Today I am back in Effingham for a pasta dinner helping to raise funds for the World Youth Day 2011 pilgrims to Rome and Madrid. Being in Effingham already, I celebrated the morning Mass with the junior high and high school students. What follows is the homily I preached:
Friday of the Sixth Week of the Year (I)
Dear brothers and sisters,
Says the Lord Jesus, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it” (Mark 8:35). We see the truth of these words played out in the first reading.
“Come, let us … make a name for ourselves,” said the race of men as they set about the construction of their tower into the heavens (Genesis 10:4).
This was no mere skyscraper they sought to build but rather a symbol of man’s attempt to overthrow God or, at the every least, to set themselves up as equals to him; they saw God as their loving Creator but as a rival.
Yet, despite men’s best efforts, still the Lord had to “go down” to them; they could not attain their goal (Genesis 10:7). In their desire to make a name for themselves they divided humanity even further and widened the divide between God and man; by seeking to save their lives they lost them.
How often do we, too, seek to make a name for ourselves by building a tower to our own honor? Society tells us that this is the way to happiness and success; we are told that making a name for ourselves is the path toward a satisfying life, but it does not take long for us to see the opposite is true.
Simply consider how many celebrities – be they actors or athletes, newscasters or musicians, even people within the Church – have tried to make a name for themselves, yet in the end have still lost their lives. In their pursuit of fame and fortune, of power and influence – all of which promised happiness – they have found heartache, despair and misfortune.
Do not follow them! They are but blind guides who will only lead you astray! If you follow them you will not find the happiness you seek, the happiness that you deserve to have, for they cannot give what they do not have.
This happiness you seek has a name and a face; it is Jesus Christ! Only in him will you find the happiness you were made to share!
Today he tells us the way to find this happiness: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). He addresses these words to “the crowd and his disciples” indicating that his invitation is given to everyone without exception (Mark 8:34).
He invites us to lose our lives “for [his] sake and that of the gospel” and in so doing to find and save our lives (Mark 8:35). He is no common teacher, no simple philosopher or moralist who calls his followers to give their lives for an ideal or a cause; rather, he demands absolute loyalty from his disciples who must be willing to give their lives not for a cause, but for him.
The many voices of society tell us just the opposite; they tell us to jealously guard our life and to think always of myself first. Jesus tells us to think first of him and of myself to think last. Which way will you follow?
There are two choices now before you. You can seek to make a name for yourself, but in doing so you will lose yourself and your life in this pursuit. What do I mean? You will be caught up in this desire and become trapped within it; the desire to make a name for yourself will consume you and take your life. This is your first choice.
Your second choice is similar, but very different. Rather than seeking to make a name for yourself, you can seek to make a name for Christ and his Gospel. In doing so, you will lose yourself in this desire – you will lose yourself in Christ, in him who is life. And in losing your life in Life Himself, you will save your life. This is the beauty of the Cross.
Because he has this life, this happiness, in himself – because he alone has conquered the grave – he can give this life, this happiness, to you. Do not be afraid, then, to follow him; do not be afraid to take up the Cross after him! He has already walked this path and knows it’s destination: it leads to the Father, to eternal joy in his presence.
The Lord Jesus will also walk this path with you. Simply take his hand and let him guide you, and you will find the happiness you seek!