Many critics of religion say that religion is used by people to help them cope with the difficulties of life. Some see religion as an escape. It is a place or way of thinking that cushions people from the hard realities that life deals. If we reflect on this weekend’s readings, we hear a very different message or view of our faith in God and his Son Jesus.
In the Gospel Jesus was preparing his disciples that going up to Jerusalem will mean suffering, death and resurrection for him. Peter is horrified at this thought and wanted to reassure Jesus that nothing like this will happen to him. “Heaven preserve you, Lord; this must not happen to you.” This is a temptation. He calls Peter, “Satan”. The word means “adversary”. One writer suggests that Satan is any force which seeks to deflect us from the way of God. It is “any influence which seeks to turn us back from the way that God has set before us.” Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry, experienced a similar temptation in the desert. He was tempted to the way of power. “Give them bread,” “given them sensation”, “give them wonder”. This is the easier way than to do what God wants.
Jesus says to Peter that he has become an obstacle in his path, because his way of thinking is not God’s thinking. The call of Jesus to us to follow him might bring us suffering. The Prophet Jeremiah learnt this to his cost. He complains that speaking God’s word has led to him enduring insult and derision, all day long. “I cannot bear it”. Are we prepared to accept that doing God’s will does not necessarily bring us happiness and contentment here and now? God is asking more of us than we think we are capable of. Following Jesus means “costing not less than everything”. Because we are weakened by sin, it is hard to do good. How can we renounce ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus?
This is the challenge. It is important to remember that if God asks this of you then he will give you the grace to live a selfless life. This will bring us true and lasting joy.
I say this prayer of Charles de Foucault every day knowing that only his grace enables me to live this prayer.
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.