August 28, 2011 — Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Contradiction” is one of the words that best describes the Christian life. Not the sort of contradiction that is negative just for the sake of being contrary. Instead, the Christian lives a life that contradicts the world for the sake of the Kingdom of God. We have to say “no” to the world so that we can say “yes” to God.
The world, we know, is opposed to the Gospel, for the world, stained by sin, is centered on “self.” How can I gain the most riches, the most power, the most prestige, the most pleasure, the most popularity? These are the questions those who have conformed themselves to “this age” want answered.
But wait! “This age” – that’s the phrase St. Paul uses in today’s Second Reading from Romans. He tells the Roman Christians, “Do not conform yourselves to this age.” By “this age” he means the fallen world which seeks its own gain and puts “self” at the center of its universe, the world that’s under the dominion of sin, Satan, and death.
Christians, on the other hand, are instructed to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” That renewal will be accomplished by Jesus Christ whose grace works in those who turn to him. “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). But for that renewal to be worked out in our lives takes a transformation, a formation in God’s ways and his truth, so that we “may discern what is the will of God.”
And what is God’s will? That’s where the contradiction to worldly standards takes place. We find it most clearly in the Gospel we hear today, that Jesus, “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” must suffer greatly and be killed.
That’s bad enough. But then Jesus says that everyone who wishes to be one of his followers “must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
In other words, being transformed by the renewal of our minds in order to discern the will of God means denying ourselves and losing our life for Christ’s sake. That completely contradicts what the world tells us is the way to happiness.
For most of us, that does not mean literal martyrdom, actually losing our lives because of our Christian faith. Of course, that’s always a possibility. Christians are being killed because they’re Christians in some parts of the world even now.
But for most of us, the way we lose our lives for Christ’s sake is by denying ourselves and allowing our wills to die so that God’s will may live in us. It’s by allowing Jesus to work in our lives – to transform our minds – so they are renewed according to the pattern Christ set forth.
When we are so formed, we discover that it affects every aspect of our lives. With the grace of God, we begin to discern “what is good and pleasing and perfect” in God’s sight. We start to do our part to make what we so glibly pray for, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven,” come true.
And when our minds have been transformed, when they are renewed, we find that we can pray with our Lord, “Not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). And doing the Father’s will changes how we use our time, how we apply our talent, how we spend our treasure. For these are no longer used for our gain or our glorification or our gratification but turned over to God for his use.
Will the world respond with hostility and ridicule? Of course. That’s why the world sees the Christian life as a contradiction. But giving up our will for God’s will means that we will find a lifer richer than any the world can offer.