All of Jesus’ teachings enrich and challenge us as human beings. Some, like "love your enemies," are easy to understand though difficult to follow. Others, like "I have come to cause division," are puzzling. Learn more about 12 key sayings of Jesus throughout 2005.

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What Did Jesus Mean?
Winning, Losing for Jesus
By Father William H. Shannon

"For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:24). "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:27).

What is this topsy-turvy world Jesus is talking about, this world in which "saving" means "losing" and "losing" means "saving"? It sounds like saying to the Yankees, "If you win a game, you lose; and if you lose a game, you win." Tell that to a Yankee fan and see how far you get! What do Jesus' words, recorded in Luke's Gospel, really mean?

Well, for starters, note that Jesus is not making the simple equation: save = lose and lose = save. He is talking about losing one's life for the sake of Jesus. This would have made perfectly good sense to the early Church martyrs (like St. Stephen, St. Agnes and so many others), as it would also for modern martyrs (such as Archbishop Oscar Romero, Jean Donovan, Ita Ford and others). All gave their lives in witness to their faith. Losing their mortal lives for Jesus' sake meant for them achieving immortal life with him forever.— What does losing our lives for the sake of Jesus mean for us everyday Catholics who are not called upon to witness to our faith by shedding our blood?

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First, there is the general Christian responsibility to "love God above all and your neighbor as yourself." Then there is the command that relates the disciples of Jesus to one another. "My command to you," Jesus says, "is that you love one another, as I have loved you" (see John 15:12). Finally, there is the command in our text, which calls for a love that includes everybody. It's not enough to love friendly neighbors or other disciples. We must love without limits. For Jesus says: "Love [even] your enemies."

The first two commands make sense. Peace and harmony in family and society come from loving those with whom we live in proximity. The disciples' loving one another, though demanding at times, also makes good sense. For Jesus' disciples are called to imitate him. But the command, "Love your enemies," doesn't seem to make any sense at all. It seems to go against fundamental principles of justice and the duty we have to love ourselves and not allow ourselves to be victimized by others.

Taking on new life

What does it mean for us to lose our lives in order to save our lives? The first thing we need to realize is that the life we lose is not the same as the life we save. St. Paul tells us that in Christ we become a new creation. We take on a new life: life in Christ.

Some years ago a small-budget movie, Jesus of Montreal, was made in Canada. It is about the restaging of a Passion Play by a group of underemployed actors. Actor Daniel Coulombe takes the part of Jesus. At first he appears to be simply playing a role, but as the play progresses the role begins to turn into reality. He becomes more and more identified with Jesus in his daily life.

Thus, on one occasion he goes into a studio where a sleazy commercial that demeans women is being made. He protests against it. When the producers try to eject him, in a rage he overturns their lights and cameras and walks out. The scene is clearly reminiscent of Jesus and the moneychangers in the temple.

This may be seen as a metaphor of your story and mine. We put on Christ in Baptism. But that is only a beginning. At first it's as if we are playacting: doing Christian things, yet without full realization of who we have become. We have to grow into Christ in all aspects of our lives—and that takes time. St Paul writes: "We should grow in every way into him who is the head [of the Body], Christ" (Ephesians 4:15).

The price of discipleship

All this sounds fine. Then we read our second text. Reflecting on it jolts us to the very core of our being. It tells us that to grow into Christ, to truly become his disciples, we have to pay a price. Discipleship may bring joy and peace and a sense of being grounded in Christ. But it also and inevitably brings the cross. Carrying our own cross will surely be part of our lives if we truly want to follow in the footsteps of a crucified Jesus.

The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that it was necessary for Jesus to suffer; and Jesus makes clear that the "must" of suffering applies to his disciples as well as to himself. The invitation to be a disciple is a great grace. And it is an invitation; Jesus always respects our freedom. But—to use Dietrich Bonhoeffer's term—it is costly grace.

Bonhoeffer has written, "Only a person totally committed to discipleship can experience the meaning of the cross. The cross is there right from the beginning. One has only to pick it up. There is no need to go out and look for a cross for oneself."

Each of us needs only to look into our own lives to find our crosses. We can resent them or we can embrace them. Embracing them is the mark of the true disciple.

William H. Shannon is a priest of the Diocese of Rochester, New York. He is professor emeritus in the religious studies department at Nazareth College and the founding president of the International Thomas Merton Society. His newest book is A Catholic Perspective on Dying and What Follows (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

Next: Learning to Really Forgive

Questions for Reflection:

• As you grow in new life, what part of your old life is the most difficult to let go of?

• Think of the last year and talk about the crosses you have encountered. How did you shoulder them?

FAMILY CORNER
Handling Life's Crosses
By Judith Dunlap

When my oldest son was five, we moved into a neighborhood of preschool bullies. I found myself sitting on the porch every afternoon continually supervising. I feared the day he would be on his own in kindergarten. It finally dawned on me that constantly shadowing his outdoor play wasn't doing him any favors. At some point, I realized, he needed to learn to take care of himself.

One sunny day in late August, after practicing what to say and what to do, I sent him out by himself. When the door shut behind him, I rushed to the window and peeked through the curtains. Later, I wondered if this was how God felt observing us. Was God like a deeply concerned mom, reluctantly untying the apron strings, giving us our freedom with all the risks that come with it? I honestly don't remember what happened that day so long ago, but I do know that by the first day of school my son was part of the group.

We try so hard to shelter our children from harm's way. But eventually there comes a day when we realize we can no longer protect them from the crosses of an imperfect world. Crosses are a part of the human condition. Everyone has them. Jesus asks us to accept our crosses and be graced through them—not to bellyache or feel sorry for ourselves, but to pick them up and carry them.

We teach our children how to do this by talking about our own crosses, helping them strategize ways of growing through their own and letting them know that we are there to listen and help in a pinch. Finally, we try to make sure they understand that God is always close by—peeking through the curtains, loving them through their hurts, and, like us, ready to shoulder some of their burden.

For Family Response:

Spend time talking about the crosses family members encountered this week. Talk about how they were handled. Ask one another for help if help is needed.

Media Watch
Lemony Snicket
By Frank Frost

The creators of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events must have had a good time in making the film, particularly the production designers with their weird and wonderful sets and costumes. It's fun enough to watch, too, despite its unusually dark sensibility for a fairy tale.

I've never read the A Series of Unfortunate Events books, which I understand to be the rage among schoolchildren. But it's not hard to see why they succeed. They offer readers a series of perilous adventures in which youngsters must prevail by their own wits.

But back to the film. The Baudelaire children have been orphaned by the mysterious death of their parents who have left them an enormous fortune. Violet (Emily Browning) is a 14-year-old inventor, able to find the solution to any problem. Her younger brother, Klaus (Liam Aiken), is a voracious reader who remembers every fact he reads. And the toddler, Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman), has a talent for biting. These become the only assets the children have for survival.

The children are first put in the care of a distant relative, "beloved" Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), who lives in a ramshackle mansion and keeps company with a troupe of criminal actors. Olaf, it quickly turns out, is interested only in their money. But the youngsters will not come into it until the eldest child reaches majority, and the only other way for him to get it is if they are dead.

Rather heavy stuff for kids. Lemony Snicket, the voiceover narrator (Jude Law), periodically interjects himself to remind viewers that he is making up this story and to warn them that they may not want to watch the movie. (I'm told this warning to readers is a favorite feature for school-age readers of the books.)

In any case, for the children this story is a matter of life or death. By combining their special talents they are able to escape from Count Olaf. But as they move on to other unusual relatives, Olaf keeps showing up in disguise—a showcase for the hammy talents of Jim Carrey. Billy Connolly plays Uncle Monty, who keeps a python and innumerable other snakes in his care. Meryl Streep plays Aunt Josephine, whose neurotic fears turn out to have a basis in reality. Cameos by Dustin Hoffman and the AFLAC Duck offer a dose of tongue-in-cheek. In keeping with tradition, adults in the film are strange or greedy, while the children have uncommon integrity and wisdom.

Parents and teachers can rejoice that the characters celebrate intellectual achievement in Violet and the value of reading in Klaus. Although the film is dark, its message is positive. As Lemony Snicket says, "At times the world can seem an unfriendly and sinister place. But... there is much more good in it than bad. And what may seem to be a series of unfortunate events may in fact be the first steps of the journey."

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Turibius (1538-1606)

He may be a well-kept secret for many native English speakers, but Turibius of Mogrovejo is patron saint of Peru and of the bishops of Latin America. He is also a model of holiness, devotion to the Church, pastoral sensitivity, vision and courage.

Born in Spain, Turibius studied church and civil law and taught at the university level. He gained a reputation for moderation at the Church court of the Inquisition. Those were the very qualities that made him a candidate for archbishop of Lima when a vacancy occurred.

Never mind that he was a layman. Turibius was given a dispensation from the usual steps and ordained a priest and bishop before his departure from Spain. At age 42 he arrived in Peru, one of the most distant and difficult posts in the Spanish empire. His diocese of 18,000 square miles is 19 dioceses today.

Leaping into his new life and work, he set out to visit his entire diocese—a task that took seven years! He traveled on foot and by mule and lived with his Indian flock—eating as they did, sleeping on the ground, learning their native languages, championing their cause. He helped produce a catechism addressed specifically to them.

Back in Lima, he faced a corrupt clergy who often could not even be found in their parishes. Some participated in the slave trade, and many dismissed the Indians as inferior. But Turibius moved ahead, building churches and hospitals, establishing the first seminary in the New World, baptizing thousands. He convened the Third Council of Lima, which put an end to abuse of the indigenous population.

Turibius died—no surprise—in the midst of an extended visit among his people. He was canonized 120 years later. His feast day is March 23.

Bishop Gabino Zavala

Meetings seem to take up a good chunk of Bishop Gabino Zavala's days. And then there's the part of his job he really likes: contact with children, seniors, prisoners on death row, the poor, the generous, fellow priests, laity.

That's life as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. "Each day is different. Each day is full," he told Every Day Catholic. And each one reminds him of the diversity of people—all five million of them—in the largest archdiocese in the U.S.

Born in Mexico, he and his family became U.S. citizens five decades ago. Maybe that's why Bishop Zavala has a special spot in his heart for the underdog, particularly immigrants, laborers and the poor. His special joy is preaching, whether in Spanish or English, and celebrating with his flock. He takes to heart the motto he adopted at his ordination as a bishop in 1994: "I have come that you may have life to the fullest" (John 10:10).

Being an auxiliary bishop in L.A. requires developing domestic skills not every bishop has: grocery shopping and cooking, laundry and ironing. But Bishop Zavala, who works in the San Gabriel region of the archdiocese (comprising 1.2 million people and 66 parishes), is all for the simple life. He treasures the times with "friends who keep me honest" and "families I can be myself with." He loves to drop in unexpectedly at parish events where he doesn't have an assigned role.

Asked what makes a good 21st-century bishop, he spontaneously offers a short list: compassion, a listening heart, an ability to communicate and dialogue, a sense of comfort with all kinds of people. Qualities not unlike those of the Good Shepherd celebrated in John's Gospel—and in his own motto.

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