the Magnificat he says, “See well that Mary had not doubted, but believed, and therefore had obtained the fruit of her faith. Blessed be thou whom thou hast believed (Lk 1, 47). But blessed also you who have heard and believed: every soul that believes, conceives and generates the Word of God, and understands his works. May in everyone be the soul of Mary to praise the Lord, and the spirit of Mary to exult in God. If, according to the flesh, only one is the mother of Christ, according to faith all souls create Christ; each one in fact welcomes the Word of God, provided that, remaining without stain and free from sin, they keep the purity of life with persevering modesty. “(Expos. Evangelii sec. Lucam, II, 26-27).
From here we understand that the exemplary value of consecrated virginity is to show a fertility that occurs in virginity. But this fertility is proposed to every believer. To conceive and to generate the Word of God, in fact, means to have the same feelings as Christ and re-propose in life his gestures and words, re-occurring the presence of Christ within his Church.
Saint John Chrysostom (344/354 – 407)
Homily LV on Matthew 16, 24
“Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after me, let him renounce himself,1 and take up his cross and follow me.”
Then, when? When Peter said, ’Be it far from Thee, this shall not be unto Thee; and was told, “Get thee behind me, Satan.”2 For He was by no means satisfied with the mere rebuke, but, willing also more abundantly to show both the extravagance of what Peter had said, and the benefit of His passion, He saith, “Thy word to me is, “Be it far from Thee, this shall not be unto
Thee:” but my word to thee is, “Not only is it hurtful to thee, and destructive, to hinder me and to be displeased at my Passion, but it will be impossible for thee even to be saved, unless thou thyself too be continually prepared for death.”
Thus, test they should think His suffering unworthy of Him, not by the former things only, but also by the events that were coming on, He teaches them the gain thereof. Thus in John first, He saith,” Except the corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit;”3 but here more abundantly working it out, not concerning Himself only doth He bring forward the statement that it is meet to die, but concerning them also. “For so great is the profit thereof, that in your case also unwillingness to die is grievous, but to be ready for it, good.”
This however He makes clear by what follows, but for the present He works it out on one side only. And see how He also makes His discourse unexceptionable: not saying at all, “whether you will, or no, you must suffer this,” but how? “If any man will come after me.” “I force not, I compel not, but each one I make lord of his own choice; wherefore also I say, ’If any man will.’
For to good things do I call you, not to things evil, or burdensome; not to punishment and vengeance, that I should have to compel. Nay, the nature of the thing is alone sufficient to attract you.”
Now, thus saying, He drew them unto Him the more. For he indeed that uses compulsion oftens turns men away, but he that leaves the hearer to choose attracts him more. For soothing is a mightier thing than force. Wherefore even He Himself said, “If any man will.” “For great,” saith He, “are the good things which I give you, and such as for men even to run to them of their own accord. For neither if one were giving gold, and offering a treasure, would he invite with force.
And if that invitation be without compulsion, much more this, to the good things m the Heavens. Since if the nature of the thing persuade thee not to run, thou art not worthy to receive it at all, nor if thou shouldest receive it, wilt thou well know what thou hast received.”
Wherefore Christ compels not, but urges, sparing us. For since they seemed to be murmuring much, being secretly disturbed at the saying, He saith, “No need of disturbance or of trouble. If ye do not account what I have mentioned to be a cause of innumerable blessings, even when befalling yourselves, I use no force, nor do I compel, but if any be willing to follow, him I call.
“For do not by any means imagine that this is your following of me; I mean, what ye now do attending upon me. Ye have need of many toils, many dangers, if ye are to come after me. For thou oughtest not, O Peter, because thou hast confessed me Son of God, therefore only to expect crowns, and to suppose this enough for thy salvation, and for the future to enjoy security, as having done all. For although it be in my power, as Son of God, to hinder thee from having any trial at all of those hardships; yet such is not my will, for thy sake, that thou mayest thyself too contribute something, and be more approved.”
For so, if one were a judge at the games, and had a friend in the lists, he would not wish to crown him by favor only, but also for his own toils; and for this reason especially, because he loves him.
Even so Christ also; whom He most loves, those He most of all will have to approve themselves by their own means also, and not from His help alone.
But see how at the same time He makes His saying not a grievous one. For He cloth by no means compass them only with His terror, but He also puts forth the doctrine generally to the world, saying, “If any one will,” be it woman or man, ruler or subject, let him come this way.
5.And though he seem to have spoken but one single thing, yet His sayings are three, “Let him renounce himself,” and “Let him bear his cross,” and “Let him follow me;” and two of them are joined together, but the one is put by itself.
But let us see first what it can be to deny one’s self. Let us learn first what it is to deny another, and then we shall know what it may be to deny one’s self. What then is it to deny another? He that is denying another,—for example, either brother, or servant, or whom you will,—should he see him either beaten, or bound, or led to execution, or whatever he may suffer, stands not by him, doth not help him, is not moved, feels nothing for him, as being once for all alienated from him. Thus then He will have us disregard our own body, so that whether men scourge, or banish, or burn, or whatever they do, we may not spare it. For this is to spare it. Since fathers too then spare their offspring, when committing them to teachers, they command not to spare them.
So also Christ; He said not, “Let him not spare himself,” but very strictly, “Let him renounce himself;” that is, let him have nothing to do with himself, but give himself up to all dangers and conflicts; and let him so feel, as though another were suffering it all.
And He said not, “Let him deny,” but “Let him renounce;”5 even by this small addition intimating again, how very far it goes. For this latter is more than the former.
1 [R. V., “If any man would come after me, let him deny him self,” etc. The Oxford translator substitutes “renounce” to bring out the distinction, in Greek, between ajparnei`sqai and ajrnei`sqai, which is pointed out in the Homily, sec. 2.—R.]