Reflection-Week 7

Following the steps of the Master, in life’s trials
The Initiation
Perhaps our Baptismal ceremony was an uneasy experience for us, babes. Sequela Christi (the following of Christ) began a bit uncomfortably! Too many people around...too warm...too many words...too long a function for a babe! Perhaps we screamed and shook the whole Church. “Clothed in white linen”, we felt all the more warm. In fact, it was a symbolic beginning of a life-long discipleship process. Maybe it was in line with this thought that David Wilkerson made a highly disputable comment: “The moment you got saved, He enrolled you in His school, the school of suffering and affliction”. However, such a statement badly misses the indispensable ingredient of love.
The Indispensable Ingredient
Love is the essence of Christianity and self-sacrifice is the kernel of love (1Jn 3:16). It is in this sense that we can define Christianity as a ‘love and cross lifestyle’. Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, offers enlightening words in this regard. “Human suffering has reached its culmination in the Passion of Christ. And at the same time it has entered into a completely new dimension and a new order: it has been linked to love...” (n.18).
A Model
Peter is perhaps our best guide in this reflection, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his book The Cost of Discipleship. On two separate occasions Peter receives the call, “Follow me”. We can even consider this command to be the first and last words Jesus spoke to this disciple (Mark 1:17; John 21:22). The first occasion was by the lake of Genesareth when Peter left his nets and his craft and followed Jesus at His word. The second occasion is when the Risen Lord finds him back to his old trade. Once again it is by the lake of Genesareth and again the call is: “Follow me!”
Between these two calls lies a whole life of discipleship in the following of Christ. And half-way in between comes Peter's confession: “You are Messiah!” (Mk 8:29). Following this confession the Master reveals that “the Son of Man must suffer greatly” (v.31). Here the evangelist Mark differs from his normal style of using words sparingly: “He spoke this openly”. The additional words on the suffering of Christ at the very moment of Peter’s confession of the identity of Jesus, gives an extraordinary emphasis that is quite striking. Peter knows that Jesus is Christ but he does not know that Jesus is “anointed” for suffering. So stood Peter before Jesus, blocking His way to the cross. Abrupt and harsh was Jesus’ intervention: “Get behind me, Satan!”
Two points need to be highlighted here: (1) Mark specifies that Jesus spoke harshly to Peter after “looking at his disciples” (v.33). The Master was keen to educate His disciples with the lesson of the cross. In this sense there is no exaggeration in saying that Christianity is ‘cross-tianity’ provided, the life-giving aspect of the cross is not forgotten: “Whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it” (v.35); (2) The harsh expression “Get behind me, Satan!” is worth reflecting. We hear a similar statement in Matthew’s account of the temptation of Jesus: “Get away, Satan!” (Mt 4:10). In Greek the difference between these imperative sentences is just a prepositional phrase ‘opīsō mū’ which means ‘behind me’. In the desert Jesus did not use it; but He did in His conversation with Peter. This is significant. Peter is Jesus’ disciple. The disciple is supposed to follow the Master and walk behind him. So this can be counted as the additional and central call that Peter hears being a disciple. “Get behind me” is equivalent to “Follow me!” Interestingly, the evangelists use the same prepositional phrase ‘opīsō mū’ in the following places (Mt 16:24; Mk 8:34; Lk 9:23), thus making the above two mentioned points inter-related. If “looking at the disciples” reflects Jesus’ concern to teach the lesson of suffering to the disciples in general, the rebuke to Peter conveys a personal lesson of suffering to His prime disciple.
Pearl Formation
Every struggle that humans face is a birth pang of growth. Jesus himself has expressed this reality beautifully with an agrarian imagery: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24). This truth has been expressed differently by various authors. T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922) deserves special mention. It begins with the famous line: “April is the cruellest month...”
“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain…”
Why is April the cruellest month? Is it because April is the month when grass experiences pain in bringing forth new shoots? Is it because April is, generally, the month of the Holy Week? No ready answers are available but one thing is clear. Though the poetic genius begins with an ironic line, the poem ends with a quote from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (Datta [Give], Dayadhvam [Sympathise], Damyata [Control]). The so-called ‘cruelties’ of life are faced with a spirituality of giving, mercy and self-control. In short, every strife is an occasion for personal growth. Rightly was Henri J. M. Nouwen inspired to make the statement: “To refuse suffering is to refuse personal growth”.
A Divine Shout to the World
C.S. Lewis wrote: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world”. A person’s trials serve as an instruction to the rest of the world. Instruction because each person’s life is an open book from which all can learn. At the same time, each person is a cross that others have to bear. Last judgment is made simply on the basis of one’s altruism. In other words, last judgment is based on a single norm – that of love. Yes, as we stated at the beginning of this article, Christianity is nothing but ‘love and cross lifestyle’. With love added, Christianity is ‘cross-tianity’. The Master says: “Follow me!” and the disciples say: “Here I am!” Here we see a community in which each one carries the cross of the other and that community is the Church!
Sheer Hypocrisy
There are people who are ready to suffer even martyrdom for the sake of the Lord. But they are not ready to forgive even the little offences of their brethren. There are people who want to suffer for the Lord in their missionary zeal. But at times they are not able to cope with distressing situations at their own home and workplace. Francis de Sales, the saint known for his meekness, comments: “Do not desire crosses, unless you have borne well those laid on you; it is an abuse to long after martyrdom while unable to bear an insult patiently”.
Certain practical tips:

  • Can you visit a sick person in the coming week and spend some time with him/her?
  • Find out your greatest cross in life and accept it from the Lord (Mt 11:29) after serious reflection and preparation.
  • Remember the person who troubles you the most and pray for him/her for 15 minutes.
  • Which is the prayer that has been futile all these years? Why doesn’t the Lord hearken to your prayer?
  • Can you indicate an incident in your life that was at first thought to be disastrous, but later turned out to be providential in your life?  

Carry Your Cross (By. Charles William Everest)
Take up your cross, the Saviour said,
If you would my disciple be;
Deny yourself, the world forsake,
And humbly follow after me.
Take up your cross, let not its weight
Fill your weak spirit with alarm;
His strength shall bear your spirit up.
Shall brace your heart and nerve your arm.
Take up your cross then in his strength,
And ev'ry danger calmly brave,
To guide you to a better home,
And vict'ry over death and grave.
Take up your cross and follow Christ,
Nor think till death to lay it down;
For only he who bears the cross
May hope to wear the glorious crown.
To you, great Lord, the One in three,
All praise for evermore ascend;
O grant us here below to see
The heav'nly life that knows no end.
“O my most sweet Jesus, I ask You for the most perfect love: love of the cross. Not of those heroic crosses whose splendour only feeds my self-love, but of those daily crosses of which life is full and which we meet every hour on our journey: contradictions, feeling left to one side, failure, prejudice, the coldness and impatience of some, the refusals and contempt of others, bodily ills, mental darkness, the silence and the dryness of our hearts. When these things happen to me it is only then that You will know that I love You- even if I do not know it myself or feel it. Crosses, my Lord, with no "buts" and no exceptions! In me and in everything that concerns me, let Your Will be perfectly done. Make my heart be courageous enough to suffer, to bear patiently, even to love what disgusts me. And not to complain. Amen.”
(A prayer by Fr. Alberione, founder of the Pauline Family Religious Society of Priests)
Rev. Fr. Joshy Mayyattil
Kochi, India

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