“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?” (LK 9: 23-25)
When we listen to the liturgy of the word on this first day of Lent, we naturally think about all these “crosses” and “denying ourselves” for the next 40 days. But this journey with Our Lord doesn’t finish in 40 days, or in 1 year, or in any other time-oriented specification. Our Lord has invited us to go with Him to heaven, to love each other in the most unique way here on earth and for eternity.
“Repent, says the Lord; the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Gospel Acclamation)
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.” (MT 6: 1)
We know this perfectly from our homes and our relationships. Are my “righteous deeds” performed “that people may see them” or are they performed so that my spouse will be happy? Whatever comes from my unconditional gift of self, is free, creative and joyful; whatever comes from expectations or demands, brings frustration, anger, and sadness.
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Gospel Acclamation)
“For they had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’” (MT 9: 34-35)
Our civilization is very competitive; we have marks and evaluations at every moment in our lives. We are rating and we make ratings, and it is normal that people want to be “the greatest.” If we want to be the greatest in loving, in being helpful or being a gift of self, we are going in the right direction—we want to be “the servants of all.” But when we think about domination, taking the first place or having the rights to give orders—we are going in the wrong direction.
“May I never boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” (Gospel Acclamation)
“‘But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.’ Then the boy’s father cried out, ‘I do believe, help my unbelief!’” (MK 9: 23-24)
How often we are like “the boy’s father”; we believe, but also we need His help for our unbelief. We want our marriage to be better, we invest our time, we put some efforts into this and make progress, but after one or two difficult moments, we give up. We don’t want to invest again, to put in more effort, to make progress because we are tired. At the same moment, we still believe, but we need some support, some new motivation, and we silently cry: “help my unbelief.” What can we do? Meet the couple from your last Program, come to the next ‘Marriage Harbour,’ start again your daily ritual…
“Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel.” (Gospel Acclamation)
“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (MT 5: 48)
We dream about having a perfect job, a perfect day, a perfect vacation, or a perfect car. Sometimes we dream about having a perfect family, relationship, or perfect spouse and children. And when we think about something perfect, we think about receiving it. When Our Lord asks us to “be perfect, just us your heavenly Father is perfect,” He wants us to BE, not to HAVE. Perfection is not in having but in doing. It is about loving, not demanding. Be perfect. Create a perfect job, day, or vacation. Love your spouse and together be loving parents.
“Whoever keeps the word of Christ, the love of God is truly perfected in him.” (Gospel Acclamation)
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (MT 16: 18)
This was for Peter, for the past, and is for now and forever. Our Church is protected, and we are protected. Our Church gives us the best knowledge about marriage, about how to protect our relationship, and how to grow together, because marriage is not our idea. “Marriage is not, then, the effect of chance or the product of evolution of unconscious natural forces; it is the wise institution of the Creator to realize in mankind His design of love.” (HV 8) The Church has received the gift of understanding God’s plans, and possesses the gift of explaining God’s plans to us.
“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church; the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (Gospel Acclamation)
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it.” (MK 8: 35)
There is no other way to save our lives than to give them totally in the unconditional, free, creative, and joyful gift of self. We know this perfectly from our marriages; whenever we fought for our own vision, we finished disappointed, frustrated, and unhappy. However, when we chose to be for our spouses, chose to do something which was for our common good, we were happy, fulfilled, and integrated.
“I call you my friends, says the Lord, for I have made known to you all that the Father has told me.” (Gospel Acclamation)
“At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.’” (MK 8: 33)
We know who we are, we know our vocation, we know what to do to protect our relationship, and still, we don’t do what should be done. Unfortunately, we pretend to know better how to invest our time, and for what. Our Lord wants to expand our imagination beyond our limitations. He wants us growing.
“Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life; you have the words of everlasting life.” (Gospel Acclamation)
“Then he sent him home and said, ‘Do not even go into the village.’” (MK 8: 26)
Strange order. Naturally, he will be going back into the village and see finally what he always only dreamed of seeing. But Our Lord sent him home. What is the difference between home and village? The village represents people who presume to know better than we — how to see this situation, to understand what happened, to give advice on where to go; they know better because we can’t see. At home, we are safe; we are loved and our relatives know our limits and help us. We know how many friends we lost when we started Programs because we started to see the importance of our relationship, what we needed to do, how we needed to reorganize our time together, etc. But “the village” will know better. So, “do not even go into the village.”
“May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our hearts, that we may know what is the hope that belongs to his call.” (Gospel Acclamation)
“The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. Jesus enjoined them, ‘Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’ They concluded among themselves that it was because they had no bread.” (MK 8: 14-16)
“The disciples had forgotten to bring bread,” and also had forgotten how Our Lord had multiplied loaves for several thousand people. We also have had our moments when we have forgotten how much we have achieved, how much we have received from our spouses, and how much we are lucky living in an amazing relationship because he/she forgot something we expected or didn’t react in the way we wanted. When we are grateful every day, when we write our gratitude daily, we start to see the world from the right perspective, and we do not have more problems with memory.
“Whoever loves me will keep my word, says the Lord; and my Father will love him and we will come to him.” (Gospel Acclamation)