A passing passion or lifelong love?

Jer. 20.7-9; Ps. 63.2-9; Eph. 1.17-18; Mt. 16.21-27

As I drive my car, from time to time I see written on concrete highway overpasses words like these: "John loves Judy." And the date is given. Oftentimes, years have passed since the date of that graffiti. And I wonder if John still loves Judy, or was this relationship a passing passion instead of lifelong love.

The three readings today speak of individuals' irresistible love to do what God has called them to do. Jeremiah, St. Paul, and St. Peter were enthusiastic in responding to God. Jeremiah announces in chapter one that God has called him "to root up and to tear down, to build and to plant." Sounds easy, yes? St. Paul boasts in Philippians (1.21) "for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain;" the whole meaning of his life is Christ. In Galatians, Paul proclaims, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." (Gal. 2.20) What a wonderful spiritual experience, yes? St. Peter in today's gospel tries to do everything right. He is a great fellow. After Jesus declares that he has to suffer greatly, and be killed; Peter bravely steps forward and declares, "God forbid, Lord. No such thing shall ever happen to you."

All of these story lines start with great faith, hope, and love; with great expectation and enthusiasm. But then, reality sets. Life is not lived at a level of great expectation. Life has ebbs and flows.

The three characters in today's readings over time have to adjust their attitudes and actions. Jeremiah changes his tune from the effervescent enthusiasm of chapter one, to a new reality in today's chapter 20. The prophet writes: "You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped. The word of the Lord has brought me derision [mockery] and reproach. I cannot endure it." It sounds as if the bubble has burst. St. Paul, after his conversion dedicated his life to Jesus Christ. Remember the words: "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." But in today's reading from Romans, Paul advises other would-be disciples, as if to say, "this is not easy." Paul writes in Romans: "Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed." (Rom. 12.1) Paul has learned that living like Christ costs disciples dearly. St. Peter, always so desirous of being and doing good, hears Christ speak these words, in front of all the apostles: "Get behind me, Satan. You are an obstacle to me." (Mt. 16.23) What a humiliation. What a suffering.

Consider the experiences of these good and holy people, Jeremiah, Paul, and Peter. Their initial love, sooner or later, reaches a crisis point. The Greek word crisis means turning point. Do these three protagonists keep doing what God is asking them to do, or do they throw in the towel? For them, fidelity to God has become very painful.

Now, I'd like to apply this message to ourselves. Think of your general and specific vocation. Our general vocation is that we are baptized Christians, having been baptized in, for, and by Jesus Christ. For most of us in the congregation, our specific vocation might be child, student, single life, married life, separated or divorced, annulled or remarried, priesthood or religious life. Most of these specific vocations begin with big smiles, like holding in your arms a new born baby, or experiencing a child's first day at school, or enjoying the freedom, peace and quiet of the single life; or the joy of a wedding day, or vow day, or ordination day. These initial celebrations are wonderful. It is the next day, or sooner or later, some days, months, years that might not seem so wonderful. Problems inevitably appear, and crises comes into everyone's life. We reach turning points. We say in religious life that "we take our vows twice: once, as a youth wearing rose-colored glasses and a heart bursting with hope; and a second time, after having dealt with some crisis, with a heart that has been broken, and opened in the process. All of us in the congregation take our vows not just twice, but more likely 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 times. Seven, of course, is a symbolic number meaning countless times.

Your love and my love, our love for God, we want it to be, not a passing passion, but a genuine lifelong love, yes? If years ago, we would have written about our love for God on some highway overpass, would it still hold true for us today, or has our response matured? Jesus says in today's gospel, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." He also says, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." What motivates us? Our lifelong love for God motivates us, and strengthens us to take up Jesus' cross. In the midst our inevitable crises, our turning points, let's turn towards God, and continue to journey as did Jeremiah, Peter, and Paul.

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