The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (8:34-9:1)
One of the worst things that can happen to us is to begin thinking that if we love God or have true faith, that somehow our life will be easier, or less painful or have less suffering. When all of a sudden we are faced with difficulties or tribulation, we then question our faith, we question God, we question everything. Why? Because in fact, we had made an idol of pleasure or ease of life.
Even now during the Great and Holy Fast we are sometimes surprised at the level of discomfort we have. We might say to ourselves “Didn’t Father tell us that if we fast and pray faithfully, we will have an experience of the Lord, we will grow in communion with Him?” But let us put our struggles into perspective. Today is the Third Sunday of Lent. It is officially the mid-way point of the fast. Three weeks down, three weeks to go. At the end of the next three weeks, we will enter into Holy Week, the holiest and most solemn time in the life of the Church.
We have struggled a bit. We have prayed a bit, fasted a bit, done a bit of prostrations, done a bit of repenting, done a bit of weeping. At this point we might find ourselves tired. We may begin to question the logic of all this hard work, all of this struggle. Yet what does the Church to to offer us encouragement? She doesn’t bring out the icon of the resurrection of the Lord. She brings out the cross. She reminds us of the love of God for each and every man, woman and child that has ever lived. She reminds us that the Lord Jesus, suffered for us and died for us on the precious wood of the cross in order to give us true life.
My brothers and sisters, now is the time to struggle. Later it will be time to rest. When I say that now is the time to struggle, I am speaking of this holy fast, but I am also speaking of our life in general. There is no one who can avoid suffering. No one can avoid trials. No one can avoid difficult people in their lives. My friends, there is no life for us unless we take up our crosses and carry them all the way to the end.
The Lord taught us what He would also demonstrate for us. He had courage and carried His cross with strength. He knew it was unjust. He knew it was painful. He knew that He did not deserve such treatment. They spit in the Lord’s face and they slapped Him. They beat Him and whipped Him. This was the reward that He received for the many thousands of people that He had fed and healed and taught. They rewarded His love with their hatred. They nailed Him to the tree of death. Yet the Lord took all of this patiently. What a Lord we have! He took this suffering because it was the only way to offer us true life! He took our death and gave us His divine life.
As we each enter into our particular struggles of life, we must enter into them by asking the Lord for strength. Mothers need strength to keep up with their duties and the raising of their children. Fathers need strength to continue working difficult jobs with difficult people. Husbands and wives need strength and patience to deal with one another and to accept one another and support one another. Children need strength to fight peer-pressure and courage to act differently than the world around them.
We enter into our sufferings with determination and a focus on the love of God and of the example of the Lord Jesus. If there was another way, God would have surely shown it to us.
We are called to suffer in life and to carry our crosses so that we might live the life of Christ within our bodies. Instead of seeking pleasure, we seek to please God. Instead of temporary rest, we seek eternal rest when the Lord chooses to give us this rest.
Every decision we make creates a ripple effect. And every day we are faced with the decision that once faced the Lord after He had fasted for 40 days and was hungry. He was faced with a choice of who He should serve. We are faced with that same decision every day. Do we follow after pleasure, after ease of life, after Satan? Or do we follow after the commandments of God, after the way of Christ, no matter where it might lead? The Lord tells us that there is nothing so special as the soul of a man. Don’t forfeit your soul or the souls of those around you for fleeting pleasures.
It is so sad when someone is overcome by serious temptations and their lapse in judgement doesn’t just affect them. It affects everyone in their social circle in a negative way. In fact, it affects the whole Church. Instead of offering life through their struggles, in the model of Christ, they try to throw off their crosses and run after whatever it is that they feel they are lacking.
The cross is brought out to us today not only to give us strength but to remind us of the way to life. It is time to rededicate ourselves in these final weeks of Lent, and to rededicate the days of your whole life to the Master who can redeem your life and offer you something that transcends your every concept of life and joy. Now we are climbing up the mountain of prayer and making progress through the grace of God. Soon we will rejoice with the angels and with the whole universe as we celebrate the One who took up His cross for our sake and in return, gave us to eat of the fruit of eternal life!