By Francesca Santelli
“Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”
They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.”
And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Messiah.”Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.
He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this, he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.
Jesus speaks to everyone when he says we must take up our crosses, deny ourselves, and lose our lives for his sake and that of the Gospel. This is demanding language, but I think it is Jesus’ way of emphasizing the importance of making sure God is at the center of our lives at all times. His words may be big and dramatic, but they can be fulfilled through small, simple, daily ways of dying to ourselves and uniting our lives (and especially our sufferings) to Christ on the Cross. As Catholics, we believe that God gives us graces through such an offering, making us more like Christ, making us more ready for heaven, where we will be with him in love for all eternity.
When the Lord speaks of gaining the whole world but losing one’s soul–again, very dramatic language–my mind turns to the dangers of celebrity and power–an extreme example for extreme language, but there’s meaning in the extremity. We could gain immense wealth, become famous, or attain unbelievable power. In doing this, we risk losing ourselves if we overwhelmingly embrace the material. We can become self-absorbed and detached from the spiritual because all we want to experience is the material, yet, as Christ teaches, the material is never fully satisfying; it always leaves something to still be wanted. This is why Christ asserts, in another passage, that he is the “Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He is the fulfillment of our heart’s primordial need.
When I feel burdened, I tend to not follow what Jesus wants me to do. I go off on my own, trying to figure things, and this can weaken my relationship with Christ. This passage is calling me to grow by trying to learn how to fully and wholeheartedly trust Jesus through the path he is taking me on in my life right now. This passage is teaching me to not shy away from Jesus, but to keep moving forward, even when times seem impossible.