I may have shared with you before that I had a surgery on my chest. I was born with pectus excuvatum a condition that caused my chest to be caved in slightly. In order to fix it, they had to do some major surgery. They called it minimally invasive but for me, it didn’t feel like that. I was in the hospital for about four to five days just so they could manage the pain I was going through. They even gave me a button to press that when the pain got worse, I could give myself more medication. I was pressing that button a lot.
Eventually I was discharged from the hospital and went home. However I wasn’t out of the woods yet. All that meant was that the pain had subsided enough to where I could go home and continue my recovery from there. Sparing you most of the details I had to take it easy because to much movement would cause me pain, lifting my arms in a certain way caused me pain. It was a difficult time for me but I got through it.
I must say that I watched a lot of TV and Netflix at that time. It helped distract me from my pain and it also helped me to pass the time. But I must admit that God was there with me during my recovery and there were a couple moments that he reminded me of that. One time he reminded me of his presence through a song I love and I have fond memories of. My parents liked it too, I was sitting in a chair trying to let the pain go that I was feeling. Then my parents in the other room played that song that I love. Not knowing I needed to hear it but it was God’s timing! God was also present to me in the people who came by to visit, the times of prayer that I had and so many other ways. Sure while Netflix, amazon prime, and other TV shows got me through that surgery, so too did God’s loving presence in my life.
We just heard in the Gospel, whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. These are challenging words for us to hear. God is telling us that we need to pick up our crosses and follow him. The cross for the people in Jesus’ time was a brutal form of execution. Again I’ll spare you the details but it wasn’t a pleasant way to die, rather it was a very brutal way to die. Jesus is telling his disciples to pick up their cross and follow him. Jesus wants to make clear to them that unless they willingly accept suffering and death they cannot be his disciples. All of his disciples would face martyrdom, only one survived and was exiled for his faith. Jesus reemphasizes the point when he says Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Jesus is challenging his disciples to willingly let go of their lives for his sake. That means they must willingly face persecution and death for his sake in order to be his disciples.
What does this mean for all of us? How does this apply to our lives? God willing all of us will die when we grow old and not from something unexpected. It’s likely none of us will be killed for our faith and become martyrs. Despite this God still calls us to be his disciples and to take up our crosses and follow him. What does this look like? I believe it is a loving acceptance of what God has given us and the suffering that comes in our lives. Again we likely won’t face martyrdom but we will face pain and suffering in this life. Our willing acceptance of that pain and suffering is our call to follow him.
I know that this pain and suffering isn’t always easy, it is a challenge to us. I know as I went through the pain of the surgery and the time after the surgery it wasn’t easy. It’s not something that I want to go through again. However, God gave me plenty of reminders of his presence with me. I too remember that many priests and even Bishop Muench came to visit me after my surgery. What was clear to me in that time was that God was with me in my suffering and he would help me get through it.
Finally, I would like us to reflect on the fact that when we suffer when we take up our crosses and follow him, we grow closer to Jesus who suffered on the cross for our sake. The next time pain or suffering may enter your life I encourage you to go to Jesus on the cross and grow close to him in prayer. It’s not easy to take up our cross and follow him. But through his cross, though his death and resurrection we will have eternal life. Suffering is no fun but because of Jesus’ death on the cross we can come to salvation through suffering!