HOMILY WEEK 18 05 – Year II
Radical Discipleship and Redemptive Suffering:
Optional Memorial of Blessed Frédéric Jansoone
(Nahum 1:15, 2:2, 3:1-7; Dt 32:35-41; Mt 16:24-28)
When asked to address a Christian Business Men’s Association breakfast just before Holy Week one year, I decided to speak about Radical Discipleship and Redemptive Suffering. While the talk was well received what struck me most was the response of a few individuals after who came up to me with comments like, “That was very unusual.” “Where did you get that information?” “I’ve never heard this before.”
I was a little bit shocked, certainly surprised, to hear those comments from this group. I can only assume they are more used to hearing about a gospel of prosperity from their pastor. That leaves me wondering what their pastor would say about today’s gospel passage, in which Jesus invites us to take up our cross and follow him if we would be his disciples?
The message to me is clear – if we are to be genuine disciples, we must take up our crosses and follow Jesus through his paschal mystery of passion, death and resurrection. Another way of putting this is that we are called to be radical disciples accepting some redemptive suffering in our lives.
In the Gospel, presents his disciples with the paradox of the Cross. They are to accept suffering as the way to follow him. If they gain their lives and refuse the cross, they will lose their lives. On the other hand, if they accept the cross and lose their lives, they will find life. This alludes to the mystery of redemptive suffering that is also the key to the kingdom – and an invitation to examine more closely this important teaching.
First of all, Jesus wants disciples, or followers. The Greek word for disciple is mathētḗs which means a life-long learner, one who makes it his or her task to try to learn as much as they can about the master, to emulate that master, to try to become a carbon-copy of the master – to think, feel and act like the master.
Redemptive suffering, or radical discipleship, happens to us when we get older or become ill and can no longer do anything – everything starts to be done to us, and a variety of crosses or forms of suffering begin to enter our lives, leaving us no choice in the matter. This is where our faith, and the call of Jesus comes in. We have a critical choice – we can resist and become bitter about this suffering, or we can allow that suffering to take on deep meaning and purpose, and become redemptive, linking us with the suffering of Jesus during his life and especially his passion and death on the cross.
The cross Jesus speaks about can be a challenge, some inconvenience, some form of unwanted suffering, an unpleasant burden, and unwanted intrusion into our lives. How we deal with this cross or suffering is critical.
Suffering can make us bitter, or better. The key to allowing our suffering to make us better, is to accept it without bitterness or resentment, like Jesus on the cross. On the cross, as evidenced by the Shroud of Turin, Jesus was totally at peace, because of his loving union with the Father, and his trust in the Father’s love for him that would lead to new life. His profound faith in that love allowed him to experience even the apparent absence of God in his life – “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” – without losing hope or serenity, as evidenced by his prayer, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
This is actually the secret to the mystery of the kingdom of God. Those who have this faith, this kind of trust in God’s love to accept suffering without bitterness or resentment, are actually already in the kingdom of God. Those who lack this faith are destined to try to avoid suffering in even desperate ways, such as is happening in our society today, which doesn’t understand suffering. So, what we see happening is physician-assisted suicide for the elderly, and a pandemic of opioid addiction as people try to medicate their suffering and pain, instead of allowing it to mature their character. As one psychologist from Ottawa wrote in Maclean’s Magazine some years back, “We used to think the enemy was death – now we know it is suffering.”
What Jesus is asking us to do is to follow him through his Pascal Mystery experience of passion, death and resurrection. The cross that comes our way becomes our passion, our suffering. When we accept it and deal with it, it becomes our death as we let go of bitterness or resentment. That in turn becomes our resurrection as we rise to a new depth of maturity, a deeper relationship with the suffering Jesus and greater peace and serenity in our lives.
Today, the church honors Blessed Frédéric Jansoone. Born in 1838 in Flanders, Frédéric was the 13th and last child of well-to-do farmers. In 1856, Frédéric left school to support his widowed mother. After his mother died in 1861, he completed his studies and joined the Franciscans. Ordained in 1870, he was assigned as military chaplain during the Franco-Prussian War. In 1876, he was sent to the Holy Land, where he reinstated the Stations of the Cross through the streets of Jerusalem, built a church in Bethlehem and negotiated an accord among the Roman, Greek and Armenian Christians concerning the use and maintenance of the sanctuaries of Bethlehem and of the Holy Sepulchre. When he came to Canada in 1881 on a fundraising tour, Frédéric’s skill as a businessman, diplomat and preacher assure him a successful mission. He moved to Canada permanently in 1888 and set about helping organizers develop the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rosary (Notre-Dame-du-Cap) at Cap-de-la-Madeleine near Trois-Rivières. Frédéric died in Montreal on August 4, 1916. Buried in the crypt of the Franciscan chapel at Trois-Rivières, he was beatified in 1988 by Pope John Paul II. I feel a particular attachment to this saintly person for two reasons – he helped build the shrine my missionary order runs, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and also was involved in the present arrangement of the holy sites in Jerusalem, where our pilgrimage groups worshipped.
We can even see the Eucharist, this sacrifice of a few hours of our day, as an opportunity to be a radical disciple accepting some little bit of suffering for the sake of the kingdom, that also places us more deeply within that kingdom. May our celebration today deepen our faith in and experience of God’s love for us, and empower us to follow Jesus into radical discipleship by accepting some crosses, some redemptive suffering in our lives with peace and joy.