December 1981 was a turning point in my life. That Autumn, I started studying for a Master of Business Administration degree, and I was in the middle of preparing for the semester's final exams. But as I prepared for the tests, I began asking myself, "Why am I doing this? Is this what I want to do with my life?" I began to realize learning about debits and credits, Business Law, and finance wasn't making me happy.
What was enjoyable to me was my work with the needy through my parish's St. Vincent de Paul Society. What was bringing me joy and happiness was prayer, teaching, and sharing my faith with a Confirmation class as part of my church's Religious Education program.
That December was a real turning point for me. I began to recognize that God was calling me to do something different with my life. God was calling me to not only change my plans but to change my way of looking at what was valuable in life.
God was encouraging me to give up the idea that financial security, material objects, a wife, and family were the proper measures of success. I began to recognize God's call to accept a different set of values. A set of values that is very counter-cultural. A set of values that demand a lifestyle of self-denial, chastity, and service to others. A pattern of life that put the most emphasis on the love of God and service to God's people in the Church. God asked me to begin thinking about the priesthood.
It took me a while to go all the way around the corner, but I finally accepted that turning point in my life. It hasn't always been an easy decision. Sometimes I have wondered what I have gotten myself into. But I am pleased that I did. I am happy and joyful that I willingly accepted that turning point in my life and decided to become a priest.
Jesus and the disciples have reached a turning point in his ministry as we read in today's gospel passage from Matthew. Last week we heard Peter forcefully proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah! The Son of the living God! Peter and the other disciples have been with Jesus for a while. They have seen the miracles and healings Jesus performed. They have listened to Jesus as he preached the coming of the Kingdom of God, and they are convinced Jesus is the Messiah.
But today Jesus is telling the disciples they have come to a turning point too. The disciples have the wrong impression of the Messiah. They believed the Messiah was going to be a forceful military and political leader. The Messiah would cast off the bonds that subjugated Israel to the control of a foreign power. Once the Messiah came, it would be smooth sailing. The disciples believed when the Messiah came, Israel would regain a position of power and glory. The disciples thought they would be the conquer rather than the conquered.
The disciples weren't the only ones to have this impression of the Messiah and God. Jeremiah, the prophet, had the same idea. Jeremiah felt called by God to proclaim repentance to the people of his day. Jeremiah thought that because God had called him and empowered him, prophecy would be easy, and everything would be fine. Jeremiah found that was not the case. Instead, he experienced suffering and pain. Jeremiah experienced ridicule rather than reward. Being God's messenger wasn't as easy as Jeremiah thought, and he wanted to call it quits.
Many of us have the same idea as Jesus' disciples and Jeremiah. We misunderstand what it means to be a believer that Jesus is the Messiah. We think being faithful means, our lives should be comfortable and free of concerns, suffering, or pain. Often when I speak with people undergoing hardships, they will say to me, "Why me, Father? Why is this illness or loss happening to me? I go to Mass every week, I pray. I say the rosary. I try to live a good life." We feel because we have been faithful, we should not have to suffer. We think because we have tried to be loyal to God, we deserve to be able to avoid tragedy and pain.
In today's gospel, Jesus tells the disciples they have to give up the false impressions they have about the identity of the Messiah and accept his real character. The disciples have come to the point where they must accept the truth that following Jesus and being faithful to God doesn't mean they are in for an easy and blissful life from now on.
Jesus tells his disciples they have reached a turning point. They have come to the place they must decide if they want to be faithful to God. The moment has come where they must choose to put their relationship with God first in their lives. The disciples must be willing to suffer for their relationship with God. They must be ready to dethrone themselves and enthrone God at the center of their lives. The disciples have come to the point where they have to decide if they are willing to follow Jesus and take up the cross. They must put being of service to others as the focus of their lives. If they're going to accept Jesus as the Messiah, they have to be prepared to imitate Christ and be completely obedient to God. Obedient to accepting persecution, ridicule, and even death on the cross. It will be then that they will have life and not mear existence.
In much the same way, we face a turning point in our relationship with God today too. Like Peter and the other disciples, we have to turn away from a false notion of the Messiah. We have to turn away from the erroneous thought that because we are faithful to God, life is going to be without any suffering. No, coming to have a relationship with the Messiah means we are going to have to understand following Jesus means we must accept suffering in this life.
Like the disciples, we face a turning point today. We must choose between accepting the Messiah for who he is. Making that turn means we have to accept suffering and upheaval in our lives. We have to ask ourselves whether we are ready to pay the price for being a disciple of Jesus.
As Paul told the Romans in today's second reading, accepting Jesus as the Messiah means we cannot allow ourselves to conform to this world. It means embracing a set of values that is very counter-cultural. It means we may have to lose a friend, sacrifice a job, give up some of the things we now think are essential if we are to be faithful to God.
Today's readings ask us to come to a turning point in our relationship with God. Turn away from our false impression of who we think God should be and accept God as God. Turn away from the false assumption that faithfulness means we deserve to live without pain and disappointment in our lives. Accept the call of Jesus to follow him to the cross and be obedient to God.
That is a challenging thing to do. If we do accept that turning point in our lives, then we will be like Jeremiah, unable to go back. Our hearts will burn so much with the love of God; we will not be able to do anything but proclaim God's presence in our world. It is a difficult thing to do but something we do not need to do alone. It is something we do with the presence of Christ in our midst. It is something we do because Christ is with us giving us grace in this Eucharist.
As you now prepare to receive the real presence of Christ in this Eucharist, either physically or as spiritual communion. Pray that God will be present to each one of us so we can come to accept our turning point to a more faithful relationship with God.