Take up your cross and follow me!

The Fifth Sunday of Lent 2021

We are one week away from Holy Week.

May we prepare to celebrate the mysteries with profound reverence and love.

“The hour has come” Jesus says, “for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

“I solemnly assure you, 

unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies,

it remains just a grain of wheat.

But if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

The image is clear. Dying is part of living. No death, no life. No dying, no rising.

Jesus goes on with a riddle:

“The person who loves their life loses it,

while the person who hates their life

in this world

preserves it to eternal life.’

We often try to grasp the things and persons in our life tightly and not let go. Parents sometimes have difficulty letting go of their children. Persons diagnosed with terminal cancer sometimes have difficulty accepting the inevitable and have difficulty preparing for a peaceful—or as we used to say “a happy” death.

This scripture is about surrender.   About letting go.

We think of surrender as something unhealthy, that surrender means defeat. But for Jesus and for us surrender is the way to victory.

Jesus is a model of surrender and letting go for us. On the cross he stretched out his hands to be nailed. He let go of his ministry and his life and entrusted them to his heavenly Father.

He emptied himself—as the beautiful hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 shows us.

 If we want to live a truly spiritual life, we have to let go of all things that are not God.

There is a stripping process, a cleansing and purifying that is part of spiritual growth.

Throughout our lives we are given trials that can cleanse and purify us—if we let them.

We are to be purified as gold and silver are purified in the furnace.

The task is simple: to let go.

During this past year so many of us came to understand this.  The New York Times this past week and the Washington Post offered articles showing how much has changed in American life during the past year. Many or most of us have indeed surrendered to the Pandemic and the changes it has wrought in our lives. 

But we find that oh! so difficult. The more we realize we should let go, the tighter we cling to things and persons and pet projects.

When I used to walk  my dog Shoney, of happy memory, he was always on the hunt for chicken bones that our lawn-mower guys leave behind in the grass. Do you think I could get him to let go of one of the bones once he finds one? I was the one that used to do the surrendering ~ even though it was bad for him! But let’s move on.

“The person who loves his life, loses it” Jesus says.

Facing the issue of letting go and trying to discern the things we need to let go of is a holy and a wholesome process.

Forty years ago, at one of the darkest periods of my life, I came to realize that I needed to let go—not because it was the right thing to do but because I had no other choice. My life was not working any more. I had to try a different way.

I wrote the following prayer to capture the moment:

Lord Jesus, I surrender my ego;

forgive my sins of egotism.

Lord Jesus, I surrender my self-will;

let me be motivated by a loving concern for you and the people you want me to care for.

 Lord Jesus, I surrender my self-centeredness;

let me do what you want me to do.

Lord Jesus, bring the Father and the Holy Spirit and abide with me and remain with me.

Let me see as you see,

hear as you hear,

speak as you speak

and touch as you touch.

To you be glory and honor, forever. Amen

The Cross is a paradox.

An instrument of cruelty and death becomes a sign of life and eternal salvation. Jesus allowed the soldiers to strip him of his clothes and he stretched out his hands to be willingly nailed to his cross.

What was this amazing paradox Jesus was teaching us?

William Barclay offers three suggestions . . . .

First. Jesus was saying that by death comes life. The grain of wheat was ineffective and unfruitful so long as it was preserved in a jar or in a sack. It was when it was thrown into the cold ground, and buried as if in a tomb, that it bore fruit. It was by the death of the martyrs that the church grew. In a famous saying, “The blood of the martyrs in the seed of the Church.”

It is always because men have prepared to die that the great things have lived. By the death of personal desire and personal ambition someone becomes a servant of God.

Second. Jesus was saying that only by spending life do we retain it. The person who loves his life is moved by two aims, by selfishness and personal security. Not once but many times, Jesus insisted that the person who hoarded his life must in the end lose it. My mother had a saying,, “It’s better to burn out than to rust out.” The world owes everything to people who recklessly spent their strength and gave themselves to God and to others.

Third. Jesus was saying that only by service comes greatness. The people whom the world remembers with love are the people who serve others.

This Easter, may we surrender our life more fully, more richly into the hands of our loving Father. Let us unite to Jesus’ Cross the sins and shortcomings that hinder us from being the wonderful instrument of God that he wants us to be.

We surrender our failure to spend time in prayer with the Lord.

We surrender our failure to offer true care and support to one another. 

We surrender all our character defects, particularly our refusal to grow spiritually.

We surrender our cynicism and lack of trust.

Our poor self-esteem and failure to love and love and accept ourselves.

We surrender our resentments.

We our sins and our tendency to do evil. 

But we also surrender all the beautiful loving moments of our lives ~ all those who have helped us grow and blossom ~ all our loving relationships.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.”

And before you go, here’s a wonderful hymn with words on this Scripture. Click here.

Here are today’s Mass readings, if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series /The Gospel of John – Volume 2 / Westminster Press /Philadelphia 1975: p. 123.

And here’s a Prayer of Acceptance that I composed back in 2007.  Perhaps you’d like to copy and paste it and  print it to place in a prayer book.

Prayer  for Acceptance

Heavenly Father,

I praise and thank you for the gift of life and of love you share with me and my loved ones.

I find acceptance very difficult at times.

Sometimes I feel you give me crosses too difficult to bear.

I ask you now if in your kindness you would grant me the grace to accept . . .

(here name the situation or persons.)

I really want to live in your will but sometimes I lack the faith and hope to do so.

I sometimes feel self pity / discouragement /anxiety /guilt and poor self esteem.

I keep taking back the things and persons I have placed in your hands

as if I lack confidence in your ability to preside over my life.

Today ~ right now ~ I ask that I may accept my life as it is

so that I may receive your grace and your loving guidance.

Father, I also pray for those around me who may be struggling with difficult crosses.

I pray for those who are struggling with relationships with their spouses or their children.

For those who are having financial difficulties.

For those young people who have lost their way.

For those who are seriously ill or near death.

May we all be given the strength and the grace we need.

Father, I meditate now on the Cross of your Son

and our Brother Jesus Christ who willingly accepted death on a Cross.

May we be given the strength to unite our lives,

as meager s they may seem to be, with his act of sacrifice

so that we may experience the joy of his Resurrection. 

Father, I place my life in your hands.

Father, I place my life in your hands.

Father, I place my life in your hands

~ bob traupman / st. augustine ~ 2007

 

 

 

The Triumph of the Cross of Jesus ~ and our crosses too!

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross ~ September 14, 2014

 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John12:24.)

Jesus had said this to his disciples shortly after his entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. I’m thinking about the issue of Dying to Self these September days because we’re celebrating a favorite feast day of mine because I have an along association with the Cistercian Abbey of the Holy Cross in Berryville,Virginia, nestled on the Western side of the first ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the shore of the Shenandoah River. I’m also thinking of the issue of Dying to Self these September days because of some personal issues I’m experiencing as I enter the fiftieth year of my priesthood.

Many of us might shudder and quake in our sneakers at the thought of Dying to Self. It goes against everything our American culture tells us we should do—Look Out For No. 1 ~ especially what we  put up with from our elected officials, day in and day out these days. There has been talk about the “Me Generation” since the Seventies. I found quite interesting: Patricia Greenfield, a psychological scientist at the University of California in Los Angeles, used the Google Ngram Viewer to scan more than 1 million books. Her findings, which were published in Psychological Science, showed that there has been a distinct rise in more individualistic words such as “choose,” “get,” “feel,” “unique,” “individual” and “self” and a decrease in community-focused words such as “obliged,” “give,” “act,” “obedience,” “authority,” “pray” and “belong.” No sign of Dying to Self here, it seems. Let alone the Cross.

I wonder what will happen to our young people when they hit on hard times? When their climb toward success begins to crumble? When the girl that they’ve fallen head-over-heals in love with cruelly rejects them? Or as I just read in The Writer magazine, after five years of marriage, the successful screen-writer “Brendan” had grown tired of arguing with his wife, also a writer, but insecure and jealous of his success, told her he’s moving out? What happens to any of us when life does not turn out as we planned? When we suddenly lose our job? Or are diagnosed with cancer?

If you name the trauma(s) that have altered your life over the years . . . how did you deal with them? How did they affect you? What about Dying to Self?  Can you ~ do you ~ do that?

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life will lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:24.) Does this make sense to you?

For you? In another place, Jesus says to his disciples . . .

If any wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? (Luke 9:24-26 ~ NRSV)

Obviously, this is not the wisdom of the world with its emphasis on Power Prestige and Possessions. A priest-friend sent me a Christmas card a couple of years ago that I framed and placed on my dining room table —a quote of St. Paul’s:

My grace is enough for you, for in weakness power reaches perfection. And so I willingly boast of my weaknesses instead, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For when I am powerless, then I am strong (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Now here you have three koans to mull over, dear friends, and to try to grasp:

I / Unless a grain of wheat dies, it will not bear fruit.

II / Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. I

II / When I am powerless, then I am strong.

What is a koan, you might ask? A koan is a Zen saying often used by Buddhist monks to teach their novices: “To meditate on a koan is to engage in an active process, like that we engage in when we try to solve a mathematical problem. As in mathematics, the solution is supposed to come suddenly.”

So, rather than giving all your energy to the three P’s of the world, why not write these three Christian Scriptures on index cards and pull them out when you’re idle waiting for something else to happen? Try it! You just might be enlightened, as I somehow receive the gift of some in wisdom, as I have from time to time when I have been attentive to my prayer-life.

Jesus, of course, shows us the way.  Let’s look at the famous “Kenosis” passage of Philippians Chapter 2:6-11 “Kenosis”—meaning here Jesus’ self-emptying . . .

Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.

There it is, dear friends! Jesus gave his life for us. The movement was downward. Earthward. Earth-bound. Into the muck. Humility comes from the word humus, meaning muck. So, that’s what Dying to Self involves—getting down into the nitty-gritty of our lives and those of our loved ones and those we are called to serve. Being obedient to what life demands of us.  And beckons us to, whether we might like it not. Real Life elicits from our inner depths our best resources. Then . . .

Then . . . God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

And so, too, with us! We will be lifted up! I have experienced this several times. My longtime readers know that I’ve struggled with manic-depressive illness, and other issues with it, and later Parkinson’s disease, from which I received some sort of a miraculous release, according to my neurologist and very often financial struggles,like many of you.

But Jesus is faithful! Dying and rising is a continual process in nature and in our lives as well. We are taken down in some burden or crisis but, through faith, we are lifted up again! This is the Paschal Mystery. The Pasch ~ Passover ~ Passage ~Transition ~Transformation ~ Change. The Dying and Rising of Jesus in our lives is celebrated for us Catholics throughout the liturgical year and in every Mass.

Think about how you have experienced—and continue to experience the Paschal Mystery ~ this dying and rising ~ in your own life. And so, dear friends, I will bring this missive to a close by returning to the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and conclude with the wonderful words of the hymn Lift High the Cross. I remember when I first heard it. Trumpets and timpani sent shivers down my spine and goose bumps all over!

Lift high the cross The love of Christ proclaim,

Till all the world Adore His sacred name

Led on their way By this triumphant sign,

The hosts of God In conquering ranks combine. Refrain:

 

Each newborn servant Of the Crucified

Bears on the brow The seal of Him who died. Refrain

 

O Lord, once lifted On the glorious tree,

As Thou hast promised Draw the world to Thee. Refrain.

 

So shall our song Of triumph ever be:

Praise to the Crucified For victory. Refrain:

Now here is the hymn for your listening pleasure. Click here.  Be sure to turn up your speakers.

And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them.  Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

 

The Jesus I know and love

IMG_2022Thursday after Ash Wednesday, March 2, 2017

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

In the first reading, Moses says:

“I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. 

Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).

Now here are my thoughts on Moses’ address to his people.  One often hears the words Choose Life as a Pro-Life message.  That’s important, but each of us are invited to choose life again and again, every day.  This Lent is an acceptable time to choose the life that affirms and nourishes us and to extricate ourselves from the dysfunctional communication and game-playing within the walls of our own home that cauterise the souls of our spouses and our children.  Let’s choose Life this day in the way we speak to and about the folks we meet today.

Choice is an act of the will, the highest power of the human person.  We ought to choose our words carefully.  To preside over ~ take responsibility for what comes out of our mouths.  And to realize our words create life or death.

In today’s gospel, Jesus says,

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must take up his cross daily and follow me. 

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?  (Luke 9: 22-25)

My reflection: Jesus gives us a koan ~ a Zen word  that denotes a riddle that often takes a long time for us to get it.

Try to get into it this Lent. Ponder its meaning for you right now. Repeat it often until you get it.

It’s So counter-cultural.  In our society people do everything to avoid the smallest bit of pain. There are even numbing pads so that you don’t feel it when you prick your finger for the Accu-check  for diabetes.  And we avoid emotional pain by not thinking through our problems. We might be tempted to do this by running away by getting a hasty divorce or by dumping a girl friend who no longer suits us via way of a cruel text message.

The Cross of Jesus is about commitment. Lent places before us the Cross of Jesus and his loving embrace of it. He willingly stretched out his arms to be nailed. Jesus knew he would have to face a lot of suffering on his journey.  He knew  he would make people angry by telling the truth he saw in his heart.  He knew that it would lead him to death, but he kept heading on his way up to Jerusalem. The issue is Acceptance of whatever life calls us to. Jesus  accepted the Cross because he chose to be faithful to his mission.

Jesus did a brand new thing.  His message was that his Father-God embraces every person without exception.  His message was that He, Jesus, transcended the Law; that the only law was to love.  This went against the grain of those who saw him as a threat to all they knew.

In the desert, Jesus made a firm commitment to BE the truth that he saw in his heart no matter what.  Jesus embodied that highest moral standard: to commit his life to justice and love, no matter what it cost him.  His mission was very simple:   Stay on message, no matter what.    He was a person of absolute integrity.  No one was going to dissuade him from being who he was.

Very sadly, many in the church say that they believe in Jesus but are quick to condemn, quick to hate.  If you are one who has been condemned by the church or treated hatefully, I,  for one, ask forgiveness from you for I know Jesus would never want that for you.  And I ask for forgiveness and change of heart for those who do the condemning and the hating.

Finally, I  would like to be in solidarity with so many of us these days who have crosses to face that are profoundly difficult. Let us help each other to bear the crosses we must carry.  But remember, the key is acceptance.  Acceptance ~ the willingness to be nailed ~ is the secret to yours and my recovery.

This is the Jesus I know and love:  The one who has the strength to love, no matter what. He’s my hero.  I would like very much to be like that.  How ’bout you?

Tomorrow we begin to reflect on Jesus’ forty-day retreat into the desert, (the Mass text for this coming Sunday) to prepare for his mission. Now before you go, here’s a concert version of the old hymn “Jesus walked the lonesome valley” Click here.

And here are today’s Mass readings if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer