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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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John Vianney: A man with vision overcomes obstacles and performs deeds that seem impossible. John Vianney was a man with vision: He wanted to become a priest. But he had to overcome his meager formal schooling, which inadequately prepared him for seminary studies. 
<p>His failure to comprehend Latin lectures forced him to discontinue. But his vision of being a priest urged him to seek private tutoring. After a lengthy battle with the books, John was ordained. </p><p>Situations calling for “impossible” deeds followed him everywhere. As pastor of the parish at Ars, John encountered people who were indifferent and quite comfortable with their style of living. His vision led him through severe fasts and short nights of sleep. (Some devils can only be cast out by prayer and fasting.) </p><p>With Catherine Lassagne and Benedicta Lardet, he established La Providence, a home for girls. Only a man of vision could have such trust that God would provide for the spiritual and material needs of all those who came to make La Providence their home. </p><p>His work as a confessor is John Vianney’s most remarkable accomplishment. In the winter months he was to spend 11 to 12 hours daily reconciling people with God. In the summer months this time was increased to 16 hours. Unless a man was dedicated to his vision of a priestly vocation, he could not have endured this giving of self day after day. </p><p>Many people look forward to retirement and taking it easy, doing the things they always wanted to do but never had the time. But John Vianney had no thoughts of retirement. As his fame spread, more hours were consumed in serving God’s people. Even the few hours he would allow himself for sleep were disturbed frequently by the devil. </p><p>Who, but a man with vision, could keep going with ever-increasing strength? In 1929, Pope Pius XI named him the patron of parish priests worldwide.</p> American Catholic Blog The most beautiful and spontaneous expressions of joy which I have seen during my life were by poor people who had little to hold on to. –Pope Francis

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