Twenty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A

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James J. McCartney, O.S.A.
St. Thomas of Villanova Monastery
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Readings
Jer 20:7-9
Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Rom 12:1-2
Mt 16:21-27

My seat in the Chapel of St. Thomas Monastery allows me to look out the window and see the entrance to Mendel Hall, Villanova’s Science Building. Above the building there are many scientific symbols, and above these symbols is a large cross. As I reflect on this cross, I often think of the phrase “In hoc signo vinces.” In English, this phrase is rendered “in this sign you will conquer,” and tradition has it that Constantine and many subsequent institutions and personages of the West have used it as a motto or slogan.

This phrase is very appropriate for meditating on today’s gospel. Jesus perfectly understood the saying “no cross no crown.” Not so with the apostles. We see even Peter, who in Matthew’s gospel has just declared Jesus to be the Messiah, the son of the living God, rebuked by Jesus in the strongest possible terms because he could not understand the importance of hard work, suffering and rejection of sin, in short, openness to God’s will. But what does it mean to carry one’s cross? For some it has meant actually giving up their lives in witness to Jesus’ teaching. But for most of us, carrying the cross means living according to our baptismal promises to love God above all and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the French scientist and philosopher of the first part of the 20th century, uses Eucharistic imagery to describe how we must take up our cross and follow Christ. Teilhard suggests that the Eucharistic bread is not only the body of Christ, but symbolizes the positive energies our lives must manifest. This is the cross and challenge of creativity, work, providing for our families, sharing our ideas and values, and in short, making this world a better place in which to live. It includes science and technology, poetry, art, optimism, and love and appreciation of God’s blessings. Teilhard believes, and I agree with him, that these type of energies are often overlooked or even denied by Christians seeking to do God’s will. Unfortunately, many Christians choose to believe in a grumpy God who is only pleased to accept negativity, depression, and self-loathing as a way to carry the cross. But life is more than suffering or negation; it is creativity, compassion, and a zest for life. As I contemplate the scientific symbols under the cross over the entrance to Mendel Hall, I am buoyed in my belief that God made us discoverers and co-creators of this incredible universe and at least a part of carrying the cross is trying to understand the workings of the cosmos to improve the quality of life for everyone on this planet. “In this sign, you will conquer.” In the document “On the Church in the Modern World” of the Second Vatican Council, these ideas are expressed thus: “And yet the expectation of a new earth should not weaken, but rather stimulate, the resolve to cultivate this earth where the body of the new human family is increasing and can even now constitute a foreshadowing of the new age. Although earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ’s kingdom, nevertheless its capacity to contribute to a better ordering of human society makes it highly relevant to the kingdom of God.”

Teilhard sees the Eucharistic Wine not only as the blood of Christ, but also a symbol of the diminishments that we all must experience as part of our existence here on earth. This is the cross of negativity, of suffering, of coming to grips with our mortality. This year 2020 has been replete with diminishments for almost all of us. Coronavirus, social upheaval, economic disaster are only a few examples of things that have affected us. Not to mention other sicknesses, untimely deaths, social isolation, and depression that so often impacts our lives and the lives of our families and friends. One thing about these diminishments is that we don’t have to go seeking for them, they always find us. Willy-nilly there are negative crosses in our lives and Jesus has the good sense to encourage us to accept them willingly even as he did. “In this sign, you will conquer.”

But there is another type of diminishment that we must struggle against and reject. The diminishment of sin – which we must fight against because sin diminishes our soul and diminishes us. When we aggressively seek inordinate pleasure, power, pride, prestige, or possessions, we are seeking the world at the cost of ourselves, as Jesus reminds us today. Rejection of these diminishments as opposed to those described above is the way in which we carry our cross.

As we celebrate Eucharist today, let us carry the crosses of human development and a personal diminishment so that we may save our very life. Let us also carry the cross of the struggle against the diminishment of sin so that, strengthened by God’s grace, we can reject the inordinate attractions of the world, the flesh and the devil and be united with Christ and his Church forever.