by Father Anthony F. Raso
BABY BOOMERS LIKE myself are now considered, accurately enough, to be “the older generation.” There is nothing about us nowadays that suggests “babies” – and even less, especially in my case as I toddle around with my cane – that can be associated with the word “boom.”
However, our memories can be startling to those younger than ourselves. For instance, our religious education was dominated not at all by the Bible, but rather by the Baltimore Catechism. That old book had its virtues: One certainly learned the facts of the faith, question by question, year after year, and ended up as an informed Catholic adolescent. We were only secondarily influenced by the Bible, which turned out to be a surprising book when we finally zeroed in on it during high school. Receiving a copy of the Confraternity Edition, the opening page depicted drawings of Old Testament characters, and one was particularly fascinating to me: Jeremiah. He was shown as having his face in his hands, broken-hearted and weeping. He seemed to be miserable, and I wondered why.
In reading the Book of Jeremiah, I found out why: He was a very reluctant prophet and suffered from his calling. This certainly is clear from the first reading today as he complains to God, Who had “duped” him – not, he notes, that he didn’t “let himself be duped.”
God was too strong for him, and now he was an object of laughter with everyone mocking him. As a result, he wants to stop mentioning God and even speaking to Him. One is reminded here of the famous quote from St. Teresa of Avila, who tells God that it is no wonder that He has so few friends, since he treats the ones that He does have so badly. Jeremiah feels that accepting God’s call has turned out to be one big cloudy day.
He’s not the last person to come to that conclusion. St. Paul is telling the Roman Christians to “offer (their) bodies as a living sacrifice” – not a particularly pleasing prospect at all. Furthermore, in the Gospel today, St. Peter, that patron of late bloomers, tells Jesus not even to speak about all this business of suffering and betrayal and death. For his trouble, Jesus calls him “Satan” and an “obstacle.” Even from the beginning, our religion seems to have been an invitation to the most unpleasant party ever held. Do you want some real problems? Become a prophet. Want to add some suffering to the mix? Keep going and become an Apostle!
And yet, as Jesus tells us in the Gospel today, all of those easy ways out in life will lead us nowhere. “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it . . . .” The world – with all of its empty promises – will end up delivering nothing but empty promises. On the other hand, if we take up the Cross and follow Him, we will find everything that really matters.
St. Paul, who you would never want to find standing next to you if you are ever a contestant on Jeopardy!, is wise enough to tell the Roman Christians not to make the mistake of conforming themselves to the age in which they live, which will give them only darkness. He tells them to renew their minds (and hearts) and be “transformed” by discerning what God’s will is and thus ending up surrounded by everything that is “good and pleasing and perfect.” We have to stop and think and pray. We have to realize that if we are heading in the direction of what the world thinks is worthwhile, we will end up with an emptiness. However, if we change course, pick up the Cross and follow Jesus, and forget that the new journey seems to start on Good Friday, we’ll end up standing next to Him on Easter Sunday.
Sometimes, like St. Peter, we need a blunt reminder from Jesus. And when it comes, we should listen, loud and clear. Some of us can be pretty dim and deaf, as was the case with melancholy Jeremiah, and it can take a long time to get the message. Like Jeremiah though, we should keep listening because He will keep calling, like a “fire burning in (our) hearts, imprisoned in our bones.” We may keep resisting until we, like Jeremiah, are so “weary (of) holding it in that (we) cannot endure it.”
We may – and often – find ourselves in front of a door that doesn’t seem to ever open, but when we finally say “yes” to His call, all of a sudden that door will open wide. On the other side will be Easter Sunday. When we step through and look back, how sweet, wise and beautiful our Good Friday will seem then. How glad we’ll be to have made the journey with that heavy Cross which will then feel so light on our shoulders on that beautiful, eternal, worthwhile Easter morning.
Readings for 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 20: 7-9
Psalm 63: 2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Romans 12: 1-2
Matthew 16: 21-27
Father Raso is a parochial vicar at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Dyker Heights.