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24 Sunday B: Who do you say? You are the Christ ....



Introduction by the Celebrant
A. Do We Go Jesus' Way?
What are we looking for in life? Good health, happiness in our families, in our job, in our faith, good relationships with ourselves, with people and with God. When Jesus tells us today that we have to follow him in taking up the crosses that come our way, do we accept that as disciples of Jesus today? Do we take that as a part of our faith or do we say, "Lord, everything - but not that!"? Jesus assures us: "Anyone who loses his or her life for my sake will find life, will save life." Come, let us meet the Lord who speaks to us.

B. Do We Know Jesus?
We profess in the Creed, "I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son and our Lord." We say we know who he is, our Savior and our Lord. Do we really know him? To know him deeply we not only have to listen to what he says but to know how he lived and died, giving himself totally to the Father and to people. Even that is not enough: we must follow in his footsteps by giving ourselves like him without reserve to God and to people. Then we will know Jesus from experience.


Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration
you_are_the_christ

This year we have been reading the gospel of Mark each Sunday. Today we come to its centre: Mark built his whole story around the moment of declaration by the disciples about who they believed Jesus really is: ‘You are the Christ!’ Once, the disciples had recognised his full identity, they were ready to be presented with the demands of being disciples, people who had chosen to follow his way. Today, this gospel presents us with the same challenge. By assembling here we are declaring our belief in the identity of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Father. But having declared that faith, we now have to face the challenge of following his way. This way is the way of renouncing self, of taking up our crosses, and of being prepared to see in his way a radically different way of living. 

Michel DeVerteuil 
Textual Comments
This passage is in three sections, each of which has deep implications for our life of faith. The passage as a whole helps us understand and celebrate our own journey to commitment, or that of someone who has touched our lives. We start, as always, from experience, remembering a time when we got a better insight into the truth of Jesus, we realized for the first time that God truly became a human being among us.
Verse 27a : In this verse Jesus takes the decision to “leave for the villages round Caesarea Philippi.” It was on that journey that he put his question to the disciples. He made a conscious decision, and brought out a new profession of faith from them.
Verses 27b-29 : “Who do people say I am?” We can identify with Jesus. There have been times when we have been in leadership positions in a community and have stopped to look at our work, to evaluate our impact on those around us. “Who do people say I am? Do people understand what I am doing, what I am trying to communicate?” Nowadays we do this systematically with surveys and evaluations.
missions
As Christians entrusted with the mission to proclaim the Good News we often ask the questions: when people look at us, who do they say we are?
We can also identify with the disciples. Every so often we look at the image of Jesus we carry within us – who is he for us? We may find that our image of him has changed over time, become more concrete, more real, and more coherent with our experiences. We celebrate the moments when we have become conscious of our journey to him.
Verse 30 : Jesus often instructs his disciples not to tell others what they have “seen”. We celebrate wise teachers who warned us not to share our deepest insights with those who have not yet made the journey. We would be robbing them of the joy of making their own discovery with its own particular twists and turns. We thank God for the times when we have waited respectfully for others to know Jesus – and learnt something new about him from them.
Verses 31-33 : We remember a time when someone we loved dearly – a friend, a child, a spouse – made a decision which they dreaded and yet accepted as necessary. We knew it would cause them pain, and we wanted so much to spare them! We tried to dissuade them, urging them to compromise and chose an easier path. They refused, and today we are grateful for their integrity.
Or it may be that we ourselves have made that journey, and today we thank God that we were able to.
Verses 34 and 35 are a meditation on the preceding incidents. We must make sure that we do not read them in a vague or abstract way, or as moralizing. We recognize each statement as true, corresponding to experience.
Verse 34 must remind is of concrete ways in which we (or others) “renounced ourselves” and as a result became better “followers of Jesus” – forgiving a person (or group) for whom we felt resentment, not accepting a high position, giving up an addiction, etc.
Verse 35 evokes things that we have risked “losing” and then “found” again in a deeper way – a friendship, prestige, inner peace, a harmonious community or workplace.

Prayer Reflection
a quiet retreatLord, we thank you for the quiet times we have taken, away from the busyness of daily life, to be with you and take stock of our lives: long walks on the beach, retreats, quiet holidays.
Away from the pressures of family, co-workers and friends, those who wish us to conform to whatever image they have of us,we asked you, Lord, “Who do you say I am?” and slowly we began to understand our own special vocation, the life of Jesus within us.
“True love is self-sacrificing because it is about making choices, and some of these will always be made at personal cost to ourselves. In the name of the God of costly love we take up the daily burden of being open to costly choices. In this way we too will be broken, but broken as bread is broken, in order to be shared.”  .…Lavinia Byrne
Lord, we thank you for friends who, at major turning points in their lives,
spoke openly to us as Jesus spoke to his disciples.
They asked us whether we understood what their destiny called them to.
They shared with us quite openly that what they had to do
would entail being rejected by elders, chief priests and scribes,
and even being put to death.
challanges
They asked us to have faith that ultimately
their suffering would result in resurrection and new life.
They were laying down their lives for the sake of something higher,
knowing that only by being true to what they believed could they save their lives.
Forgive us that when we did not understand
we took them aside and started to remonstrate with them.
We thank you that when they heard us they rebuked us and told us,
“Get behind me, because the way you think is human, not divine.”
“Death as an image for the path of transformation points to a dying to the world of conventional wisdom as the center of one’s security and identity and a dying to the self as the center of one’s concern. The path of death is also, for Jesus, the path to new life. It results in rebirth, a resurrection to a life centered in God.” …M.J. Borg
Lord, we know you are asking us once again,
as you did when we first became your disciples,
“Who do you say I am?”
making choices
Our childhood images no longer make sense to us,
they seem to have disintegrated,
and we are frightened of being rejected
by the elders, chief priests and scribes within us.
Remind us that we need not be afraid of being put to death
because after three days we will rise again.
How true it is that if we are too anxious
to save things that are precious to us we lose them,
whereas if we are prepared to lose them
for the sake of the higher values of honesty we will save them.
“It is evident that women are meant to form part of the living and working structure of Christianity in so prominent a manner that perhaps not all their potentialities have yet been made clear.” …Pope Paul VI, On the dignity and vocation of women
Lord, there are women all over the world today
Who feel called to the priestly ministry,
But they are destined to suffer grievously,
To be rejected by elders, chief priests and scribes.
Help them to take up their destiny as Jesus took up his cross,
Understanding the concerns of those who oppose them,
While remaining true to his Spirit within them.
Whatever they lose for his sake and the sake of the gospel they will save it.
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Gospel: Mk 8:27-35
The ruins of Banias, known biblically as Caesarea Philippi
The ruins of Banias, known biblically as Caesarea Philippi
Today’s gospel is presented by Mark as a single scene taking place at Caesarea Philippi (the scene extends from 8:27 to 9:1); but it is made up of three parts: first, the confession of faith that Jesus is the Anointed One (vv 27-30); second, the prediction of the passion, death, and resurrection (vv 31-33); and, third, that  the disciple can expect his / her life to follow the same pattern as that of the Christ (vv 34-35). All these elements of the scene are present also in Matthew and Luke, but the way they follow on from one another in Mark — almost like logical consequences — is found most clearly in Mark and gives this gospel an unique tone.
We tend to break them apart: one bit is ‘christology’, another is about ‘encouraging the twelve’, and the other is about discipleship — but for Mark this passage is a unity and it is at the very centre of his preaching. Here it all becomes plain: who Jesus is and his task and his people. Following is about who one follows, who that leader is and what he does, and about what is expected for those who come in the wake of the leader. For Mark, here we have his message in a nutshell. Yes, the Christ will rise, but before that there is the experience of being with him and the cross: his cross and one’s own. Once we see this as Mark’s core message, it is easier to see why his preaching, in its original form, ended with the death and burial of Jesus. Resurrection is but a promise for the future for those who are, as disciples, carrying their crosses.

Homily Notes
who is Jesus11. The gospel presents us with a single message in two stages: if you acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ, then you embark on a life of discipleship. However, that is too complex a notion to try to communicate to an average congregation of people in various stages of life, with differing levels of religious commitment, a variety of listening abilities, educational backgrounds, and Christian spiritual ‘awareness’ — all in less than 10 minutes! So it is perhaps better to focus on a single aspect of the gospel and try to explicate that and help people come to a deeper understanding of that one aspect of today’s gospel.
2. Two themes come easily to mind.
The first is a homily built around ‘the challenge’ of discipleship. In its crudest form it sounds like: if you believe, then you must be ready to die for your beliefs. The problem is that unless one is in an extreme situation, this is just’hot’ rhetoric that excites a few hotheads in the congregation, but switches off most as a harangue. We can all offer challenges — and they are offered de facto in the liturgy today, but preaching needs to tap into something more reflective. Moreover, if preachers throw out challenges, then it has to be transparent that they are ready to be as daring themselves. Most clerics are seen by the congregations as anything but that: they are company men who keep the show running but are not prepared to offer challenges to their own leaders about discipleship, so why are they willing to throw out challenges to their flocks. So, unless there is a pressing need to adopt the challenge model, leave it alone.
The second is based on the theme of ‘faith without words is dead’; and takes the form that belief must involve making a practical difference in the world around you, faith is not ‘pie in the sky when you die’ but social engagement. However, that can become a simple exhortation to moral or social work rather than a homily which helps people hear what the Spirit is saying (which includes the notion that an incarnational faith must engage with the world around us). To preach that discipleship involves works is either to state the obvious, or else requires that there is some very specific task that a community needs to undertake as part of its particular discipleship — but even then care must be taken that a homily does not become simply an advertising slot for some specific task.
3. An altogether different approach is to focus on the notion of the cross which lies at the heart of Mark’s preaching today. Most preachers are so familiar with the cross as a concept, a liturgical object, or even an item of decoration, that we fail to appreciate just how off-putting many people — many Christians included — find it as an object, icon, image, and symbol. The notion of glorifying the image of a tortured, contorted body on an instrument of execution seems to smack of the grotesque. It can appear to glorify all that is vile in human nature, to rejoice in suffering for its own sake, and to be life-rejecting, joy-rejecting, and convey a message that religion is a dismal, dour business.
4. Many apologists then jump up and shout that that is not what it means, that is not how Christians see the world, that is not the message of the cross! Yes, this is all true; but the problem with symbols is that they communicate with us before we hear what they mean. And, in a culture where faith-meanings are not absorbed simultaneously with the faith-symbols, we have a problem.
5. Tackling that problem in the homily situation is a two-step process. First, acknowledge the problem. This will come as surprise to many in the congregation, but it will be useful for that group to realise that many fundamental Christian symbols are no longer ‘obvious to all’. However, there will be some people in every gathering who will share this cultural unease with the cross and having that unease openly spoken about is often a great help: the individual is not alone in finding this aspect of faith / liturgy difficult.
Jesus and cross
6. The second stage is to ask why the earliest Christians focused on the cross as one of their basic symbols — along with baptism and the Eucharist? Why, when they preached that Jesus is risen as their basic message, did they bother with the cross? Christians focus on the cross because of a realistic assessment of what living a life of discipleship will cost. Working honestly, working justly, working for reconciliation is not only difficult, it generates opposition, and often provokes ridicule from others. In every generation Christians have realised that if they seek to follow the way of the Son of Man, then they will encounter the cross.
7. Using it as a symbol is a declaration of what living as a disciple of Jesus will involve. Using it, we can never be accused of making false promises under a ‘trade descriptions’ act’!
8. This sort of homily is not a theology of the Holy Cross, rather it is following up the notion of the cross as used in today’s gospel, and as part of a low level programme of apologetics: giving sisters and brothers answers to the questions round about us.
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Sean Goan
Gospel
We come now to a crucial moment in Mark’s narrative as we hear the first of three predictions of Jesus’ passion and death. From the beginning of the gospel there have been many expressions of wonder and amazement at what Jesus has done and these have often been accompanied by the question: ‘Who can this be?’ Jesus, however, has attempted to keep a lid on the question of his identity, as though he wanted it kept a secret. Now in these important verses we learn why. Jesus is interested above all in the response of faith and that is why he asks the disciples: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ Peter answers, acknowledging that Jesus is the Messiah. This is a Hebrew word and simply means the anointed one, but in the minds of the Jews of first-century Palestine it means much more. Peter is saying that Jesus is the long awaited fulfilment of the scriptures, the one to set his people free from foreign domination and who would usher in a great period of restoration and renewal. Jesus accepts the title but immediately begins the task of trying to bring his disciples to understand that he is not the type of Messiah they expect. Quite the opposite in fact, for the kingdom he proclaims will meet with fierce opposition and he will suffer the ultimate penalty for his faithfulness to it. What’s more is that he expects his disciples to walk the same path.

Reflection
As Christians we pray daily using the words Jesus taught us: ‘Thy Kingdom come.’ When we do this we are saying that we want the world to be the way God wants it. In other words a second-coming-of-christ
place of peace and justice where no-one suffers through poverty, war or oppression. If this is what we want then we must live in a way which helps to bring this about, we must be committed to change. Such a choice might leave us like the Servant in the first reading facing abuse and insults from those who would prefer to leave things as they are. This is what Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel: taking up our cross to follow him does not mean we are to go looking for suffering; rather it means accepting that choosing the way of God’s kingdom will cost us. In short, faith without works is dead!
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ILLUSTRATIONS:

1. CONNECTIONS:

THE WORD:
In today’s Gospel, Peter is a model of vacillating faith – a model that typifies our own reaction to the call to discipleship.
Caesar Philippi was a bazaar of worship places and temples, with altars erected to every concept of the divinity from the gods of Greece to the godhead of Caesar.  Amid this marketplace of gods, Jesus asks Peter and the Twelve,  “Who do people say that I am? . . . Who do you say that I am?”  This is a turning point in Mark's Gospel:  Until now, Mark's Jesus has been reluctant to have people believe in him only because of his miracles.  Jesus talks, for the first time in Mark’s Gospel, about dark things ahead: rejection, suffering, death and resurrection (concepts that the disciples are unable to grasp).
In this incident (recorded by all three synoptics), Peter immediately confesses his faith in Jesus as the Messiah -- the Messiah of victory and salvation.  But when Jesus begins to speak of a Messiah who will suffer rejection and death, Peter objects.  Peter’s reaction is ours, as well:  We prefer to follow the popular, happy Jesus, the healing and comforting Jesus – but we back away from the suffering, humble, unsettling Jesus of the cross.


HOMILY NOTES:
Every moment we live, every decision and choice we make, every good thing we do is our most revealing and telling response to the question, Who do you say I am?   Our love for family and friends, our commitment to the highest moral and ethical standards, our willingness to take the first step toward reconciliation and forgiveness are, ultimately, our true confession of faith in Jesus Christ as the Love and Word of God incarnate.
Only in “denying ourselves” in order to imitate the servanthood of Christ do we experience the true depth of our faith; only in embracing his compassion and humility in our lives do we enable the Spirit of God to renew and transform our world in God’s life and love.  
We cannot belong to the company of Jesus unless we embrace the Crucified One’s spirit of selfless servanthood; we cannot stand with the Crucified Jesus unless we unconditionally and completely love  and forgive others as he did; we cannot hope to share in the victory of the Risen Christ unless we "crucify" our fears, self-consciousness and prejudices that blind us from seeing him in the faces of every human being.

The church downstairs
The pastor calls it the “church downstairs.”  They have a good problem: they need more chairs.
For years, Alcoholic Anonymous has met in the church hall every day of the week, sometimes twice a day.  The supportive pastor started thinking of those meetings as the “church downstairs” after a new parishioner told him how she came to join the parish after first going “downstairs” for several months.
The priest occasionally sits in on the meetings and it has helped him understand what it means to be “church.”  Three things about AA have struck him: 
First, there is a “genuine and low-key sense” of welcoming.  But it is not simply a matter of a designated greeter shaking every new hand.  In fact, “AA is at its most hospitable after the meeting is over.  No one is bolting for the door when the last word is pronounced.  Instead, people stay around for another cup of coffee, especially if someone new has joined them.”
The second thing the pastor has noticed is how the “church downstairs” rallies around the weak, the powerless, and the hurting.  “Even those some might relegate to the social fringe are met with acceptance in the group, not least because a common denominator — We are all powerless over alcohol — remains central.”
And the third thing that Alcoholics Anonymous groups demonstrate so well, the pastor admires, is “the belief that everyone has a story to tell and a right to be heard.  This belief is essential not only to the Twelve Steps, but to the sense of commonality and communion that is generated in the group.  Everyone can learn something from another person’s story . . . ”
Welcoming strangers.  Lifting up the weak and struggling.  Listening to what everyone has to say.  Maybe that’s why they need more chairs at the “church downstairs.”
[From “The Church Downstairs: What Catholics Can Learn from Alcoholics Anonymous” by Father Nonomen, Commonweal, July 13, 2012.]

This is what Christ calls us to be as a church: a community that readily takes up our own crosses in order to help others bear up theirs; a family of brothers and sisters who instinctively put aside their own individual needs and hurts to bring healing and hope to the other members of the family.  In being members of such a faith community, we answer the question that Jesus poses in today’s Gospel; every decision we make, every action we take, proclaims who we believe this Jesus is and what his Gospel means to us.  Sometimes our answering that question demands that we put aside our own concerns, needs and fears, to say to ourselves and confess to the world:  You are the Christ; You are the Anointed One God has sent to teach us his way of humble gratitude, joyful service, and just peace.  

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2. From  Fr. Tony Kadavil:

  #1. Shakespeare  and   Jesus It was   th 19t century  Britisessayist, Charles Lamb, who  snatched the 17th century playwright WilliaShakespeare fro hi undeserved obscurity,  returnin him   to the limelight ofame. Charles Lam was once involved in a discussion on the question, wh is thgreates literary   genius    o all   time?   Two   names    finall emerged:   WilliaShakespeare an Jesu of Nazareth.    Lam put a en to the debate  whe hsaid: “Ill tell yo the difference between these two me.If Shakespeare walkeinto this room right now, we woul all rise to greehim, but if Christ cam in, wwoul al fall dow an worship.”  There i the essential  difference between  thMa from Nazareth  an al other great peopl yo ca think of.   Jesu Christ  iGod, an al others, n matter what their deeds, are but fools strutting out thstage for a brief time an then exiting. Today gospe describes wh Jesus really  is and the unique conditions for Christian discipleship. 


# 2:  "Who do  Mormons, Jehovah's  Witnesses,  Islam    say  that I am?"
The  first two groups claim  to be Christian  and  Islam speaks  about Christ.  But all  of them have  a  confused Christology.  The  Church of Jesus  Christ  of Latter-day  Saints, more commonly called  the Mormons, incorporates the Lord's name  in its title, but its beliefs about Jesus  are fatally  flawed. A  basic  compendium of the Mormon gospel  is titled Mormon Doctrine. It was written by apostle Bruce Redd McConkie, an influential Mormon theologian.  According to McConkie, Mormons believe that "Lucifer, the son  of the morning, is our elder brother, and  the brother of Jesus." The Journal of Discourses, a 2 volume Mormon publication presenting public sermons  by   many   early  Mormon  leaders,  includes  such   statements  as  this: "Jesus, our elder brother was  begotten in  the flesh by  the same  character  that was in the garden of Eden, and  who  is our father in Heaven." The same  volumes assert, "Jesus was married at Cana of Galilee  and had many  wives  ... he also had many   children."  From these  writings, it is  clear that the Mormons fail the test when  it comes  to answering Jesus Christ's question, "Who do you  say I am?" (v. 29). Ask  the Jehovah's  Witnesses,  "Who do  you  say  Jesus  is?" The  Jehovah's Witness  publication, New  Heavens  and  New  Earth,  declares by  way  of response, "Michael the Archangel is no other than the only  begotten Son of God, now  Jesus Christ."   Consider the religion of Islam.  Ask  the Muslim   who  Jesus  is  and  the answer we  get from  official publications  is  "Jesus was  no  more than a  mortal whom Allah  favored and  made  an example to the Israelites. They  are unbelievers who  say God is Messiah, Mary's son" (Sura 43:59, Quran). Until people  see Jesus as Peter did, as "the Christ, the Son of the Living  God," they miss  the mark.

 #3: Who do  you  say  that I am?”

On  Sunday morning  a  man  showed   up  at church  with  both  of  his   ears terribly  blistered.  So  his   pastor  asked,  "What happened to you Jim?"

"I was  lying  on the couch  watching  a ball  game  on TV while  my  wife was ironing nearby. I was totally engrossed in the game  when  she went out, leaving the iron near the phone. The phone  rang, and  keeping my  eyes  on the TV, I grabbed the hot iron and put it to my  ear."

"How dreadful," gasped  the pastor. "But how did the other ear get burned?"


"Well, you  see, I'd no sooner hung  up, the guy  called  back!" He just didn't get it. Lots of folks never get it and  never understand how  life really works, even  at the simplest  levels.  That's  why   Jesus  is  pressing  his  followers  —  and   us  with  a challenging  question  in  today’s  gospel:  “Who  do  you  say  that I  am?”  (Msgr. Dennis  Clarke)
 3. From the Sermons.com:


1)    You might remember comedian Yakov Smirnoff.  

When he first came to the United States from Russia he was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, "On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk--you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice--you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, "What a country!"

Smirnoff is joking but we make these assumptions about Christian Transformation-that people change instantly at salvation. Some traditions call it repentance and renewal. Some call it Sanctification of the believer. Whatever you call it most traditions expect some quick fix to sin. According to this belief, when someone gives his or her life to Christ, there is an immediate, substantive, in-depth, miraculous change in habits, attitudes, and character. We go to church as if we are going to the grocery store: Powdered Christian. Just add water and disciples are born not made.

Unfortunately, there is no such powder and disciples of Jesus Christ are not instantly born. They are slowly raised through many trials, suffering, and temptations ...
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 2)    Good Gossip" by Leonard Sweet  

One of the most popular shows from last season is returning this fall with ads asking potential audiences, "What would you do if your weren't 'handicapped' by sight?"

"The Voice" is a talent show that keeps the judges in the dark, so to speak. It requires them to judge all the contestants only on the quality of their voices. The judges' backs are turned and they never see the performer. Power, poise, presence, emotion, erudition, excitement - it all has to be conveyed to the judges only by the sound of the voice - not by any see-me-showmanship. The power to convince, convict, and control is not in the contestants own hands. It is in their tongues.

The power of the tongue was of central concern to James in today's epistle text. And what power it has. Did you know the tongue can lift up to 80 times its own weight? In fact, did you know the strongest muscle in the body is the tongue? The only other muscle that comes close is the masseter muscle - that's the thick muscle in the cheek located at the back of the jaw that opens and shuts your mouth. But it's not technically a muscle, since it's also made up of bones. It does, however, clamp the mouth shut, and the need to clamp the mouth shut is the theme of our text from James this morning...
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3)    Music in the Soul 

Paganini, the great violinist, came out before his audience one day and made the discovery just as the applause ended that there was something wrong with his violin. He looked at it a second and then saw that it was not his famous and valuable violin, but a cheap substitute. He felt paralyzed for a moment, then turned to his audience and told them there had been some mistake and he did not have his own violin. He stepped back behind the curtain thinking that it was still where he had left it, but discovered that someone had stolen his violin and left this old second hand one in its place. Paganini remained back of the curtain for a moment, then came out before his audience and said: "Ladies and gentlemen, I will show you that the music is not in the instrument but in the soul." And he played as he had never played before; and out of that second hand instrument, the music poured forth until his audience was enraptured with enthusiasm, and the applause almost lifted the roof off the building, because the man had revealed to them that the music was not in the machine but in his own soul.

Don't let anyone tell you that the soul does not exist. We were created in the image of God. That doesn't mean God looks like us. It means there is something divine within us.
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4)    The Hill of Crosses 

The people of Lithuania take cross bearing a little more seriously than we do. For them the cross symbolizes faith, hope and love. There are crosses are everywhere in the countryside, on roads, in city parks and village squares. Communities and individuals erect crosses to bring them health and to commemorate events like weddings, births and christenings. Crosses are also erected to commemorate historical events. One of these is the Baltic Way, in which millions of people linked hands stretching across the Baltics from Estonia to Lithuania on August 25, 1989. About 9 monuments commemorate this extraordinary event.

The nation's pride is the Hill of Crosses, located north of Siauliai. Lithuanians erected crosses there as early as the mid-19th century. The Soviet government couldn't tolerate that kind of spiritual expression, so they totally destroyed the hill in 1961, then again in 1973 and 1975. But people kept erecting more crosses, until in 1980 their destruction stopped. Today the crosses number in the many thousands. They are different sizes and shapes, some simple, some ornate, but they immortalize Lithuania's troubles, misfortunes, joys, hope and faith.

For them, the cross is more than a symbol in the church. It is symbol for the world to see. A symbol that will not go away. It is a symbol of sacrifice. A sacrifice that gives each and every one of us hope and faith and courage.

Billy D. Strayhorn, At Cross Purposes
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5)    Who Do You Say He Is? 

If I told you to pull out a piece of paper and write on it who you say Jesus is what would you write? We all have some answer; we all have some images of Jesus. Some of them are the images we learned as children in Sunday school which have proved troubling and we don't' have anything to replace them with. Sometimes we dismiss Jesus on the basis of what we knew about Jesus at age six. Some of us have never examined the evidence for ourselves.

One of my main goals in preaching is to gain a fresh hearing for Jesus, especially among those who believe they already understand him. I'm sorry to tell you this, but you probably don't. Because what happens sometimes is that presumed familiarity has led to unfamiliarity. Jesus is sometimes obstructed by clouds of well-intentioned misinformation.

But ultimately, rather than give you my answer to the question I'd rather challenge you to answer the question for yourself because that's the only answer that matters. Is he Messiah? If that's what you think, what does that mean? Jesus clearly didn't' fit into what a Messiah was expected to be. Messiahs were supposed to have power, were supposed to take charge, were supposed to set things right and free the Jews from political expression. But Jesus refused to stiff arm anybody. He refused to dominate or to take up arms.

Is he Savior? OK. But what is he saving us from and what is he saving us to? Some people clearly had no interest in being saved. When Jesus said the poor are precious and the rich are in big trouble, only those on one side of that equation found it intriguing.

Is he Teacher? Surely, but is that all?

Who do you say he is? Messiah, Savior, Lord, shaman, teacher, friend, prophet, prince of peace?

Now, as you try and answer that question, don't be too alarmed if you cant' nail it down. Even those of us who wrestle with the question regularly find it difficult, because Jesus is sometimes downright incomprehensible; he is often enigmatic, ambiguous. From the very beginning, who Jesus was, what he was about, was far from self-evident. There were people who stood face-to-face with Jesus and said, "This is God incarnate." There appear to be many more who said, "This man is nuts." Although I think that for most of us, the biggest issue isn't that we've listened to Jesus and found him incomprehensible; it's that we've listened to him and found him too damned difficult. 

Herb Miller, Who Do You Say That I Am?
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6)    Defining Christ  

Every photographer knows the importance of having the camera lens in focus before triggering the shutter. You can set the right shutter speed. You can open the lens to its proper setting. But if that lens is not in focus, the picture will be worthless.

Anyone who's trying to sell something these days knows the importance of having an accurate focus on the market for which a product is intended. Whether you're trying to sell soap or soft drinks, it's necessary to know exactly which people will most likely purchase your product. On what age group or sector of the public do you focus your advertising?

So Jesus realized that if people were going to follow him, and if his followers were going to be truly effective Christians in the world, they needed to know exactly who he was. They also needed to know precisely what was involved in being a Christian.

That's probably one reason why he asked this simple, but all-important question in our Bible reading. "Tell me," he says, "who do people say I am?" And a little later he refines the question: "What about you?" he asked them. "Who do you say I am?"

Richard W. Patt, Partners in the Impossible, CSS Publishing Company
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 7)    Many Different Christs Are Offered

Marva Dawn in Reaching Out without Dumbing Down suggests the possibility of different Christs today when she writes: At the 1987 Vancouver World's Fair, the Christian pavilion's presentation utilized glitzy double-reversed photography and flashing lasers. When I tried to explain my qualms about the production to an attendant who had asked me how I liked their "show," she protested that it had saved many people. I asked, "Saved by what kind of Christ?" If people are saved by a spectacular Christ, will they find him in the fumbling of their own devotional life or in the humble services of local parishes where pastors and organists make mistakes? Will a glitzy portrayal of Christ nurture in new believers his character of willing suffering and sacrificial obedience? Will it create an awareness of the idolatries of our age and lead to repentance? And does a flashy, hard-rock sound track bring people to a Christ who calls us away from the world's superficiality to deeper reflection and meditation? [p. 50]

Marva Dawn, Reaching Out without Dumbing Down. Submitted by Brian Stoffregen
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 8)    Under Control 

There was a certain bishop, in the horse and buggy days, who had two horses named Pride and Prejudice. He said on one occasion that people thought it was awful that a bishop should be drawn hither and thither by Pride and Prejudice, but he reassured them that it was a wonderful thing that a Bishop would have Pride and Prejudice under control.

That's a wonderful thing for any of us. It is the test of our manhood and womanhood that we are able to deny ourselves. The world says that to be a real man or a real woman we must give in to pleasure, but that's absurd. Any creature can give in to natural impulses. 

King Duncan
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9)    He Is the Son of God 

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
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10) On Sunday He Is God 

There are very few who in their hearts do not believe in God, but what they will not do is give Him exclusive right of way. ... They are not ready to promise full allegiance to God alone. Many a professing Christian is a stumbling-block because his worship is divided. On Sunday he worships God; on weekdays God has little or no place in his thoughts. I want people to place their faith in Jesus and motivate them to live more obediently.  

D.L. Moody
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 11) Stop Following Your Shadow

There is a fable about a man who lived in the desert. He would wake up every morning and follow his shadow. So as the sun moved across the sky from east to west the man essentially walked in a large oval. At sundown he ended up where he had started. This continued for years. The man walked in circles day after day, following his shadow. One night the man heard the voice of God in a dream while he slept. The voice told him to stop following his shadow. Instead, "Follow the sun," the voice challenged, "And you will experience life as you have never dreamed it could be."

The man thought for many days about his vision of God while he continued to walk around in circles in the desert... 

12) The Speller Boy

Once upon a time there was a very bright young man who was the greatest speller in his school. He won all the spelling bees even when he was in sixth grade. Then he went into the bees with other schools, and finally in the whole city. He kept on winning, easily. He was really good. Alas he knew he was good and bragged about it to everyone who would listen. His classmates were proud of him, but they didn’t like his boasting. He’s really good said one of his friend. But I wish he’d lose because he used to be a nice boy and now he’s a pill. Shut up all the others said quickly, though they had been thinking the same thing.

Well, finally came the big state championship. If he won that he would go on to the nationals – and probably to the Olympics only they don’t have spelling bees do they?

So he went to the match with the teacher who had helped him all through the year. At the very end, only the boy and a very nasty and ill tempered girl remained. He was asked to spell prestidigitation. He said the word and then confidently began to spell.

Then you know what? He blanked out. Completely.

He had no idea how to spell the word. So he missed the third “i”. The nasty little girl, who was also much too pretty, got it right of course. Our hero was very mad. He blamed his teacher and wouldn’t talk to his classmates. He even blamed God. It wasn’t fair, he kept saying over and over and over. I deserved to win. After awhile he got over it.

13) Who d yo sa that I am?

O Sunday mornin  ma showed   u achurc wit bot o his   ears terribl blistered S his   pasto asked "Whahappened to you Jim?"

"I wa lyin on the couc watching  a bal gam on TV whil m wife was ironinnearby. I was totally engrossed in the gam whe she went out, leaving the ironear the phone. The phon rang, an keeping m eye on the TV, I grabbed thhot iron and put it to m ear."

"How dreadful," gaspe the pastor. "But how did the other ear get burned?"

"Well, yo see, I'd no sooner hun up, the gu calle back!" He just didn't get itLots of folks never get it an never understand ho life really works, eve at thsimplest  levels That's  why   Jesu i pressin hi followers  —  and   u wit challengin question  i todays  gospel:  Wh d yo sa that I  am?”  (MsgrDenni Clarke)

14)  Shakespeare  and   Jesus.  
It was   th 19t century  Britisessayist, Charles Lamb, who  snatched the 17th century playwright WilliaShakespeare fro hi undeserved obscurity,  returnin him   to the limelight ofame. Charles Lam was once involved in a discussion on the question, wh is thgreates literary   genius    o all   time?   Two   names    finall emerged:   WilliaShakespeare an Jesu of Nazareth.    Lam put a en to the debate  whe hsaid: “Ill tell yo the difference between these two men. If Shakespeare walkeinto this room right now, we woul all rise to greehim, but if Christ cam in, wwoul al fall dow an worship.”  There i the essential  difference between  thMa from Nazareth  an al other great peopl yo ca think of. Jesu Christ  iGod, an al others, n matter what their deeds, are but fools struttin o thstage for a brief time an then exiting. Today gospe describes wh Jesus reallis and the unique conditions for Christian discipleship.

****

4. From Fr. Jude Botelho:

If your non Catholic friend /colleague asked you a blunt question: “Who or what does Jesus mean to you?” What would your answer be? A prophet? An inspiring person? A miracle worker? A great personality? Is that it? Or is Jesus more than that for you? It is easy to give book answers, or second-hand answers. Is my life in any way dependent on Jesus or influenced by Jesus?? Have a quiet weekend reflecting on whether Jesus makes any difference in my daily Life.

In today’s first reading the prophet Isaiah refers to the coming of the Messiah in tones of resignation as the ‘Suffering Servant.’ The servant is all the people of God, personified in the one who exemplified their best goals and traits – to overcome evil by good, violence by love, war by peace. In contrast to the unfaithful and unhearing Israel, the servant declares that he is obedient and listens to the Lord. The prophet Isaiah tells us how to recognize the Messiah. In spite of his sufferings, the Messiah, and the true follower and believer, will be the one who will not turn back from his course. Instead, he will set his face like flint and go on to achieve his purpose.

Response to Suffering
Until the age of twenty five, Eugene O’Neill was a failure. His life was without purpose, discipline or direction. Then one day he took seriously ill, and was taken to hospital. It was during his long stay in hospital that he got a chance to do something he had never done before. He got a chance to think about his life and where it was headed. It was also in the hospital that he discovered that he had a talent for writing plays. Eventually Eugene O’Neill recovered, took up a writing career, and went on to revolutionize American drama. It all happened because O’Neill reacted to sorrow and suffering in a constructive way. He responded to them in a life-giving way. Take also the case of Golda Meir. As a young person, Golda felt depressed because she was not beautiful. She wrote: “It was only much later that I realized that not being beautiful was a blessing in disguise. It forced me to develop inner resources. I came to understand that women who  can’t lean on their beauty… have to work hard, and therefore have an advantage. In other words, Golda Meir accepted her cross. She didn’t cry out against it, she didn’t fret over it or resent it. She acknowledged it, picked it up and carried it courageously. Golda Meir went on to become the first woman prime minister of Israel.
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’

In today’s gospel Jesus asks his disciples the perception of the crowd regarding himself: “Who do people say that I am?” There are various answers: ‘Prophet’, ‘Wonder-worker’, but ‘Messiah’ is not one of them. Now he turns to his disciples and asks: “And you, who do you say that I am?” A second-hand faith is a watered down faith. We cannot live only by what others say or believe. Peter’s answer on behalf of the disciples; “You are the Christ”, is pious, but incomplete. The Jews expected the Messiah to come in power, to free them from Roman dominion, but they did not expect the Messiah to suffer. Jesus therefore to dispel the false idea that they held on to, predicted that the Messiah would suffer and ultimately be put to death. Peter remonstrates with Jesus. “You must not talk about suffering. You cannot suffer. Don’t let people know that they have to suffer to follow you!” Jesus has to put Peter in his place and set the  record straight. “Get behind me Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.” Who do you say that I am? Is not merely a question to establish the identity of Jesus but a rhetorical question mainly about us – his followers. “If we say that Jesus is “the Christ” then we must move aside from the throne of our own life and let him rule.  In Mark we are confronted by both suffering and exaltation, defeat and victory, weakness and power, death and life in its fullness. Peter on the one hand refuses to accept the suffering, defeat and death; on the other, he readily expresses the desire to stay where the exaltation, victory and manifestation of full life are revealed." Where do we stand with regard to Christ?

Film: ‘The Giant of Thunder Mountain’
Eli Weaver, "the giant," lives like a hermit on Thunder Mountain, due to the hostility, gossip, and rejection of the local townspeople, who, without evidence, accuse him of murdering his parents. A young girl, Amy Wilson, seeks to turn the tables by befriending the giant, –learning that Eli was innocent of the tragic deaths of his parents. Eventually, she succeeds in winning his heart, and Eli agrees to visit the townspeople again, only to be rejected and cast out a second time. However, Amy and her brothers persist in keeping their friendship alive with the giant. Through a series of suspense-filled events, which are totally misunderstood by the townspeople, a lynch mob erroneously hunts down Eli. However, the truth is revealed in the nick of time, and Eli is instrumental in capturing the real criminals, associated with a travelling carnival. The townspeople, finally accepting the truth, regard Eli as a hero. Eli, in several respects, comes across as  a Christ-figure in the movie: suffering many hardships from the rejection, scorn and derision of the townspeople, reminding me a little of William Butler Yeats’ "rough beast" exterior, contrasted with the biblical tender, gentle Jesus who loves and welcomes children.
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson –From Internet Sources

The Cross at the Crossroads….
There were three young trees growing together in the forest. They were young healthy and ambitious. They compared their dreams. One wanted to be part of a structure of a castle or a palace, so that it could be a spectator in the lives of the high and mighty of society. The second wanted to end up as a mast of one of the tall ships, sailing around the world with a great sense of adventure. The third hoped to end up as part of some public monument, where the public would stop, admire and take photographs. Years passed by, and all three were cut down. The first was chopped up, and parts of it were put together to form a manger for a stable in Bethlehem. The second was cut down, and the trunk was scooped out to form a boat, which was launched on the Sea of Galilee. The third was cut into sections, two of which were put together, to form a cross on Calvary.
Each had a unique and special role to play in the one great story of redemption.
Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel Truth’

Film- Pay it Forwards
In the film, "Pay It Forward" Trevor, a seventh-grader, responds to the call of his Social Studies teacher to come up with a plan to change the world and act on it. Turning "pay backs" upside down, he devises, "pay it forward" wherein you seek to find three people who need some help in a "really big" way and requiring some kind of sacrifice one helps these three with the understanding that if they are helped they will pay it forward to three more people...and the plan works in wonderful ways, resulting in the death of the student who sacrifices his life for one of his people. His compassionate heart is memorialized at the end of the film as we see a long line of cars...people who have been touched by his sacrifice who never knew him, but have experienced his compassion in their lives through someone else.
Diane C. Jackson

Readiness to Face Death
When the Berkenhead sank, Alexander Russell, a young officer aged seventeen, was ordered to command one of the boats which carried women and children. As they were pushing off, a sailor who was drowning clasped the side of the boat, but there was no room for even one more. A woman on the boat cried: “Save him! He is my
husband.” Russell rose, jumped clear off the boat, and amidst a chorus of “God bless you!” he sank in the water, which was full of sharks and was seen no more, while the sailor was being pulled in to take his place.
Anthony Castle in ‘More Quotes and Anecdotes’

Double Lives
G. K. Chesterton has a story about a popular philanthropist. The main reason for his popularity was his unfailing good humour. No one bothered to ask how he managed to be always happy. They assumed he was born an optimist. But then one day he was found dead in mysterious circumstances. Foul play was immediately suspected. However, the case completely baffled the police. Eventually it was Chesterton’s unlikely detective, Fr. Browne, who solved the case. His verdict – the man committed suicide. At first the people refused to accept Fr. Browne’s verdict. They couldn’t imagine how such a happy man could commit suicide. But then it emerged that there was a serious side to the funny man. The man who made others laugh was in fact a deeply depressed man. But he could never tell anyone how he really felt. The man had two lives. One open, seen and known by all, the other secret, and known only to himself. In public he was the man who smiled at everyone.
But in private he was wounded and desperate. He felt he had to live up to people’s expectations in return for their attention and esteem. He was never able to be himself. Finally, he realized that his whole life was based on a lie. The strain of trying to maintain the public image became so great that he could no longer
cope with it. So he committed suicide.
Flor McCarthy in ‘Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’

May we be followers of Jesus sharing the Cross and the Crown!

*****

28- Additional anecdotes: From Fr. Tony Kadavil

1) Who do you say I am? 
Jeremy Bowen could not be more wrong, and Bono could not be more right! Bowen, the presenter of a British Broadcasting Corporation documentary on Jesus Christ, said, “The important thing is not what Jesus was or what he wasn’t – the important thing is what people believe him to have been. A massive world-wide religion, numbering more than two billion people follows his memory – that’s pretty remarkable, 2,000 years on.” (Alex Webb, “Looking for the Historical Jesus,” BBC News Online, March 26, 2001.) On the opposite end of the spectrum, Bono, lead singer of the rock group U2, asked if he believes the claim of Jesus’ Divinity is farfetched, replied with this statement: No, it’s not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually, Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: “No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher. Don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: ‘I’m the Messiah.’ I’m saying: ‘I am God incarnate.’ So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who he said he was – the Messiah – or a complete nutcase. [Michka Assayas, Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas (New York: Riverhead, 2005), p. 108.] Bowen could not be more wrong, and Bono could not be more right! Who Jesus is and what he did is the foundation of Christian Faith.

2) Larry King to interview Jesus Christ: 
Barbara Ann Walters, the first female evening news anchor on The ABC Evening News and ABC commentator on news specials, once asked the CNN talk show host Larry King, “If you could interview anyone in history, who would it be?” King replied with unguarded honesty: “Jesus of Nazareth.” Her next question was, “If you could ask him one question, what would it be?” After a brief pause, he responded, “I think I would like to ask him, ‘Were you truly virgin born?’ because if he was, that would change everything.” Larry King was correct.  If the accounts of the virgin birth and the bodily Resurrection of Jesus are true, then they change everything. It means that He was more than a man; consequently, His words are absolutely authoritative. It means that what He said about life and death, God and the devil, sin and salvation, and heaven and hell is true. Today’s Gospel describes the great profession of faith made by Peter recognizing Jesus as the Christ, the promised Messiah, and the Son of the Living God.

3)”She thinks I’m real!“ 
A waitress at a restaurant was taking orders from a couple and their young son. The father and mother gave their luncheon selection and gratuitous instructions as to what was to be substituted for what, and which dressing changed to what sauce. When she finally turned to the boy, he began his order with a kind of fearful desperation. “I want a hot dog-” he started. And both parents barked at once, “No hot dog!” The mother went on. “Bring him the Lyonnais potatoes and the beef, both vegetables, a hard roll and . . .” The waitress wasn’t even listening. She said evenly to the youngster, “What do you want on your hotdog?” He flashed an amazed smile, “Ketchup, lots of ketchup, and-and bring a glass of milk.” “Coming up,” she said as she turned from the table, leaving behind her the stunned silence of utter parental dismay. The boy watched her go. Then he turned to his father and mother and with astonished elation said, “YOU KNOW WHAT? She thinks I’m real! She thinks I’m real!” [The Pastor’s Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990).] When we answer this question like Peter, when we accept Jesus as the Messiah and Savior of our lives, then all that he taught, all that he promised, all that he preached becomes real in us.

4) “Vox populi, vox Dei!”: 
“Jesus asked them, ‘Who do people say I am?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets’ ” (vv. 27b-28). Vox populi, vox Dei means “The voice of the people is the voice of God.” It is the foundational philosophy that stands behind every system of democracy that has ever been established. But, is it true? Are the people, always right? Indeed, we can ask, “Are the people, ever right?” Consider, for example, these confused determinations by people some consider “experts”: a) IBM: Thomas Watson, president of IBM, said when IBM unveiled its first computer, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” Or, this: “We went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, built with some of your parts, what do you think about funding us? Or, pay our salary and we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So, we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t even finished college yet.'” That was Steve Jobs speaking about attempts to get Atari and Hewlett-Packard interested in a computer model later called Apple! Imagine, computer giants like Atari and Hewlett-Packard missed it! b) Telephone: In 1876, an internal memo circulated among Western Union executives. It originated with the head of that company and read in part, “The so-called ‘telephone’ device is a fad. It has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value.”             c) FedEx: Fred Smith submitted a term paper proposing the reliable overnight delivery of packages using a fleet of airplanes. His Yale business professor returned that term paper with a grade of ‘C’ on the top and this comment below: “This concept is interesting and well-written, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.” Fred Smith left Yale and founded FedEx! d) Mrs. Fields’ Cookies:  Debbi Fields pitched an investment banker to help her find funding for a start-up mall-based cookie store called Mrs. Fields’ Cookies. The banker replied, “A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you are planning to make.” e) The Beatles: A Liverpool music group called The Beatles auditioned for a Decca Records’ agent in 1962. He told them, “We don’t like your sound. Frankly, guitar music is on the way out.”          There are many more examples to demonstrate that the voice of the people – even the voice of the leaders among the people – is not guaranteed to be right or reliable. The majority is often wrong.

5) A menu of sorts:  
In today’s Scripture lesson of a question and answer, we’re given a menu of sorts. We’re given a menu and then we’re to make a choice which reminds us of two restaurant orders. a)  A woman went into a restaurant and ordered the breakfast special, “I want my pancakes well done,” she said. “You need to cook them all the way through and golden brown on both sides. Use the light syrup because the regular syrup is too sweet. Make the bacon crisp and thin, not oily or soggy and put it on a separate plate. The eggs must be over-easy, not broken or runny.” “And would you like butter or margarine?” asked the waitress. The woman answered, “Oh, it doesn’t matter; I’m not that picky.” (Parables, Etc.). b) A guest in an expensive seaside-hotel breakfast room called room service one morning and placed a breakfast order: “I want two boiled eggs, one of them so undercooked it’s runny, and the other so overcooked, it’s about as easy to eat as rubber; also grilled bacon that has been left on the plate to get cold; burnt toast that crumbles away as soon as you touch it with a knife; butter straight from the deep-freeze so that it’s impossible to spread; and a pot of very weak coffee, lukewarm.” The person taking the order said, “I’m sorry, sir, but that’s a rather strange and complicated order, and it might be a just little bit difficult to fill.” To which the guest replied, “Oh, but that’s exactly what you gave me yesterday!” [The Pastor’s Story File (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), February 1998).]

6) “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” 
We must carry a cross to remind us that we are responsible in part for the cross that Jesus carried. When Rembrandt painted his famous work of the crucifixion called “The Three Crosses” which now hangs in the Louvre in Paris he did something most unusual. Among the faces in the crowd beneath the cross, he painted himself. That was his way of saying that he could not envision the crucifixion without admitting that he had a participation in it. Unfortunately, there are some who never see that. They identify with the Christ on the cross, rather than the Rembrandt in the crowd. That haunting old Negro spiritual gives the refrain “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” The emphasis is on the you. If we were to be perfectly honest, we would have to answer, “Yes, I was there. Yes, I had a role in this.” It is only as we come to that understanding that we can then sing the last part of the hymn: “Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.” I must so identify with the event of the crucifixion as to see myself in the story. It is not simply His story; it is our story as well. That is why Jesus challenges us in today’s Gospel to take up our crosses and follow him.

7) “Deny yourself and take up your cross”: 
The University of Chicago did a five-year study of leading artists, athletes, and scholars. Directed by Dr. Benjamin Bloom, the research was based on anonymous interviews with the top twenty performers in various fields. These people included concert pianists, Olympic swimmers, tennis players, sculptors, mathematicians, and neurologists. Bloom and his team of researchers from the University of Chicago probed for clues as to how these achievers developed. For a more complete picture, they interviewed their families and teachers. The report stated conclusively that drive and determination, not great natural talent, led to the extraordinary success of these individuals. Bloom noted, “We expected to find tales of great natural gifts. We didn’t find that at all. Their mothers often said it was another child who had the greater talents.” What they found were extraordinary accounts of hard work and dedication: The pianist who practiced several hours a day for seventeen years; the swimmer who rolled out of bed every morning at half past five to do laps for two hours before school, etc. [Dr. Denis E. Waitley, Winning the Innovation Game (New York: Berkley Books, 1986).] In another study, when the nation’s top achievers were asked to rate the factors they consider most important in contributing to their own success, hard work emerges as the highest-rated factor. Not talent or luck but hard work. Psychologists followed the careers of violinists studying at the Music Academy of West Berlin. By the time they were 18, the academy’s best students had already spent about 2,000 more hours in practice, on average, than had their fellow students.  That is denying yourself and taking up a cross. Business Guru Tom Peters recalls a wonderful story of a musician, it may have been cellist Pablo Casals, who died at almost one hundred years of age. The morning he died he was downstairs practicing at 6:00 a.m. “That’s just lovely,” says Peters. It is lovely if being the best at what you do is important to you. So we have a choice. We can heed part of Jesus’ words, “Deny yourself and take up your cross,” and have all the success this world has to offer. And there’s nothing really wrong with that. Jesus wants us to be the very best of whatever we choose to be, as long as it does not cost us our souls. There is a better way, however. Use Jesus as your guide. Follow Jesus. Deny yourself by giving yourself for others in Jesus’ name. That’s where real happiness lies. That’s what ultimate success is all about.

8) Through the cross and a fellow believer, he found the strength: 
Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his non-fiction, autobiographical trilogy, Gulag Archipelago, described his life in a Siberian prison. At one point he was so physically weak and discouraged that all he could hope for was death. The hard labor, terrible conditions, and inhumane treatment had taken their toll. He knew the guards would beat him severely and probably kill him if he stopped working. So, he planned to help them by simply stopping his work and leaning on his shovel. But when he stopped, a fellow Christian reached over with his shovel and quickly drew a sign of the cross at the feet of Solzhenitsyn, then erased it before a guard could see it. Solzhenitsyn later wrote that his entire being was energized by that little reminder of the hope and courage we find in Christ through the cross. It was a turning point. Through the cross and a fellow believer, he found the strength and the hope to continue.

9) The cross symbolizes Faith, Hope and Love:  
The people of Lithuania take their cross-bearing a little more seriously than we do. For them, the cross symbolizes Faith, Hope and Love. There are crosses are everywhere in the countryside, on roads, in city parks and village squares. Communities and individuals erect crosses to bring them health and to commemorate events like weddings, births and christenings. Crosses are also erected to commemorate historical events. One of these is the Baltic Way, in which millions of people linked hands stretching across the Baltics from Estonia to Lithuania on August 25, 1989. About 9 monuments commemorate this extraordinary event. The nation’s pride is the Hill of Crosses, located north of Siauliai. Lithuanians erected crosses there as early as the mid-19th century. The Soviet government couldn’t tolerate that kind of spiritual expression, so they totally destroyed the hill in 1961, then again in 1973 and 1975. But people kept erecting more crosses, until in 1980 their destruction stopped. Today the crosses number in the thousands. They are different sizes and shapes, some simple, some ornate, but they immortalize Lithuania’s troubles, misfortunes, joys, hope and Faith. (Http://lithuanian-american.org/folklife/crosses.htm) For the Lithuanian people, the cross is more than a symbol in the Church. It is symbol for the world to see, a symbol that will not go away. It is a symbol of sacrifice, a sacrifice that gives each and every one of us Hope and Faith and courage. (Billy D. Strayhorn, At Cross Purposes).

10) “Those who lose their life for My sake, and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.” When Communist forces invaded Vietnam in the 1950s, Hien Pham, like many Vietnamese Christians, was arrested and jailed for his beliefs. After his release from prison, Pham made plans to escape Vietnam. He secretly began building a boat. Fifty-three fellow-Vietnamese made plans to escape with him. One day, four Vietcong soldiers came to Pham’s house and confronted him. They heard he was planning an escape. Was it true? Of course, Hien Pham lied to them. If he had told the truth, the Vietcong might have killed him and arrested the other fifty-three people. But after the soldiers left, Pham felt very uneasy. Had God really wanted him to lie? Didn’t he trust that God would provide for him under any circumstances? Even though it made no logical sense, Pham believed that God wanted him to tell the truth, even at the risk of his own life. So Hien Pham resolved that if the Vietcong soldiers returned, he would confess his escape plans. Hien Pham chose to bear a particular cross, the cross of honesty. He chose to sacrifice safety for faithfulness. He finished building his boat, and his friends made the final plans for their daring escape. To their horror, the Vietcong soldiers returned and demanded to know if the escape rumors were true. Hoping against hope, Hien Pham confessed his plans. Can you imagine his surprise when those four soldiers replied, “Take us with you!” That evening, Hien Pham, his fifty-three friends, and four Vietcong soldiers made a daring escape under cover of night in a homemade boat. But that’s not the end of the story! They sailed straight into a violent storm. Pham reports that they would have all been lost, if it hadn’t been for the expert sailing skills of, you guessed it, the four Vietcong soldiers. The escapees landed safely in Thailand. Eventually, Hien Pham emigrated to the United States, where he made a new life for himself. [Ravi Zacharias. Deliver Us from Evil (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), pp. 191-194.] He proved the truth of verse 35: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and that of the Gospel will save it.”

11) This recall and investigation cost the company $189 million. 
In 2001, the CEO of Baxter International, a medical supply company, made a decision that cost his company $189 million. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that, like many crooked CEOs who have been in the news lately, Baxter’s CEO Harry Kraemer must have done something unethical. He must have cooked the books, or drained the company accounts in order to finance his own luxurious lifestyle. No, that’s not it at all. It was Kraemer’s honesty and high sense of ethics that caused him to make such a momentous decision. Executives at Baxter International learned in 2001 that one of the products they manufactured, a filter for a kidney dialysis machine, might have been defective. Some dialysis patients using the Baxter International filter had died of unexplained causes. Rather than covering up the situation, Kraemer recalled all of the filters and instituted a rigorous investigation into the problem. This recall and investigation cost the company $189 million. Kraemer also recommended that his performance bonus for that year be cut, because this situation occurred under his leadership. And to top it all off, he informed all his competitors in the medical manufacturing business of the possible flaws in Baxter’s filters, so that they could benefit from the research his investigation turned up. [John C. Maxwell with Stephen R. Graves and Thomas G. Addington, The Power of One, Workbook (Nashville: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004), pp. 15-16.] Now I know nothing of Harry Kraemer’s religious affiliation. But I do know that is the sort of action that bearing a cross requires. When it is a matter of ethics, the follower of Christ is held to a higher standard than the world. That is why I say that, without the Gospel, it makes no sense to take up a cross.

12) “Get behind me Satan:” 
It’s encouraging to know that someone of Peter’s stature and importance in the early Church, could walk the walk so well with his foot in his mouth. What we have to remember is that Peter was human, and even the greatest of humans make mistakes. Henry Ford changed the world. He changed how things are assembled, marketed and how we travel. But did you know he forgot to put a reverse gear in the first car he invented. Not only that, but he didn’t build a door wide enough to get the car out of the building he built it in. If you go to Greenfield Village, you can still see where he cut a hole in the wall to get the car out.

13) 12% of Americans are “highly spiritually committed.” 
According to research conducted by George Gallup, 12% of Americans are “highly spiritually committed.” They are those who truly understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” Gallup says the members of this group are “a breed apart from the rest of the populace in at least four ways: 1. They’re happier. 2. Their families are stronger. 3. They’re more tolerant of people of different races and religions. 4. They’re community-minded.” They’re involved in service to others. That is cross-bearing that really makes a difference. (Rev. King Duncan)

14)  “Where were you during the critical days of the struggle?” 
During the dark days of World War II, England had a great deal of difficulty keeping men in the coal mines. It was a thankless kind of job, totally lacking in any glory. Most chose to join the various military services. They desired something that could give them more social acceptance and recognition. Something was needed to motivate these men in the work that they were doing so that they would remain in the mines. With this in mind, Winston Churchill delivered a speech one day to thousands of coal miners, stressing to them the importance of their role in the war effort. He did this by painting for them a mental picture. He told them to picture the grand parade that would take place when VE Day came. First, he said, would come the sailors of the British Navy, the ones who had upheld the grand tradition of Trafalgar and the defeat of the Armada. Next in the parade, he said, would come the pilots of the Royal Air Force. They were the ones who, more than any other, had saved England from the dreaded German Luftwaffe. Next in the parade would come the Army, the ones that had stood tall at the crises of Dunkirk. Last of all, he said, would come a long line of sweat-stained, soot-streaked men in miner’s caps. And someone, he said, would cry from the crowd, “And where were you during the critical days of the struggle?” And then from ten thousand throats would come, “We were deep in the earth with our faces to the coal.” We are told that there were tears in the eyes of many of those soot-laden coal miners with their weathered faces. They had been given a sense of their own value by the man at the top. Service does not always come with big fancy ribbons. And I think that it is forever true, that it is often the humble acts of service that provide us with the deepest sense of joy and the most fulfilling satisfaction. Jesus said “Whoever loses his life for My Sake and that of the Gospel will save it.”  I am persuaded that true discipleship is found in the coal mines with our cross upon our backs.

15) “Take up your cross and follow Me”:  
“In the rolling hills of northern New Jersey stands a small church with a large, stone cross cut into an inside wall. Now, it happened that one of the church’s wealthier members didn’t like the cross there and said it was an eyesore. He offered to give a huge donation to the church in order to take the cross out of the wall and replace it with a stained glass window. But when he presented his idea to the church’s parish council members, they said to him, ‘We cannot do what you ask. The architect designed the church to have this cross; it gives strength to the wall. If you take away the cross, you will destroy the Church.'” [Rev. Erskine White, The Victory of the Cross (CSS Publishing Company, 1991).] The Architect of our salvation designed the Church to have the cross. The cross gives strength to the Church. Take away the cross and you do not have a Church.

16) Applause for the brave woman: 
Eleven people, so goes the story, were dangling from a rope beneath a helicopter in a rescue scenario. Being rescued were ten men and one woman. Word came down from the pilot that one of the eleven would have to let go; if not, everyone would perish. The woman spoke right up and said her whole life had been one of sacrifice — for her children, husband, and parents — and now she would be willing to sacrifice one last time by letting go. With that, the ten men applauded! The story’s point? Never underestimate the power of a woman! Never underestimate the power of the Gospel because it too is full of surprises, reversals, paradoxes, and strategies that on the surface don’t seem to make sense. “Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and that of the Gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:35). There we have the paradox. If you try really hard to save your life, you are going to lose it in the process.

17) “What good is it,” asked Jesus, “for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” 
Adam Burtle, a University of Washington student, sold his soul for $400 on the Internet before the listing was removed and he was suspended from the site. “Please realize, I make no warranties as to the condition of the soul,” he wrote. “As of now, it is near mint condition, with only minor scratches. Due to difficulties involved with removing my soul, the winning bidder will either have to settle for a night of yummy Thai food and cool indy flicks or wait until my natural death.’’ EBay has blocked similar auctions in the past, but somehow Burtle’s offer slipped through. The bidding started at 5 cents. Burtle’s former girlfriend bid $6.66 but she was overtaken in the final hour of the auction when a Des Moines, Iowa, woman bid the price of Burtle’s soul to $400. “I don’t think she’s going to be able to collect on my soul, to be honest,’’ Burtle said, adding he didn’t intend for the ad to be taken seriously. “I was just bored, and I’m a geek,’’ he added. “So anytime I’m bored, I go back to my Internet.’’ (The Associated Press, 2001 & http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2001-02-09-ebay-soul.htm ) My guess is that over the centuries many people have sold their soul simply and solely because they were bored. Talk about a bad bargain! “What good is it,” asked Jesus, “for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”

18) Charlemagne’s death wish: 
King Charlemagne lived from 742 to 814 A.D. He conquered much of Western Europe, including France, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, parts of Italy, Germany, Austria, and Spain. Everywhere Charlemagne’s troops went, they spread education and the Christian religion. His rule unified and stabilized much of Europe, making him one of the most powerful rulers in history. Yet, in spite of all of Charlemagne’s power, he arranged at his death to have his body displayed with his hand resting on our verse for today: “What good is it, for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” [William Beausay II, The Leadership Genius of Jesus (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997), p. 45.] Charlemagne knew such an exchange was a bad bargain indeed. This is more than a material world. As the eminent Jesuit philosopher-scientist, Teilhard de Chardin, put it so memorably, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

19) Research for some scientific proof of a soul of a human body:  Some of you may know the story of James Kidd. James Kidd was a lonely man. He lived on the edge of deprivation. He spent most of his life in a rugged copper mining town in Arizona. But Kidd was deeply troubled. On January 2, 1946, he sat down and wrote out his will. Four years later he disappeared and was never heard from again. Authorities responsible for the settlement of his will, sixteen years after his disappearance, discovered that he had left almost $200,000 for “research for some scientific proof of a soul of a human body which leaves at death.” [Bruce Shelley, All The Saints Adore Thee (Baker Books, 1988), p. 46.)  You will find the soul in the same place you find love, hope, peace, joy and a host of other positive emotions. You can capture none of these emotions in a test tube, but we know they exist.

20) “I will show you that the music is not in the instrument but in the soul.” 
Paginini, the great violinist, came out before his audience one day and made the discovery just as the applause ended that there was something wrong with his violin. He looked at it a second and then saw that it was not his famous and valuable violin, but a cheap substitute. He felt paralyzed for a moment, then turned to his audience and told them there had been some mistake and he did not have his own violin. He stepped back behind the curtain thinking that it was still where he had left it, but discovered that someone had stolen his violin and left this old secondhand one in its place. Paginini remained back of the curtain for a moment, then came out before his audience and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, I will show you that the music is not in the instrument but in the soul.” And he played as he had never played before; and out of that secondhand instrument, the music poured forth until his audience was enraptured with enthusiasm, and the applause almost lifted the roof off the building, because the man had revealed to them that the music was not in the machine but in his own soul. [Anthony P. Castle, ed., “Go Tell Everyone,” in Quotes and Anecdotes for Preachers and Teachers, p. 207. Cited by Fuller, Gerard, O.M.I. Stories for All Seasons (Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications, 1996), pp. 128-129.] The soul is who you are. It is the God-created spirit within us that will never die, It is what makes you distinctive. You are more than a nose and a mouth and a pair of ears, etc. You have a distinct personality. Even if we could eliminate all your physical characteristics, you the real you would still exist. That’s your soul.

21) “Jesus is more than a man.” 
Napoleon Bonaparte was entertaining a number of his generals at dinner. The superb meal of pheasant and wines was done. Napoleon and his guests were drinking cognac and smoking cigars. A discussion began about Christ. Napoleon listened intently but said nothing. Most of the guests dismissed the Nazarene as merely a man. Then their emperor said, “Gentlemen, you are wrong. I know men. Jesus is more than a man.” Our religion is not a matter of knowing about Jesus. It is one of knowing Him. Napoleon was one of those who intuitively knew that the Christ was more than human. (Fr. James Gilhooley)

22)  Readiness to face death: 
When the Berkenhead sank, Alexander Russell, a young officer aged seventeen, was ordered to command one of the boats which carried women and children. As they were pushing off, a sailor who was drowning clasped the side of the boat, but there was no room for even one more. A woman on the boat cried: “Save him! He is my husband.” Russell rose, jumped clear of the boat, and amidst a chorus of “God bless you!” he sank in the water, which was full of sharks and was seen no more, the sailor being pulled in to take his place.  — In today’s second reading, James insists on the necessity for action for the Christian. Our faith must find its expression in service to others, especially the needy. Jesus said: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself.” (Anthony Castle in More Quotes and Anecdotes (quoted by Fr. Botelho

 23) What do we believe we are? 
What will we be? There were three young trees growing together in the forest. They were young, healthy, and ambitious. They compared their dreams. One wanted to be part of the structure of a castle or a palace, so it would be a spectator in the lives of the high and mighty of society. The second wanted to end up as the mast in one of the tall ships, sailing around the world with a great sense of adventure. The third hoped to end up as part of some public monument, where the public would stop, admire, and take photographs. Years passed by, and all three were cut down. The first was chopped up, and parts of it were put together to form a manager for a stable in Bethlehem. The second was cut down, and the trunk was scooped out to form a boat, which was launched on the Sea of Galilee. The third was cut into sections, two of which were put together, to form a cross on Calvary. Each had a unique and special part to play in the one great story of redemption. (Jack McArdle in And That’s the Gospel Truth! Quoted by Fr. Botelho).

 24) “Send me Lord”…. 
Mrs. O’ Reilly received the news that one of her neighbors was seriously ill. She said to the person who gave her the news, ‘Tell her that I’ll remember her in my prayers, and that I hope she’ll soon be feeling better.’ And she was as good as she promised. She prayed very sincerely and fervently for her neighbor. She said to God, ‘Lord, I want to commend my neighbor to you. She’s very seriously ill. She needs a lot of help, a lot of support.’ When she finished her prayers, she felt better. And yet, something was bothering her. She sat down to think about it. Then she fell into a dream-like state in which she heard God saying to her, ‘I can see that you’re very concerned about your neighbor.’ ‘Yes, Lord, I really am,’ she replied with no little pride. ‘And I understand that your neighbor is in great need of help,’ said God. ‘So I’ve been told,’ said Mrs. O’Reilly. ‘You know, what she most needs is someone to spend a little time with her,’ said the Lord. ‘You’re absolutely right Lord. I was thinking the same myself,’ Mrs. O’Reilly answered. ‘Now when you asked Me to help her, you weren’t expecting Me to come down from Heaven to visit her, were you?’ ‘No, Lord, I wouldn’t expect you to do that. Nor would my neighbor expect it either. In fact, I think the shock of it might kill her.’ ‘But she does need someone to call on her?’ ‘She does, Lord.’ ‘Whom can I send?’ After a long pause, Mrs. O’Reilly said, ‘Send me, Lord.’ When she woke up from her dream, she knew exactly what she had to do. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” (Flor McCarthy in New Sundays and Holy Day Liturgies; quoted by Fr. Botelho). 

25) Never deserting Lord and Savior: 
Two travelers were on the road, when a bear suddenly appeared. Both ran as fast as they could. One dashed to a tree by the side of the road, climbed up and hid in its branches. The other was not able to climb and hide. So he threw himself on the ground and pretended to be dead. The bear came and sniffed the man lying on the ground. The man kept perfectly still and held his breath knowing that a bear will not touch a dead body. The bear took him for a corpse and went away. When the coast was clear, the traveler who hid on the tree went down and asked his companion, “What did the bear whisper to you when he put his mouth close to your ear?” The companion replied, “He told me never to travel again with a friend who deserts you at the first sight of danger!”(Fr. JS Benitez).

26) Double Lives: 
G. K. Chesterton has a story about a popular philanthropist. The main reason for his popularity was his unfailing good humour. No one bothered to ask how he managed to be always happy. They assumed he was born an optimist. But then one day he was found dead in mysterious circumstances. Foul play was immediately suspected. However, the case completely baffled the police. Eventually it was Chesterton’s unlikely detective, Fr Brown, who solved the case. His verdict – the man committed suicide. At first the people refused to accept Fr Brown’s verdict. They couldn’t imagine how such a happy man could commit suicide. But then it emerged that there was a serious side to the funny man. The man who made others laugh was in fact a deeply depressed man. But he could never tell anyone how he really felt. The man had two lives. One was open, seen and known by all, the other secret, and known only to himself. In public he was the man who smiled at everyone. But in private he was wounded and desperate. He felt he had to live up to people’s expectations in return for their attention and esteem. He was never able to be himself. Finally, he realized that his whole life was based on a lie. The strain of trying to maintain the public image became so great that he could no longer cope with it. So he committed suicide. (Flor McCarthy in Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies; quoted by Fr. Botelho). 

27) Cross-loving saint:
 St John of the Cross, in the final years of his short life, asked God for three favors: not to die as a superior of any Carmelite monastery; to die in a place where he was unknown; and to die after having suffered much. All these requests were granted in their entirety. In the last years of his life – he died at the age of 49 – he was stripped of all office by his superiors, and some even attempted to have him expelled from the Order which he himself had helped reform. He was sent to a house where nobody knew him, where the superior disliked him, installed him in the worst cell in the monastery and complained bitterly of the expense to the community caused by his ill health. Finally, the suffering of the saint worsened as his legs and back became ulcerated. Realizing that death was near, John, instead of seeking medical care, called for the prior, and begged his pardon for all the trouble and expense he had caused him. The prior in turn was moved to ask forgiveness and left the cell in tears, a changed man, so much so that he was later to die in the odor of sanctity. That same night, without agony or struggle, John yielded up his spirit to his Creator. All of this does not immediately answer the question, “Why does God permit suffering?” Perhaps we could begin to see its meaning if we framed the question differently. “Would John of the Cross, whose example has changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the 400 years since his death, would John have had the same influence on Christianity if the cross had never come into his life?” The answer has to be no, because suffering is something sacred; it confers upon all whom it touches the most intimate resemblance to the suffering Christ, whose cross saves the world. (Biblical IE).


28) “Hey, faith without works is dead.” 
A senior priest I know, I’ll call him Father A, tells this story of his first experience at a healing service: A skeptic himself regarding the charismatic movement, he was attending the service to humor his buddy, Father B. Father B had suggested that Father A might find some relief for his chronic indigestion. The presider was a well-known exponent of the charismatic healing ministry. After a period of hymn singing and community prayer, she invited people who were experiencing something that needed healing to come forward for a laying-on of hands. A number of the congregation began to form a line, but Father A was not among them. Fr. B nudged him and said, “A, go on up. You’ve got nothing to lose, and it might help your stomach.” Fr. A finally relented, approached the healer, submitted himself to the laying-on of hands, returned to the pew—and promptly popped a Gelusil into his mouth. When Fr. B responded to that gesture with a look of disapproval, Fr. A explained, “Hey, faith without works is dead.” This Sunday’s Gospel reminds us that the life of Christian discipleship involves works of a certain kind: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”( Dennis Hamm, SJ). L/18