17 February
Mk 8:34—9:1

Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want 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, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." And he said to them, "Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power."

In yesterday’s gospel passage Jesus introduced the scandalous theme of suffering.  He was trying to draw the disciples into a deeper understanding of his identity.  It was his hardest lesson, and it has to be learned over and over again.  In today’s reading the lesson continues.  It is not only about him, it is also about us.  “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” 

The Christian faith is seldom allowed to challenge the ego; instead it is used to extend it to infinity.  But saints are people who have received the challenge and lived by it.  They assure us that there is no such thing as a painless life, and so running from pain cannot be the answer: we only run into the arms of greater pain.  Yes, they tell us, exclude all foolish self-imposed pain.  Work with what is left – the inevitable pain of life.  Rest at peace with this pain: it is your best teacher and friend; it opens the gate to life.  It questions your understanding of who and what you are.  It takes away your cushions so that you can feel reality.  This is not horrible; it is a promise of life – because only reality can save us.   If things go against you don’t take it as a personal insult; it is God trusting you.  The dream of endless comfort is an insult, not this.  God loves you enough to take you out of yourself.              

Hear it from a saintly man.  "Self-love is proud of its spiritual accomplishments. You must lose everything to find God for himself alone. You won't begin to let go of yourself until you have been thrown off a cliff.   God takes away in order to give back in a better way." (François Fénelon, 1651 -1715)

We would rather be ruined than changed,
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.  (W.H. Auden)


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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 


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