Rev. Mr. Roger J. Landry
Gift of Mary Convent
Missionary Sisters of Charity
Wednesday of the 31st Week of Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Charles Borromeo
November 4, 1998
Phil 2:2-18; Lk 14:25-33
These readings today, this Gospel, this feast of St. Charles Borromeo — one of the greatest saints ever — give us so much to reflect on. We could spend hours, sisters, dwelling on them. But we’ve got too much to do today, so we’ll spend just a few minutes.
In the Gospel we’ve just listened to, Jesus gives us very practical advice about what it takes to be his disciples. He says that to be his followers, we have to do two things: (1) take up our cross and (2) follow him. We have to do both. Taking up our cross isn’t enough. All the sacrifices we make aren’t enough. They have to make us follow the Lord. In the same way, we can’t honestly say that we’re following the Lord if we can’t say no to the things that will keep us from him. Part of following him necessarily means taking up our cross and carrying it in his footsteps, even if it means that our own feet will get bloody and nailed to wood just like our Lord’s were.
But we know that taking up our cross isn’t easy. Jesus says today that this Cross involves leaving behind father and mother, brother and sister, even our very selves — in other words: we need to be willing to leave every one (and later everything) we LOVE in this world. On the surface, it seems that the Lord is asking us to break the commandments. After all, the fourth commandment says that we are to honor our father and mother, and Jesus says in the Gospel that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Well how can we honor our parents, love our neighbors and love ourselves if the Lord is telling us that in order to be his disciple we need to turn our back on them and us?
Good question. Our Lord gives us the answer in the second part: taking up our cross and leaving all of these good things is only so that we can be totally free to follow him. We know that sometimes, quite often in fact, our love for our parents, brothers and sisters, friends, ourselves, can be an excuse we use not to follow Jesus. It’s one of the most common excuses of all, because it sounds so good. You remember elsewhere in the Gospel when Jesus calls someone to follow him and the person responds, please let me go bury my father first. What did Jesus say in response? Let the dead bury the dead: you, come and follow me. In other words, we can’t allow anything, even good things, to get in the way of following in his footsteps, the greatest good of all. The cross means not only leaving bad things, but also leaving good things behind if they’re keeping us from following the Lord.
And our Lord adds that we have to be smart in following him. He says if we’re going to build a house, we need to know that we have the money to finish it. He says if we’re a king going into war, we have to know pretty well that we have a chance to defeat our enemy. In other words, if we’re going to set a goal, we have to make sure we have the means to achieve that goal. We can ask ourselves: if our goal is to love God with all our heart, our mind, our soul and strength, what means do we need to achieve it? We’ll, we need to make sure that our heart, mind, soul and strength are all free from lesser loves so that we can cling totally to God. As he says at the end of the Gospel, we have to be free of all our possessions in order to follow him. And he doesn’t mean just our material possessions, but also all of the possessions of our heart, mind and soul that we try to keep for ourselves rather than give entirely to the good Lord.
This may sound easy, but we all know in practice that it’s hard to leave everything behind. We’re all sinners. We know we fall short both of picking up our crosses and following the Lord’s footsteps. Sometimes we who are consecrated to God have special crosses to bear — like everyone thinking that we’re much holier than we know in all honesty we are. But God gives us help to carry these crosses. St. Paul tells us in the first reading that God, in his good will toward us, begets in us any measure of desire and achievement. We want to take up our Cross and follow the Lord, and, this is a great gift of the Lord to us.
We can see how all of this fits together — what picking up our cross and following the Lord means — from the Saint we celebrate today, St. Charles Borromeo, who died in Milan in 1584. His crosses were legendary. First his family was very wealthy and famous and his uncle even became pope, so great things were expected from him — a cross in itself — but one made much heavier by the fact that he he had a speech impediment, and was considered slow or unintelligent! Nevertheless, he was made a Cardinal when he was only 22 and was put in charge of the enormous Archdiocese of Milan — even before he was ordained a priest! And he was responsible for all those souls. Third, after he was eventually ordained a priest and a bishop, he had to correct all of the abuses, among priests, religious and lay people, that were rampant in and around Milan. While many people were happy to receive the whole Gospel again, others — even a couple of priests — were so upset that they even tried to kill him. One priest actually shot him in the back, but God protected him, and didn’t allow the bullet to penetrate his simple shirt. Lastly, in addition to all of the spiritual problems he had to face in his diocese, he also had to fight the plauge which broke out in Milan. Most of the government officials, citizens, and even religious and priests fled from the city, but St. Charles recognized that as his cross. He stayed behind to pick up his cross and take care of Jesus in the distressing guise of all the dead, dying and sick people who had no one to care for them. He not only cared for them physically — selling his property to feed 60-70 thousand people per day — but cared for them spiritually, working day and night to celebrate Mass for them, hear their confessions and anoint them before they died. He worked so hard that eventually his own health started to fail and he died at the young age of 46 years old.
His whole life is a wonderful example for us! First he picked up his Cross every day, by renouncing comforts that Cardinals were used to, selling almost all of his possessions to care for the poor, even overcoming his sense of embarrassment and self-love due to his very embarrassing speech impediment. Next he followed Christ with his Cross, knowing that like Simon of Cyrene, whenever he was holding the Cross he could count on Jesus’ holding the other end. And thirdly, he was smart about it. He knew that to follow the Lord completely, he not only needed to eliminate excessive attachments to things here on earth, but needed God’s help, so he prayed unceasingly to God for this help. And God gave it to him.
And God will give the same help to us if we ask him. Let’s turn to him now and ask him.