At our college’s recent commencement the speaker was Pittsburgh Steeler offensive tackle, Alejandro Villanueva. The outline of his address was given in the first story he told of when he was on five days of Army Ranger training in the middle of Winter. He spoke of being cold, hungry and exhausted, and knowing that the training required him to make it through this, he had to work his way through those five weeks. Afterwards he made a mental note to himself: “As long as I’m warm, fed and have slept a couple of hours, there is nothing in the world I can complain about,” He went on to speak to the graduates of striving for success, as well as overcoming disappointment. In all of this he reminded them of the basic needs to keep warm, well fed and rested. This was good advice to our graduates, and it is good advice for us as we strive to follow Jesus.
In the Gospel today Jesus tells his followers that there will be trials or crosses in life; “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” This is in a section of Luke in which Jesus is giving instructions about the Kingdom of God. There are the parables of the Mustard Seed, the Yeast, the Narrow Door, the parables of the invited guest who exalted himself and then was humbled by the host, of the Man who gave a great dinner. In the passage today Jesus makes it very clear that in order to enter the Kingdom of God, one must be totally committed to God. Jesus makes it clear that total commitment to him comes with the reality of suffering, and the willingness for each one of us to carry the crosses of life. Sometimes this reality could be family and friends actually rejecting, if not, hating, someone because of their fervent desire to hold onto and live their faith.
The crosses that we find ourselves with can be challenging, painful and wear us down, but our crosses are nothing compared to the cross of Christ upon which he bore all the sins of the world. During Lent we often pray the Stations of the Cross. Three of the Stations are of Jesus Falling under the weight of the Cross. After he falls the second time Simon is drafted to help Jesus carry the cross the remainder of the way to Calvary. I truly believe that when we are weighed down by our crosses and fall under the weight of them, that there is someone there to help us carry our cross to the Kingdom. His name is Jesus, and he walks with us even during the most difficult times.
The basic message from this is that if we are to enter the Kingdom of God, we must put God first in our lives. By placing God first in our lives, all the other relationships of family and friends will be blessed, and ultimately we will be blessed. Our problems, great and small, are dwarfed by the presence of God. Like the wise man planning to build a tower, and the king planning to go into battle, if we take time to plan on keeping God first, we will be successful. This plan brings all sorts of challenges, but the end result is having a life centered around God who blesses every aspect of our lives. In the midst of carrying our crosses try not to ruminate on what we don’t have, but give thanks for what we have. Thank God that we are warm, fed, and rested.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.