Why aren’t there more Christians, more Catholics, in the world? Is it because our faith is false, is it because our faith isn’t rational, is it because God only calls a portion of us to come to belief? No, God calls all to know and believe in him. Also, he isn’t mean, he doesn’t ask us to abandon our rationality, our intellects. Jesus spends time explaining to his disciples the will of God. Yes, God’s Word enlightens the human mind, but it also elevates human love. Through faith we see how it is good to suffer for the sake of another. God teaches us to see things how he sees them, God asks us to do things which he has already done. This higher form of love includes carrying our cross; but this we do not like. We are tempted to reject our cross, and therefore Jesus, never embracing the higher love to which he calls us, divine love.
In the first reading we hear Isaiah say, “God has opened my ears so that I might hear, and I have not rebelled.” What has he not rebelled from? If life in God didn’t include some difficulty, some conversion of our hearts, then there would be nothing to rebel against. No, Isaiah answered God’s call to become a great prophet. He willingly endured suffering in order to bring the Word of God to others. He heard and did not rebel. This is why there aren’t more Christians, not because people cannot hear God’s call and his truth, but because some rebel. Our Catechism quotes Pope Pius the 12th saying, “The truths that concern the relations between God and man … if they are translated into human action … call for self-surrender and abnegation (self-denial). … So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true, is false or at least doubtful.”
Consider this. When a father first sees his little baby girl for the first time, he is filled with love. He wants to do everything for her: he wants to protect her; he wants to care for her. What happens when the diaper needs to be changed? What happens when the baby is crying in the night? When we first saw her, we were ready to do anything for her. When it comes time to make the sacrifice, we change our tune, we begin to rationalize and justify backing away. This is what happens to a human being who hears the Word of God, there is an immediate glimmer in the soul about having found the eternal truth. But then our minds turn to how belief in God gets translated into action. This means that we are called to abandon some of our earlier behaviors, to deny ourselves; this means that we will have to sacrifice and maybe endure some persecution, to carry the cross. Is it any wonder why as our culture becomes less Christian, we are having fewer babies. It is because even though babies are a great joy, they also call us to a sacrificial love, a following of Christ.
This is what Christ was teaching his disciples in the Gospel. Here we find the first realization, the first confession, that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed one. But how does Jesus respond to this correct belief about himself? He immediately tells them of the actions required for being the Messiah. He will suffer, die, and rise. And when Peter rebukes Jesus, he rebukes Jesus for what? … for accepting the cross. In response, Jesus teaches them that to accept God, to accept him, means loving as he loves. This higher form of love accepts the cross. Jesus invites us to do this for his sake, that means, out of love for him. If we want to follow him, to be with him, we must take our cross. But he asks us to do this not only for his sake, but for the sake of the Gospel, out of love for neighbor, so that all might come to know this higher form of love which God has shown us. As St. James says, “Faith is demonstrated through works.” We demonstrate God’s love to others, and bring about conversion as we deny ourselves.
Of course, even Jesus struggled with the cross, he fell three times, he accepted help in carrying it, but he never rebelled against it. We, on the other hand, being sinners, have difficulty denying ourselves and carrying our cross; we rebel. He will forgive us of this, and we can begin again, but know that when we don’t carry our cross, this effects not only us but others. Nothing else calls back those who reject the cross except seeing others carry their own cross. Nothing else touches and softens hearts except seeing another suffer out of love for them. Nothing else shares the truth of Christ and his Church except loving as Christ loves us. When we rebel against the cross, we and others suffer the lack of coming into contact with divine love. The next time we struggle with belief in Christ or with the teachings of his Bride the Church, let us realize that the reason probably isn’t that we are unsure of their truth, but that we are rebelling against the cross. Instead, let us allow divine love to elevate us to new life.