13th Sunday of Ordinary Time Year A:
What does it mean to be Christian? Sometimes we focus so much on details that we can forget about some of the basics. Normally when we try to answer: what is a Christian, we might start to mention a number of actions Christians should do: loving, kind, generous, etc. And, all of that stuff is true. But, these actions don’t answer the question: what is a Christian? We might also so: a Christian is a person who believes in Jesus Christ. This is also true, but not quite complete.
I would answer the question like this: a Christian is a person who lives in Christ, with Christ, and seeks to be like Christ. A Christian is a person who is united to Jesus, but also a person who is trying to live just like Jesus lived. A Christian has the mind of Christ, the heart of Christ.
Only in this context can we understand the words of Jesus. He says some serious things today in the gospel: whoever loves father, mother, son, or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Take up your cross and follow me. Jesus is not telling us to stop loving our family members. Jesus is not telling us to take up our cross simply because he enjoys our suffering. Rather, his words come in the context of what it means to be Christian: we are called to be in union with Christ and living like Christ. Now, of course, a Christian loves his/her family members, but that love is guided and shaped by our living relationship with Christ. We embrace our sufferings, not because we enjoy pain, but because our cross helps to cure us of our innate selfishness.
So, being a Christian is more than just a program for living, more than just a set of guidelines and principles. Being a Christian means a major change in our lives. It means Christ is the heart and center of all that we do. But, how many of us can say that? I know I struggle, even as a priest, to make Christ the heart and center of my life. Sinfulness and selfishness can creep in all the time.
But, this is not a new problem. St. Paul was addressing it with the Romans 2000 years ago: you should consider yourself dead to sin and alive in Christ Jesus. This is a pretty amazing line if you really stop to think of it. How much different would our lives seem if we were truly dead to sin, all sin, all day, every day? It would be an amazing change.
After high school I started helping out with a youth group over at St. Pat’s downtown. This youth group was called “The dead theologians society.” Now, this is dating me a little bit, because the name was kinda borrowed from the Dead Poets Society, which is a movie that is close to 30 years old now… But, the idea of this youth group was that each week we would gather to study the life of a saint or theologian. This gave us a great exposure to some of the wonderful theologians and saints of the history of the church. But, I was struck by the motto of the club: it was mortuum mundo, vivum in Christo. This is Latin for: “dead to the world, alive in Christ.” This motto is based on this line from St. Paul. Christians are called to be alive in Christ, but dead to sin. This motto has stuck with me over the years. If we want to be alive in Christ, then we need to turn our back on sin.
So, Christians are called to be like Christ, called to be in union with Christ. The life of a Christian is anything but boring or plain. Rather, we are called to be truly alive. Yet this life is certainly different than what the world would hold dear. Jesus’ words might strike us a strange today. But, for those truly alive in Christ, these words cause us no problems whatsoever. Therefore, let us all take up our crosses and follow after Christ; let us live up to our calling as Christians to die to sin and to be alive in Christ Jesus our Lord. We do this not because Christianity is about following weird rules. We do this because we want to be united to Christ, we want to be like Christ, so that we can live with him forever.