Years ago, I read an article about a lady by the name of Dana Jebson who shared her story about how her father decided that he did not want to raise a family because he was not ready to take this responsibility and how he took off. This happened when she was just a year old. Four years later, her father was diagnosed with prostate cancer and his perception of life altered. He had a change of heart and wanted to come home to fulfil his role as a loving husband and father. He then actually became the absolute best father that Dana could possibly have. But, when she was 12, his cancer took a turn for the worse and became terminal. To give back what her father had given Dana, she took care of him for about a year before he eventually died. Dana’s relationship with her dad was really special and she is absolutely blessed to be a splitting image of him.
Another story is about a priest who had the opportunity to go to a remote village in Uganda to carry out his missionary work. Father experienced an entire civilisation ravaged with AIDS and he met many children who were born in single family or who were orphaned. However, these children were so positive and strong in overcoming anything that they were wonderfully giving and caring for one another. They would all crowd together and lift each other up no matter what the circumstances were. Thoughts went through Father’s mind, “What do I have to feel bad about or to ever feel sorry for myself?” Soon, he fell in love with all the children, for their strength and courage to live on. In particular, Father fell in love with a girl by the name of Agnes who had lost both her parents to AIDS and has the responsibility to care for her younger brother. Father told her that he would pay for both of them to go to a boarding school. Her face lit up and she gave him a smile so big that it left a huge impression on him. She immediately ran away and gather a bunch of wild flower as a way of showing him gratitude. Although it did not take much from Father to give a small donation to the school to accept them, it made a world of difference to Agnes. It meant everything for her.
My dear friends, in the Gospel of Matthew 16:24, Jesus says to His apostles, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me." The “Cross” is never easy to understand and even more difficult to accept. This is mainly because none of us want pain in our lives. When we are experiencing pain in life, it is very tempting to give up trying and to give up the cross. However, the stories of Dana and Agnes show us a different dimension of what the cross of Jesus means. The daily cross that Jesus wants us to carry is not so much that He wants us to suffer pain in life. The essence of the cross of Jesus is about love and compassionate; not pain.
The “cross” of Dana was to accept her father back into her life, to forgive and love him again and unconditionally. This was never easy for her, but eventually over the 7 years of her life taking care of her dad, they developed a relationship that Dana described as an “absolute best father” who was really special to her. As for Agnes, the Ugandan girl, in loving and in being able to feel the goodness of all the suffering people in the poor village, Agnes went beyond her pain of her life and it transformed to love and strength for her to move on. When we shun the “daily crosses” that Jesus says is necessary for us to take up if we want to be a follower of His, we are actually turning away God’s invitation to go forth and love those who have hurt us. Let us be realistic and not deny that to love unconditionally will be agonising and for some of us humanly impossible. However, we too must remember that the more difficult it is to love unconditionally, the more graces Jesus will give us to fulfil His father’s Will.
If Jesus were to proclaim that the gift of eternal life and resurrection is without the need to carry our daily crosses, it would be like saying that we can love someone deeply without the need to make any sacrifices to show our love for the person. This is a contradiction of what love is about. If there is genuine love, there will be painful sacrifices and humble acceptance of the person we love who is not perfect. This is precisely how Jesus loves us; unconditionally to the point of laying down His life for us even though we remain imperfect and sinful in our daily living. If a person is totally selfless, caring and concerned about you regardless of how much sacrifices he/she has to make and how painful it is for him/her to forgive you for the wrongs that you have done against the person, then you can without doubt say that he/she truly loves you very much.
To be a follower of Christ means that we are called to be like Him who was willing to carry His Cross and even die for us. Are we willing to die for Christ as He died for us? When St. Matthew wrote his Gospel, it was during the time when Christians were persecuted and many were martyred for their faith. However as students in the University, it is unlikely that we will be martyred for our faith. However, we are called to carry our crosses daily and make all the needed sacrifices that God wills of us, if we want to be His follower. The true story of Dana has shown us that it is possible to love unconditionally. And if we do so, as she did, our lives will be transformed; healing will take place and our broken relationships can even develop into an intimate and special relationship in God’s presence.
As we enter the final week of Lent and prepare ourselves for Easter, let us ask ourselves how we as students can carry our “crosses”. In which areas in my life do I find to be a barrier in my love for God? Is it my self-centeredness that ignores the needs of my friends, the lonely and the poor? Is it my pride that refuses to forgive others? Which one of these areas would Jesus wants me to change for the better so that I can carrying my cross daily and be His true follower?
† In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
MC for the Altar Servers