[Homily. First Friday Mass. Assumption Chapel. Aug. 5, 2022.]
Once again on this First Friday, we contemplate “the Man on the Cross.” He is not only a man; he is God-made-man as willed by the Father as an expression of his profound love for us. He is the Father’s Word-of-love-made-flesh to dwell among us, as a man like us in all things but sin, to heal us from our infirmities, to teach us of the Kingdom of God, to nourish us with the Bread of Life, to battle those who make experiencing the goodness of his Father difficult and burdensome, to weep over the lost, the lonely, the victims of our individual and collective sin. He is divine Love-made-human for us on the Cross,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:6-11)
In contemplating the Man on the Cross this First Friday we recall the God who never tires of loving us in our lives, no matter our shortcomings, no matter our sins, no matter our lapses in failed discipleship. With St. Ignatius we ask: If you have done this for me in love, O Lord, what have I done for you? What am I doing for you? What ought I do for you?
Our gospel for today, helps us with our response. Quietly, Jesus says: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” He must deny himself: not his deeper self, but his superficial unreflected self that militates against the self that really expresses one’s self. St Paul described this in the inner turbulence a person experiences still hoping to be liberated from the compulsion to sin, “…I do not do what I [really] want, but I do what I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I concur that the law [what God wills] is good. So now it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells in me” (Rom. 7: 15b-7). Jesus too experienced this, not in sin driving him to sin, but in freedom providing him the clear option to do what was not the Father’s will. In freedom, Jesus had to struggle and suffer for his freedom. Agonizing against this possibility of wellbeing rather than pain, of wholeness rather than brokenness, of living for himself rather than dying for others, till he even sweat blood, he finally said, “Not my will, but your will be done, Father.” (cf. Lk 22:44) – “I will that not my will but your will be done, Father.”
And so today all of us are being invited to consider our manner of responding to the Father’s love expressed by Jesus peering into our hearts from the cross. “My response to your love,” we may say, “is my coming to this Mass every First Friday!” That is certainly meritorious. But is that it? Is that the denial of self the Lord requires in letting go of that dark corner of my life I plot and scheme to preserve for myself and shield even from divine light and intervention? Is that the denial of self the Lord requires – in my opening myself more to God wanting me to know him more intimately? in my helping others to find God in resolving their conflicts and quarrels? in my helping ourselves reverence the Creator in protecting and preserving our common home – even if it costs us millions in profits from projects that destroy the environment? Perhaps we may consider how my following of Christ is often hindered by the manner in which I relate to money. I will to follow you, Lord, but I deny my workers the living wage they deserve because I need to invest it elsewhere. I will to serve you, Lord, but put me into an executive position where I can “earn” handsomely! I will to do your will, Lord, but just don’t will that I give up the business practices that destroy the environment and discard people who are no longer relevant to production. Jesus said, “Whosoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” In loving us, Jesus paid a price in accepting his cross. In following him; we too must pay a price, take up our cross, and follow.
“For what profit will there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mt. 16:26a) Jesus asks. In this world we are led to think that there is life in plush houses, fame, glory, global riches, and being able to think well of oneself. But Jesus says, I have come to bring you “life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10). “Without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15.5b).
Indeed, Jesus said, “He who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 10:39). He will find the “life, life to the full” that Jesus brings.
For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his or her conduct. St James says:
What good is it, my brothers,
if someone says he has faith
but does not have works.
Can that faith save him?
If a brother or sister has nothing to wear
and has no food for the day,
and one of you says to them,
“Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,”
but you do not give them the necessities of the body,
what good is it?
So also faith of itself, if it does not have works
is dead. (Jas. 2:14-17)
At the Second Coming, when the Lord will judge heaven and earth, he will separate the sheep from the goats, the sheep being those who had compassion on the Lord’s needy ones, having given them food in their hunger, drink in their thirst, welcome when they were strangers, clothes when they were naked, care when they were ill, company when they were imprisoned. To them, the Lord says, “whatever you have done to these least of my sisters and brothers, that you did to me” (cf. Mt 25:31-46).
The news of the Last Judgment is good news. It brings joy and hope to the righteous. But it also calls those of you who know yourselves to be sinners to consider the Man on the Cross, to feel the Father’s love Jesus is expressing for you from the Cross, inviting you to respond… to God in love. Love for love. “If you have done this for me in Love, Lord, what have I done for you? What am I doing for you? What ought I do for you?”