Take up the cross, Jesus says in today’s Gospel (Mark 8: 27-35).
Jesus had just told the apostles that he would suffer and be killed. Peter objected. Jesus is harsh in his reply, “Get behind me, Satan.”
But reading Gustavo Gutiérrez’s commentary (in Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year) provides a way to see that this is not really that harsh – though it is not easy.
“Satan” means “the one who hinders.” To “get behind” can mean to follow, to be a disciple. So Jesus may be telling people – and us – to stop hindering God’s ways (which involves the cross) and follow him as a true disciple.
This is not easy – since we often look for an easy Christianity. We are afraid of the cost of discipleship.
It will mean suffering, because it means giving ourselves to God and in service to others. We will fail, at times. But as Gutiérrez notes,
The Lord will forgive our faults along the way, but he continues to call us to total fidelity which must be translated into solidarity with others, especially with the poor and forgotten.
About this date in 1983, Father James “Guadalupe” Carney, who had been a Jesuit missionary in northern Honduras, was killed by being thrown out of a helicopter by Honduran troops.
He had been stripped of his Honduran citizenship for his outspoken criticism of the injustice he saw among the campesinos where he worked in the departments of Colón and Yoro. (Sad to say this zone is still a place where injustice reigns.)
He went to Nicaragua and stayed there for several years. He connected up with a small Honduran guerrilla group and accompanied them as chaplain when they entered Honduras. They were captured and killed. Though I have problems with his connections with a violent group, I can see his point that government soldiers have chaplains and so should those who oppose the government.
But it is not his connection with the armed opposition that inspires me. Rather, his years of living with and serving the poor are an inspiration, a way of taking up the cross and following Christ.
As he once wrote:
To love Christ really is to try to live as He lived. If I love the poor as Christ did, I, too, freely choose to become one with them, live with them, share their lives, besides trying to use my talents to help and teach them… He freely chose to become one of the masses of poor people of the world, of the eighty percent of the world who ‘have not,’ rejecting the comfortable life of the twenty percent who ‘have’ (even though he loved them too). And he tore into the system and those that held the masses in the bondage of ignorance and poverty….And he was killed for it. To be killed for my following of Christ would be my greatest joy too….
The joy comes not from suffering or being killed, I believe, but from following Christ with the poor. May we all find ways to do this – and rejoice in God’s love and solidarity with the poor, recognizing that faith without works is dead, as James writes in today’s second reading (James 2: 14-18)