“You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.” (Jer 20:7)
These words are like music to my ears! They ring true to me. You duped me, O Lord, you duped me! And I let myself be duped!
I entered the seminary not knowing what I was getting myself into. I entered not knowing that I would spend seventeen years of my life waking up every morning at 5:15 am. I didn’t know that I would have to change my hairstyle; that I would not be allowed to grow a beard; or that I would not be allowed to hold on to anything. I didn’t know that my mail would be opened. And when I complained and asked them why I couldn’t keep anything, I was told that I didn’t own anything. After all, what could I possibly take with me to Heaven?
You duped me, Lord, you duped me!
We all need discipline in our lives. We all need to pick up our cross if we wish to follow the Lord. A gentleman recently asked me why I didn’t wear casual clothes, especially in the 104 degree Texas heat. I gave him only a couple of reasons. I mentioned to him that I was inspired by a priest who would wear his uniform in public. But the most important reason was because I needed to be constantly reminded of who I represented! Believe me, it’s no fun to wear four layers of clothes in 104 degree weather. But all priests, like all human beings, need to make some sacrifices in their lives; otherwise, we can easily, like all human beings, becomes creatures of comfort! Yes, we have this natural desire to seek comfort. But what seems to happen is that we over-indulge ourselves in comforts. And when that happens, we begin to let our guard down and become lazy and weak in our battles against sin.
Carrying our cross help us to stay fit and thin. In fact, sacrifices tend to give us a sharp edge over sin. They help us to stay focused and alert.
A very good friend of mine, a pastor at a Lutheran church, commented to me recently that he liked that I wore my priestly uniform, regardless of the temperature outside. We try to get together for lunch once every two months. This Lutheran pastor is a wonderful man, a gifted man and a very holy man. Tragedy recently struck his family when his son died in Afghanistan. He shared with me this story. While they were at the funeral service, he saw a marine in the sweltering heat with his dress blues. He walked over to him and invited the officer to take off his jacket. The officer looked at him and said, “I cannot. It’s our code.” My friend reminded the marine that only his family was now present. The officer replied, “It doesn’t matter. It’s our code.” We all need to have a code of life. We all need to have a code of conduct. Here is the Lord’s code of conduct for all of us:
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it…The Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then repay all according to his conduct.”
We know the wage of sin is death. We know the wage of grace is life! We continue to sin because we continue to seek comfort. But sin is a lie that leads to disillusionment; to disaster! We sin because we have no fight in us! Sacrifices, on a daily basis, help to bring that fighting spirit back into our lives. It helps us to rise from the dead! Peter didn’t realize that when he told the Lord, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you!” His words are reminiscent of the words spoken by the devil to Eve, “You certainly will not die.” No wonder the Lord told Peter, “Get behind me Satan!”
Men seek comfort. God seeks love. There can be no love without sacrifice. There can be no sacrifice without Cross.
For many years I never had a very good answer to why I became a priest. Of course, I know why I did, but I had a hard time explaining it. Only recently, I was able to put it succinctly and well. I became a priest because I wanted to be surprised!
Sin stopped shocking me. I knew where it was leading me: nowhere. But then grace began to surprise me and I knew not where it would lead me!
Sacrifices done in the name of the Lord will surprise us, just like the Lord’s cross and resurrection surprised the Apostles!
We fear the Cross because it cancels what we truly love: the “I” in me. Father, give us the strength and courage to pick up the cross that leads us back to you! If you’re not sure what your cross is, then ask yourself what you dread doing the most. Chances are, that’s your cross!