Jesus in today’s Gospel tells us two things. First He asks each of us, “Who do you say that I am?” Second, Jesus says, “take up your cross every day and follow me. If you lose your life for my sake, you will save it” meaning to say, you will gain eternal life.
I would like to begin with the story of Albrecht Durer. There are different versions of this story, but I would like to tell you my adapted version. Albrecht had a very good friend called Franz Knigstein. Both of them loved to draw and paint, and dreamt of becoming great artists. However, both of them came from poor families and none of them could afford to go to any university to develop their talents.
One day, Franz told Albrecht, “Why don’t we take turns to help each other. One of us go to university, and the other would work to support the other; both agreed and thought it was a very good idea, but who is to work and who is to go to university first? Franz volunteered to work first while Albrecht went for his studies. So, Franz worked hard and made sure that he sent enough money to Albrecht for his studies and expenses. Albrecht also studied and worked very hard at developing his talents and eventually turned out to be an excellent artist.
Finally, Albrecht graduated and worked very hard at trying to sell his paintings. One day he sold one of his best paintings for a lot of money. He was very happy and rushed home to give the money to his dear friend Franz as it was now his turn to begin his university studies. When Albrecht met Franz, in great excitement and joy he said, “Franz I have just sold one of my paintings and I have enough money to send you to university. It’s your turn now.
To his surprise, Franz remained silent and solemn, but clearly very much at peace. Franz, then said, “Albrecht my friend, I can no longer draw and paint. “But why?” Albrecht insisted. Franz simply said, “My friend, now that you are a great painter, I am so happy for you.” Albrecht left his friend in silence, but clearly in peace. Albrecht was very puzzled, but did not insist on an explanation.
However, later during the day, Albrecht went to Franz’s home as he still wanted to find out why Franz no longer wanted to paint and draw. He thought to himself, “This cannot be, Franz is even a more gifted artist than I am!” When he went into Franz’s home he found Franz on his knees praying; Franz was thanking God for the making Albrecht such a genius painter.
Suddenly, Albrecht’s eyes caught sight of Franz’s hands and immediately became aware of why Franz is no longer able to draw and paint. His heart sank and his eyes welled up with tears. Franz’s many years of working so hard as a labourer have made both his hands old, stiff, worn out and twisted; he can no longer hold the small brushes and drawing pencils. Albrecht painted Franz’s hands as he saw them when they were joined in prayer for him. This is the story behind the “praying hands” painting that all of us have seen before.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the “cross” that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel is about sacrifice; a sacrifice that He willingly took upon Himself out of love for us. Franz too bore the crosses of the many years of hard labour willingly and out of love for his friend Albrecht. When there is love, sacrifices and pain become meaningful challenges. Albrecht not only laboured for his friend, he praised and thanked God for the success of his friend; that’s true love.
When there is love, we labour for the person we love and we dream only of the good and happiness of the person we love. In an infinite way, Jesus embraced the Cross and all His suffering and death lovingly for you, for me and indeed for all peoples in the world, just so that we can all gain eternal happiness.
Today’s Gospel passage of Jesus asking each of us to “take up our crosses daily out of love for Him so that we can gain eternal life is a challenge for us to love Him more personally and more wholeheartedly. Today’s Gospel passage is very appropriate too as we celebrate “Father’s Day” today. Franz’s sacrifices of love for his friend and Jesus’ infinite sacrifice of His death on the Cross for us remind us of how our own fathers too must have gone through such sacrifices for each of us.
My dad was a simple businessman who worked very hard to bring up our family. At the funeral Mass of my dad, I shared the misunderstandings I believed many of my relatives had of him. I told them, “Many of you think that my dad was a stingy man. Did you know that when I wanted to go for studies in the UK, dad immediately gave me his full permission without second thoughts? Did you know that in his stinginess, he was actually saving all his money for his children’s education? Did you know that he not only sent me, but also my two younger brothers overseas for studies – one to the United Kingdom and another in the United States; all the three of us around the same time? Did you know that when I started working in UK, and was earning enough, that I had to write to my dad three letters before I could persuade him to stop sending me money? For my dad’s funeral Mass, I chose the Gospel of St John 12:24 which says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.” In today’s Gospel Jesus adds, “those who lose their life for my sake will save it and gain eternal life.”
I am sharing all these with you not only to illustrate the meaning of today’s Gospel, of Jesus asking us to carry our daily crosses, as sacrifices for the people we love, but also because today is “Father’s Day.” I am sure, many of you fathers here today, like my own father, have gone through many years of selfless sacrifices and often silent sacrifices for your children because you love them so much. Yet, sadly much of your sacrifices go unnoticed and your love has been taken for granted and worse still misunderstood for being strict and selfish. Without you dads willingly and silently crying daily and carrying your crosses, together with mom daily out of love for us, we would not be able to grow up as normally and as beautifully as we have, and would certainly not be what we are today.
It is not that our fathers want to be noticed and need to be publicly applauded, but even humanely speaking each of us rightly owe them a “big hug” today. And as we hug them, each of us should rightly express our deepest gratitude to them for being our models and heroes. We need to thank God for giving us our fathers who are more than our financial providers. They taught us to be strong in the face of trials, they taught us to be selfless, firm and principled in our dealings with people, and most of all they taught us to love God and have great trust in Him and persevere courageously regardless of what happens in our lives.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, just as Jesus was finally nailed to the Cross so that we can have eternal life, Albrecht too finally had to nail his own dreams of being a great artist, just so that his friend could achieve his dreams. If we look carefully at our father’s face and hands I am sure we too will be able to find that some of the furrows on their faces, and the stiffness in their joints are there because of the many crosses of anxieties and heartaches we their children have caused them.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, sacrifices and the carrying of our crosses daily only make sense if we are able to love others. And, to be able to love others selflessly, we need to look at Jesus who is our perfect model of our daily dying to ourselves. He is our ultimate strength in our dire helplessness and our infinite hope in our darkest moments. When Jesus challenges us to carry our crosses daily, He too is assuring us that He will be carrying our crosses with us; Jesus will be our Simon of Cyrene when our crosses gets too heavy. He will even take our place and be nailed to the cross on our behalf if need be. In many ways, Franz did all these for Albrecht his friend, in many ways our fathers too bore their crosses silently and daily all out of love for us, so that we can realise the dreams of our lives.
Let me conclude by reminding ourselves of the reality that if we truly love someone, there must be sacrifice. If we truly love God Our Lord, then there must also be the sacrifices to carry the daily crosses that Jesus asks us to carry.
Love is the deepest reason in all sacrifices whether they are for our family, friends or for God. But, the deepest and the most powerful of all love is found in our union with Our Lord. That is why in today’s Gospel Jesus asks each of us, “Who do you say that I am?” If we can answer Jesus’ question deeply and sincerely from our hearts and say, “Lord, You are my everything, and I am willing to take up my daily crosses to follow You, because I love you with all my heart,” we of can be sure one thing. We have found the deepest love and the greatest happiness we can ever find in our lives. Most importantly, we have found the God of our eternal life.
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
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