AUGUST 8, 2008- MATTHEW 16:24-28
WHAT PROFIT WOULD A MAN SHOW IF HE WERE TO GAIN THE WHOLE WORLD AND LOSE HIS SOUL IN THE PROCESS? This passage of Saint Matthew’s gospel brings together several distinct but closely related ideas. The thought connecting them is implicit rather than expressed. When Jesus stated that discipleship entails suffering in imitation of his own example as he carried out the Father’s will, he presumes that such a discipleship will seem to be a bad choice, a foolish loss of opportunity to better one’s lot in life. To follow the inner light shinning only in the soul, hidden from the sight of others who walk in more familiar, smoother paths will set a person at odds with society. Such a one will appear to waste natural talents, turn the back on the good things of life, in short, to miss out, and throw away success. In short, the disciple who follows Christ must accept this kind of disapproval by those who do not share the faith our Lord asks from those he calls to follow him.
The disciple in this sense loses his or her life. Our Lord here gives assurance that such a loss is, in fact, the right way to success in life. This kind of loss is pure gain for in choosing to follow Christ even when it entails such loss of worldly advantage, a person, in fact, procures the one thing necessary, the self that resembles its creator.
Jesus’ words are intended to make clear that the measure of success in life is not on the surface. On the contrary, he warns us that the truth of character and human behavior is not subject to evaluation by standards used by the generality of people. So much is this the case that the real success in life is judged commonly as failure, and is felt as loss. “He who loses his life for my sake”, the Lord tells us, “will find it.” This state of affairs will become manifest at the end, when the Son of man comes in glory to judge, not according to appearances, but rather in light of the dispositions of the heart.
To prepare the heart to respond to Truth as revealed in the words of Jesus is the task of every one who would follow in his footsteps. Saint Paul was keenly aware that this concern should dominate our thinking and motivate our actions in daily life. He understood this interior work as the very essence of the Christian life. ”If there is in Christ a new creature, then the old things have passed away. See! All things are new. . . . in all matters let us conduct ourselves as ministers of God” (2 Cor 5:17). As Saint John Cassian makes clear in his First Conference, the whole striving of the one dedicated to search for God is for the sake of attaining that purity of heart without which no one can see God. Such concern for the primacy of the inmost dispositions of the heart is illustrated by the lives of our fathers and mothers in the faith. There are outstanding examples of such dedication not only in the ranks of monks and nuns, of saintly bishops and virgins, but also among lay persons, sincere disciples of Christ. A number of such Christian men contributed greatly to the common good of our country in the course of their public service. Here are the words of Senator Fessenden of Maine as he replied to the severe criticism of his friends who turned against him for the unpopular stand he took on a national issue: “I, not they (my critics) am responsible to God and man for my action and its consequences.” He voted according to the dictates of conscience knowing the cost to his promising career, and paid the price.
Each of us in more private situations is confronted with what is essentially the same challenge that our Lord poses to his followers in today’s Gospel. He reminds us that fidelity to the inner self, enlightened by his words, is the one thing necessary for success in life. May this Eucharist obtain for us the grace always to show our self responsive to this basic teaching of Jesus and prepare our self for our meeting with him by daily striving after purity of heart.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger