Thank you all for welcoming here to New Mexico. As I said, my name is John, and I’ve just driven across the country from New York City to be here with you. I’m 43 years old, was born in North Carolina, raised in Washington, D.C., attended Duke University, entered the Jesuits twenty years ago and was ordained nine years ago in 1993.
The Jesuits, as you know, are an old, medieval religious order, one of the largest in the church, founded in the early 1500s by St. Ignatius Loyola. The Society of Jesus runs schools and universities around the world, and tries to promote the Gospel of justice and peace, to help people find God wherever they are, especially as they work for justice and peace.
For the last six years, I have lived in New York City, where I worked at a large interfaith organization that promotes reconciliation around the world. After September 11th, I worked full-time for the Red Cross, counseling thousands of grieving relatives and rescue workers, as well as coordinating the chaplains’ program at the New York Family Assistance Center.
I’ve always loved New Mexico, and as I was discussing my next assignment with the Jesuits and the needs of the church here, I volunteered to come to New Mexico. The Archdiocese asked me to come here to the Northeast, and I’m delighted to be with you. My first reaction is: It’s a little different from the Upper West Side of Manhattan! So you’ll have to teach me how to be your pastor, and help me to get to know you all. Father Brescher told me wonderful things about you, how deep your faith is, how kind and loving your are, how committed you are to your church, and how compassionate you are, and I feel blessed to be with you and ask for your support and prayers. He did say, however, that there was one problematic parishioner-the bear! A bear has started to eat off the apple tree behind the house where I live, every night for the last two weeks. Then last Sunday, he appeared at the back door of St. Joseph’s church-during Mass.
Now in New York City, we have a lot of problems, but we don’t have bears, so you’ll have to help me with them. Twenty years ago, a wise Jesuit said to me that the key to our lives as Christians is to get our story to fit into the story of Jesus. Like all of you, I just want to love and serve Christ, to follow Jesus, to carry on his work of peace and love, and today’s Gospel is one of the most important, pivotal moments in the life of Jesus, a real turning point.
Jesus suddenly announces to his friends that he is going to Jerusalem to turn over the tables of injustice in the Temple, and for this he will be arrested, jailed, tried, tortured and executed, a victim of the death penalty. And Peter speaks up and says, “God forbid, Lord! We don’t want you to get in trouble and get killed!” But Jesus says, “You are not thinking like God! Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. Whoever loses their life for my sake, will find it. What profit is there if you gain the whole world and lose your soul? Instead, take up your cross and follow me!”
I don’t know about you, but there is a large part of me that is like Peter, that says, “Wait a minute, Lord. You’re great and we love you, but we don’t want to you to make a scene and get killed. We don’t want you to take up the cross, and we don’t want to take up the cross either. Life is hard enough!” Peter thought the Jewish messiah was going to be a political/military leader who would overthrow the Roman empire and restore Israel to Jerusalem.
But Jesus is not like that at all. He is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah who gives his life for the whole human race, in perfect nonviolent, selfless love. The cross is a scandal to Peter and to all of us. But for Jesus, the cross is the way to God. The cross is the way to life and peace and resurrection. The cross is the center of the spiritual life, the path of love, the way to relate to Christ.
Following Jesus means denying ourselves, taking up the cross, loving everyone, showing mercy and compassion to everyone, resisting injustice and war, not hurting anyone, helping others, forgiving everyone and remaining faithful to our loving God no matter what. In other words, trying to lay down our lives in loving service of others, in the struggle for justice and peace, as Jesus did.
I hear you have all been doing these things. As we come to this Eucharist and celebrate the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, and receive his body and blood together, and pray for the grace to follow him and carry the cross of love and peace with him, we can give thanks knowing that we are walking in the footsteps of Jesus, that we are all greatly blessed.