Taking up our cross for Jesus does not necessarily mean that we have to endure pain and suffering as Christians, although it might. The Christians of Syria never thought they would be driven from their homes, and some would be killed or die of exposure in the process, but it did. Hopefully we’ll not have to face such things, but all Christians do have to face the fact that sometimes, what we say and what we believe will lead to opposition and mockery; and that’s certainly the case here in Britain at the moment where being an atheist is the trendy thing to be, and believers are mocked as stupid or even dangerous! No wonder many Christians try to go to Mass without anyone noticing, and prefer not to let friends, or people at work, know that they are believers.
Our Readings today are therefore a great challenge to us aren’t they? Jesus makes clear in our Gospel (Matt 16:21-27) that if we follow him we have to take up our cross, and he’s pretty tough on those who are not happy about this, saying to St Peter “Get behind me Satan”, and to us “Anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.” Jeremiah in our 1st Reading (Jeremiah20:7-9) would love to keep quiet about God’s message, but even though it makes him “a daily laughing stock” – that speaking God’s word has meant for him “Insult, derision, all day long”, he knows he has to speak. St Paul (Romans 12:1-2) speaks more about making sure our behaviour is Christian, but he too knows how difficult this can be, when he says “Do not model yourselves on the world around you.” Yes, it is hard to be different from those around us isn’t it? But that is what Jesus means us to do when he tells us to take up our cross!
Each of you has to work out how best you can do this. There is no point blurting out things that simply annoy people, because our aim must be to try and share with people how good it is to follow the way of Jesus, and we cannot do that if we speak in extreme ways that stop people listening. I know this as a priest because I am also told to behave in such a way that people will think well of me. I must be “above reproach, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” Phew! How to challenge the world and yet be acceptable as a teacher? A very tall order indeed, and in a way it is the same for all of you.
I’ve set myself a particular task in the last few years by trying to teach and proclaim the faith over the Internet. This is partly because I discovered from when I worked with young people at University how much trivia, as well as how much that is plain wrong, is available there. I realized that some of us need to put good stuff on the Web to counteract all the rubbish. Anyway I thought I would finish by sharing with you how I try to steer this course there on the Internet – the same course I urge on you -between being acceptable – so people read or listen to what we say, and yet challenging – so the message of the Gospel is not diluted.
Obviously my Homily goes on there each week. Quite a few priests do this nowadays, as much for their own people to read, as for the wider world. But some of us also use Twitter where in 148 letters we try to say something good and relevant to the Internet world each. What I do is to first look at the readings for the Mass of the day and try to see what kind of message might be drawn from them that might make sense to a wider audience.
Given what I have been saying, perhaps I am not tough enough, but here are some recent examples. On August 23rd the feast of the martyr John Wall I wrote: John Wall was a priest in England for 22 years and then anti-Catholic hysteria led to his execution. We must not treat Muslims like this. Last Tuesday when the Gospel was Jesus attacking the Pharisees, I wrote So easy to worry about our surface looks & what we are wearing & forget that it’s what’s inside that really matters. It shows in our eyes. Sometimes however my Tweet comes from something that has happened or is happening, so because I was going to have a family lunch last Wednesday I wrote : To Gloucester today for a family lunch! Need to work at keeping in personal touch with family & friends & not just relying on the Internet. And sometimes I try to be amusing, as on my birthday when I wrote : The funny shaped carrot and the ugly creepy crawly are all loved by God. There is hope for me yet as I approach my birthday.
Back to the Bible however to end. On Thursday when Jesus said “Stay awake”, I wrote Keep awake today. There is always something to do for someone even if it is only a smile and a friendly greeting. Good morning!