In today’s gospel, Jesus revealed to his disciples the way of the cross. Specifically for Jesus it meant increasing persecutions, false accusation, betrayal, great suffering, and a cruel death. This seeming defeat of Jesus and the dream of the messianic age would be, in fact, the essential key to His victory over sin and death. The cross would reveal the glory of the resurrection. Each Holy Week and Easter we celebrate the way of the cross and the triumph of the resurrection. This paschal mystery is foretold in today’s gospel when Jesus announced his passion.
Jesus announced the passion of his disciples. Most of us probably relate to St. Peter’s first response to the prophecy of the cross. When Jesus predicted his own passion and death, Peter said, “God forbid Lord. Now such thing shall ever happen to you!” Perhaps Peter said this out of love and loyalty for our Lord. He didn’t want Jesus to suffer. Certainly, Peter did not understand God’s deeper plans.
The next words of Jesus gave probably sent cold chills down their spines. Jesus spoke of the cross. The cross was a brutal instrument of extreme torture and slow death. And he told his disciples to take up the cross. Who of us would willingly suffer that? Or witness someone we love suffer in such a way? When we are very honest with ourselves, our first response to this announcement likely is the response of St. Peter. “God forbid!”
And yet the cross was foretold for Jesus and for his disciples. As Jesus suffered persecutions, so his disciples suffered persecutions in the dawning age of the church. As Jesus suffered martyrdom, so many of his disciples also suffered martyrdom. Even so, the kingdom of God was proclaimed. Miraculous signs accompanied this proclamation. And many came to know salvation through God’s gracious love and mercy. All of this was, however, linked to Jesus’ announcement of the way of the cross.
The passion is now being announced to us. This is never an easy message. For Jesus says to us these words, “whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
Particularly in this day and time we see evidence of the passion that is coming upon the world and that is already here. Think of the events of this past year. Russia invaded Crimea. Ukraine is in civil war with Russia’s troops on the border. Syria is wracked by civil war. Israel and Gaza are firing missiles. North Korea has tested nuclear weapons and has invited terrorist organizations to participate. Ebola is looming as an epidemic. Iraq has fallen into the hands of ISIS, which is systematically beheading Christians or burying them alive and terrorizing the region. The prophet Jeremiah comes to mind when he wrote: “Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message.” In light of all this, what looms ahead?
Consider this. Pope Leo XIII had a vision on October 13, 1884 concerning the future. Satan would be loosed on the world for 100 years to ravage the church, and then would be defeated by our Lady and chained in hell. That vision in 1884 prompted him to compose the prayer to St. Michael that we often pray at the end of the rosary. Exactly 33 years later, on October 13, 1917 the last vision of Fatima and the miracle of the sun occurred. It was the anniversary of Pope Leo’s vision. 1917 also marked the unleashing of the communist revolution in Russia and World War I. What followed has been unprecedented brutality and persecution in various places throughout the world. Fatima has been a true prophecy. Now we are on the threshold of the completion of those 100 years.
What is it that God will soon unveil to the world that he loves so much? Nothing less than the defeat of satan and the dawning of the era of peace! This is a great hope. But first the world will pass through judgment. Evil and corrupt systems will fall and be swept away. These same evil and corrupt systems of the world, inspired by satan, will rage for a little while more. A storm is coming – the most violent and comprehensive we have ever seen. The Church is entering her passion.
Let us not be tempted to say “God forbid.” When St. Peter said this to the Lord, he received a stern rebuke in return. Let us not be tempted to run from the cross. For Jesus says this to us, “whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Let us not be tempted to give in to fear or despair when these things come to pass. Good Friday always precedes Easter Sunday. The cross serves to reveal the resurrection and God’s ultimate triumph. Likewise the Passion of the Church precedes The Triumph and the Era of Peace.
How is it, then, that we can prepare? Most of all let us prepare by choosing to follow Jesus completely. Choose to follow Jesus by keeping our eyes firmly fixed upon Him. Choose to live his gospel. Choose obedience to His holy will, which always leads us to life. The Blessed Mother, the Ark of the New Covenant, the heart of the Church, shows us this way of following Jesus with great trust.
Finally, let us receive the words of wisdom and hope from today’s 2nd reading. May these words help us take the next right step as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God,
to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.
Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”