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Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 28, 2011 (22A)
By Fr. Phil Bloom
Bottom line: Our real cross involves not what we know in advance, but the unexpected. Only by embracing the cross can we enter the joy Jesus has prepared for us.
Today Jesus tells us to take up the cross and follow him. We learned a little bit about the cross on our World Youth Day pilgrimage. Not that we suffered greatly - overall it was wonderful, joyful experience and I so grateful for all who prayed and made financial sacrifices for us.
At the beginning I was nervous about taking a group of 61 people - mainly high school students and young adults - to Europe. After months of preparation, however, they responded beautifully. We did make some mistakes and I always asked forgiveness for them. On the final day I apologized to the pople at the hotel where we stayed. The man said, "Don't worry, padre. I wish all groups were like yours!" That made me feel pretty good - and proud - of our young people.
The pilgrimage itself was a dream come true: to visit the holy places of Saints Peter and Paul, Saints Francis and Clare and the Martyrs of Spain. We prayed for our loved ones at every spot where we offered daily Mass. We took the intentions of parishioners and the young people wrote their own intentions which I brought back in a prayer folder. We prayed particularly in gratitude to our benefactors - those who made the pilgrimage possible.
We did face some small hardships: the pilgrimage involved a lot of waiting - especially for the World Youth Day events and some of our members got dehydrated in the hot weather. And of course with 61 different personalities, the pilgrimage involved sacrifice in order to work together.
Those were some of the small crosses like Jesus speaks about today: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me." In our Pilgrim Booklet there was a small section on Taking Up Our Cross and Following Jesus. It said:
"A cross one knows in advance, even if it is fairly heavy, is not longer the cross of Jesus. Our real cross is always to some degree unanticipated and always seems to surpass our strength. As a rule, we would never chose it."
For example, the evening before our World Youth Day Mass with the Holy Father we camped out in large field near the Madrid airport. I knew it would be difficult - particularly for us older folk - but in now way was I prepared for what happened. The organizers had prepared for between 500,000 and a million pilgrims. Instead, two million showed up! When our group arrived, we found ourselves in a vast sea of moving humanity. Then we suddenly stopped. The word circulated that we would not be able to get in. Some turned back, but we decided to wait. We got out our rosaries to pray, but instead of the gates opening, the skies did! It began to pour a drenching as the winds picked up. The news later described it as a "hurricane." The rain eventually died down and we made it into the gigantic field. I won't describe the rest room facilities - or lack thereof - but will say this: For someone who has a hard time making it through the night in the best of circumstances, this was a indeed a cross.
It was of course well worth the sacrifice. As the sun rose in the morning, I could hear young people begin to chant, "Esta es la juventud del papa!" We are the Holy Father's youth! But for me the greatest reward came when, during the Mass, Pope Benedict sat down for a minute of mediation. A beautiful silence came over the immense throng. For me that was the deepest moment of unity: with Jesus, with our Holy Father, with our young people and their guides who represent the Church of today and tomorrow.
Joy, Jesus assures us, can only come with cross. Today Jesus sums up what we need to do: deny oneself, take up the cross and follow him. Our real cross involves not what we know in advance, but the unexpected. The real cross is not what we anticipate, but neither is the joy. It exceeds anything we can now imagine. Only by embracing the cross can we enter the joy he has prepared for us. Amen.