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Bible Reflections View Comments

The Power of the Cross
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, October 21, 2012
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Last week Jesus had an encounter with a rich man who seemed to be letting his many possessions hold him back from becoming a disciple. Let’s imagine that, like Jesus’s chosen twelve, we manage to let go of all of our stuff. Have we made it to the top? Not necessarily. Because we still think making it to the top is what it’s all about.

I recently heard a compelling interpretation of the Franciscan vow of poverty as living with nothing to defend. Fr. Dan Crosby, a Capuchin Franciscan, pointed out how often people who willingly have given up material possessions will point to that sacrifice as a matter of pride. In the absence of material things, spiritual and intellectual achievements can take on too much importance for us. Anytime we become defensive about who we are or what we do, we need to ask whether we’re not still placing ourselves at the center of the universe.

Before Jesus began his public ministry, he was led into the desert to confront three temptations: turning stones to bread (material wealth), throwing himself from a cliff into the arms of God’s waiting angels (power), and bowing down before the Father of Lies in order to rule the nations (prestige).

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus leads his disciples to recognize that they, too, must fight those temptations. Those who give in to an expectation of privilege because of their positions of religious leadership rarely succeed in what really matters: leading others to recognize the presence of God in their midst.

Human society has long been structured according to hierarchical patterns. In the business world, in the political world, it’s all about winning. The notion of a servant leader would be laughed at in many boardrooms around the world. Even Jesus realizes that he’s probably not going to change that reality in a fallen world. But what he tells his disciples is this: “It must not be that way with you.”

Again and again throughout the history of Christianity, institutions have fallen prey to the temptation to power. And when that happens, prophets come along to challenge the leaders to return to the message of the Gospel. More often than not, it’s a thankless task. We don’t let go of our perks and privileges willingly for the most part. Ironically, even those with no power or prestige will defend those who have it, because secretly they hope to get there someday. We like to bask in the reflected glory of belonging to an institution that’s always right, always perfect, always powerful.

This section in Mark’s Gospel is the last preparation for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the fate that awaited him there. It’s his last chance to help the disciples understand the full implication of his identity as the Messiah and what it would mean for them as his followers. No matter how often he tells them that the Son of Man must suffer and die, they’re still filled with dreams of glory and the promise of an earthly kingdom with all its trappings.

Our world, our country, even our religious institutions, are not likely to change any time soon. But if we each do our own part to let go of having power over others and learn to use what power we have to do good for them, we may see small signs of hope even now in these difficult times. If we can stop defending the indefensible, we will discover the true power of Christ, the power of the cross.


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Josephine Bakhita: For many years, Josephine Bakhita was a slave but her spirit was always free and eventually that spirit prevailed. 
<p>Born in Olgossa in the Darfur region of southern Sudan, Josephine was kidnapped at the age of seven, sold into slavery and given the name Bakhita, which means <i>fortunate</i>. She was re-sold several times, finally in 1883 to Callisto Legnani, Italian consul in Khartoum, Sudan. </p><p>Two years later he took Josephine to Italy and gave her to his friend Augusto Michieli. Bakhita became babysitter to Mimmina Michieli, whom she accompanied to Venice's Institute of the Catechumens, run by the Canossian Sisters. While Mimmina was being instructed, Josephine felt drawn to the Catholic Church. She was baptized and confirmed in 1890, taking the name Josephine. </p><p>When the Michielis returned from Africa and wanted to take Mimmina and Josephine back with them, the future saint refused to go. During the ensuing court case, the Canossian sisters and the patriarch of Venice intervened on Josephine's behalf. The judge concluded that since slavery was illegal in Italy, she had actually been free since 1885. </p><p>Josephine entered the Institute of St. Magdalene of Canossa in 1893 and made her profession three years later. In 1902, she was transferred to the city of Schio (northeast of Verona), where she assisted her religious community through cooking, sewing, embroidery and welcoming visitors at the door. She soon became well loved by the children attending the sisters' school and the local citizens. She once said, "Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who do not know Him. What a great grace it is to know God!" </p><p>The first steps toward her beatification began in 1959. She was beatified in 1992 and canonized eight years later.</p> American Catholic Blog St. Paul talks about the Christian life as a race, and encourages us to run so as to win. So it’s not just OK, it’s commanded to be competitive, to strive to excel. But true greatness consists in sharing in the sacrificial love of Christ, who comes to serve rather than to be served. That means that this race St. Paul is talking about is a race to the bottom.

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