In my limited amount of active ministry now I am still able to make the rounds of the Hospitals and AIDS places to visit the sick, bringing them my presence, a blessing and the Sacraments of Anointing and Holy Communion. After all, the sick and those who are dying do not require great articulation of speech, which has been my weak point for the last five years. In my visits I am always impacted by the heaviness of some illnesses, especially when young, and at seeing the long and hard human endurance it requires sometimes to bear it all graciously. Do not get me wrong, I have had my share of it and have been down and almost out but by the grace of God I have been spared from my cancer, twice, and now that I am fairly well in some areas, "and reflecting on what others have to go through in their serious illnesses, is a source of gratitude and greater awareness and compassion for those who suffer.
I was saying this because the Gospel of this Sunday from Luke (14: 25 - 33) is about suffering. The words we hear have been heard by us a million times but I am sure they still resonate with us and even make us cringe upon hearing them. They are kind of in your face words. Sometimes this sweet Jesus utters these words perhaps with the intention that if he diluted the words the impact will not be the same. "Whoever does not carry his/her own cross and follow after me, cannot me my disciple" (v. 27). The word CROSS is a big word and most of us are afraid of the cross and we wince at suffering. I am not a good sufferer. I am afraid of
suffering. That is why I think about 20 years ago I was impacted by the words of Argentinian Cardinal Eduardo Pironio, (1920 - 1998) who was very seriously sick at the end of his life and prayed to God for "the grace to suffer well and that his suffering will not be wasted"... I thought then and now that is a great grace to ask for in prayer.
Have you experienced suffering? Have you dealt with illness in yourself or your family? Have you had great trials in your life? Most probably the answer to these questions is affirmative. I pray that those sufferings have not been very heavy and that you may have had the strength to bear them well and suffer them well. During my two surgeries for cancer I thought that I would not be able to endure so much pain, and then somehow, either by the Grace of God or by the sheer resilience of the human spirit, your untapped or hidden spiritual and human resources come afloat and one is able to endure it, survive it and even GRACIOUSLY EMBRACE THE CROSS AND EVEN THANK GOD FOR THE CROSS. I was not able to do that in my first two years since my last surgery for tongue cancer (believe me it is not fun to breath through a trach or to have a feeding tube for eight months) but now in retrospect I think I am able to
appropriate those words better in the third year. A few years ago I wrote here in these lines about "the great symphony of suffering and how each one is asked, with God's Grace, to play his or her part in that symphony". Maybe that is the meaning of Jesus'words about taking up the cross and following him.
Summarizing: There is always a cost for being a disciple of Jesus. That is the core of today's Gospel about suffering, about the cross, about hating your father and your mother, about counting your finances before building a tower, or counting your troops before going to battle against a king with a bigger army. (vs. 26, 28, 31). THE COST is there to contemplate, and for us that is the COST OF DISCIPLESHIP. There is never a free ride or an easy living or the promise of a rose garden, for those who wish to have the Son of God made man, Jesus, rule and guide their lives. Quite the contrary. But it is never a burden. IT IS A PRIVILEGE. That participation of the very life, suffering, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus in our life is truly A GRACE FROM GOD. And even now, knowing we are building up the kingdom of God and contributing to the mystery of salvation of ourselves and others by this participation, is an awesome honor and reality for which we are humbly grateful and even joyful.
May the. cross of Jesus be the light of our life. It certainly will bring HIS PEACE to us,