24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I Isaiah 50:5-9
Reading II James 2:14-18
Gospel Mark 8:27-35
If you and I were being interviewed this morning by someone from the Herald-Whig and the reporter said, “We’re doing a series on suffering. Would you tell me: What does it really mean to suffer?” I am not sure what all of our answers would be. Some would say, “If I have a headache, I’m suffering. Or, if I lost a child, I’m suffering. If I found out I had cancer, I’m suffering.” And Jesus would say, “No. You missed the point. What I’m really asking is: What in your life is pulling you away from me? Because when you pull away from me, that’s when you really suffer.”
So suffering is not pain, suffering is when you and I do not reach our full potential. And we have to think about that. Jesus is also telling us, “If you really want to get to know me and let me be your God, throughout life you are going to have to take that road less traveled. And that’s not going to be easy. But if you do, you are going to find that as you go through life you will discover that I have given you the strength to handle anything; and in the end when I call you home — you’re going to know you are home. And that road less traveled really wasn’t the most difficult thing to do.”
How do you and I stay on the road that is less traveled? When do people encourage you? For someone in college, he or she might say, “I am tired of studying and writing papers, I think I’ll just quit.” It might be a roommate, a parent or a good friend who says, “You can’t do that. Stick with it. In the end you will have a degree, and you will be able to do wonderful things in your life. It’s worth it all.”
Without that encouragement, someone can walk away from what he or she is capable of doing.
When two people get married what they are saying to each other, in different words, is: “I want to marry you and I am willing to take the road less traveled, and I really do not know what is going to happen to you for the rest of your life. I don’t know if you are going to lose a job, I don’t know if you are going to get cancer, I don’t know if you are going to give up your faith — I really have no idea. The only thing I do know is that I am going to take the plunge and come into your life, and together we are going to make it through anything — no matter what.”
Last evening out on the grounds someone told me, “I took care of my wife and I do not regret one second of it. I had to bathe her, take her to the bathroom, dress her and I had to watch her every second so that she wouldn’t hurt herself. I thought I was doing a good job when all of a sudden, bingo, God took her home.” This man took the plunge forty years ago and didn’t know what was going to be the scenario.
He said, “I knew that I needed to stay focused. That is what it was all about in my life. My kids were raised. I had a good job and then retired. But I knew I needed to stay focused on my wife and face whatever was going to be.”
That man’s story shows us what is really important in life. He took the road less traveled and stayed focused on what he needed to do. That is where you and I come into the story, when, as a Christian family, or people living together, we encourage one another.
When I was a young kid I used to go over to Indian Mounds Pool and swim. I was afraid of the water. I was taught to stick my head in the water and blow bubbles, do this and do that, and I thought, “This is horrible. I’m going to drown.”
Until one day, because of a friend of mine encouraging me, I got up the guts to swim to the Tower. And we just kept encouraging each other. Finally I went first on the high dive and when I got up there and looked down I thought, “Oh, my God. This is going to be the end of life. I am going to go into that huge pool of water!” And the lifeguard was sitting there and he yelled, “Hey, kid. Jump or get off of there.” I just panicked and jumped. I sank down to the bottom of the pool, and I found out I came back up.
And because of that, when I got into college, I became a lifeguard and taught swimming lessons, and today I still swim laps three times a week. All because someone said, “Jump or get off!”
So we all have to look at our lives and say, “It’s not easy to stay on that path, that road less traveled. Jesus says, “All through life, that’s what it is all about. This side is having a good day, that side isn’t. That side is having a perfect day, and this side isn’t.” And Jesus says, “Don’t worry about it.”
Jesus was telling Peter, “Get out of my sight. Either you take that road less traveled and know that I will be with you forever, or get off. And I am not going to tell you ahead of time what is going to take place in your life because you can’t handle it right now. And so I am going to surprise you every single day. But don’t ever forget, I will be with you forever.”
This is what it means to follow Jesus. It is hard to understand by anybody having a brain cell working — why he would take up that cross and show that much love to the whole world.
You and I know the rest of the story. So it is up to you and me and everyone else to say, “God, I come here every week and the only thing I ask is for you to give me the courage to take that road less traveled. Because I know if I do, you are going to show me who you are, and I am going to know that you love me.”
That is the very core of faith. We say that to each other in different ways. Yesterday when a couple got married instead of saying, “Do you really love me?” They said, “I, Michael, will take you, Jane, to be my wife. I promise to be good to you in good times and bad, and in sickness and death, until death do us part.”
Couples getting married say it in different ways, but once united, what they are really saying is, “Our love is so strong, we are ready to go down that road that is less traveled.”
I did the same thing as a priest.
So today we are here to praise God, and to thank God for all the energy and love he gives us to keep ourselves focused — and to be his sons and daughters.
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Monsignor Michael Kuse is pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Quincy, Illinois.
(TASCAM DR 40 file 0012)