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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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Elizabeth of Portugal: Elizabeth is usually depicted in royal garb with a dove or an olive branch. At her birth in 1271, her father, Pedro III, future king of Aragon, was reconciled with his father, James, the reigning monarch. This proved to be a portent of things to come. Under the healthful influences surrounding her early years, she quickly learned self-discipline and acquired a taste for spirituality. Thus fortunately prepared, she was able to meet the challenge when, at the age of 12, she was given in marriage to Denis, king of Portugal. She was able to establish for herself a pattern of life conducive to growth in God’s love, not merely through her exercises of piety, including daily Mass, but also through her exercise of charity, by which she was able to befriend and help pilgrims, strangers, the sick, the poor—in a word, all those whose need came to her notice. At the same time she remained devoted to her husband, whose infidelity to her was a scandal to the kingdom. 
<p>He, too, was the object of many of her peace endeavors. She long sought peace for him with God, and was finally rewarded when he gave up his life of sin. She repeatedly sought and effected peace between the king and their rebellious son, Alfonso, who thought that he was passed over to favor the king’s illegitimate children. She acted as peacemaker in the struggle between Ferdinand, king of Aragon, and his cousin James, who claimed the crown. And finally from Coimbra, where she had retired as a Franciscan tertiary to the monastery of the Poor Clares after the death of her husband, she set out and was able to bring about a lasting peace between her son Alfonso, now king of Portugal, and his son-in-law, the king of Castile.</p> American Catholic Blog In the name of the Father, use my mind to bring you honor, and of the Son, fill my heart to spread your word, and of the Holy Spirit, strengthen me to carry you out to all the world. Amen.

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