Others.

…complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.

Last week we considered the question of me, will God welcome me even if I am late in responding? We were reassured in hearing that if we have taken the opportunity to come, whether the first time, as a moment of return, or even for the 23,660th time, God and His people welcome us into the kingdom.

Today, our Holy Church takes time to reflect on the work of the PNU, Spójnia – and as God provides, we are given to hear Paul’s words about others.

This is the attitude of Christ’s Church, His very body on display before the world, that we are of one mind and action in love. Love moves us to encourage each other; to compassion, mercy, and singlemindedness toward others in our work.

Spójnia was founded in 1908, 112 years ago as the Church’s love response to the persecution its members faced for their faith. We seem to think that being persecuted for the faith is something that occurred in Caesar’s Rome, or perhaps in this and the last century in Communist or other oppressive regimes. Yet, the reality is that it happened here, in Schenectady, Albany, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Scranton and wherever we gathered to pray. Faith in Christ made us objects of derision and targets for active persecution.

As with the Solemnity of Brotherly Love, the Church did not declare war, did not respond in kind toward its persecutors. Rather, when we were cast out of fraternal organizations, banks, insurance companies; when savings were lost, and tragedies came to the faithful and their families – we built regarding others as more important than ourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.

In our day, this message resonates as perhaps it has not in years. How we live as the family of faith, how we treat others, respond, and build will be the markers by which our adherence to the gospel of Jesus is measured.

Paul goes on to illustrate the great sacrifice of Jesus for others – i.e., all of us. He laid it all down for us, to the point of death, even death on a cross

As Jesus has done, so must we for others. Therefore, let us set to work in the vineyard, for God will not regard our prior failure to act or respond, but our actual action today. 

Why take
it?

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me 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.

A question some of us face as we serve the Lord is, ‘Why should I take it?’

I started taking it in my youth. I was in church every day, so I heard today’s gospel and God’s word along this theme over and over. It may not have made much of an impression on me except for the fact that I was that odd kid. You know, the kind other kids either do not like or cannot relate to. Today, we call those kids victims of bullying. In my day, there was no label. You just suffered. By my teenage years the world finally found a label for me – nerd. Nerd – a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills.

Why was I odd – I had no dad. My father died when I was four. Forget father-son events. I had no one to teach me boy things – sports and such, and I was uncoordinated anyway – I’m sure you’ve noticed. I lived in a house full of women, so I got them. I learned to cook and clean – what a nerd.

Beyond that, I liked being with adults. Most of my relatives were significantly older – so I learned how to talk to them and relate with them. On the other hand, I never really learned how to relate with my peers.

Oh, and I loved church. While many saw it as an obligation, I just loved being there. I found Jesus’ parables to be the best stories ever – I got them. And best of all, Jesus said that if I lose my life, if I am persecuted for His sake, I will have everlasting life, eternal joy. So, I learned to take it. I didn’t fight back or resist. I had reason to take it. Ironically, for all my love of the church, I still had to take attempts at abuse from my pastor. Even in God’s house I couldn’t be safe.

Somewhere in my school career, that all came together. I learned the term: unconditional love. God loves each of us totally. We cannot earn it, pay for it, give anything for it. He just loves us. Cooking, cleaning, uncoordinated, nerd – He loves me. That’s why. I must serve the Lord and take it for His love.

As I became successful I lost my innocence. I learned to fight back, to stand my ground. As that happened I grew further and further from the Church and serving God. That’s the consequence, isn’t it? If we stop living sacrificial lives, if we want to gain and win, we lose.

Thankfully, God’s love will not let us be. Like Jeremiah, we cannot resist serving Him. Our thirst for God’s unconditional love is greater than any person, persecution, or challenge. Why should I take it? Why should I serve? For greater love, for life!

A reason for
hope.

Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.

Today, we hear St. Peter advising the members of the early Church to bear up under persecution. But that isn’t the starting point. He isn’t recommending that we sit around, awaiting persecution, before we show the strength of our faith. He recommends that our starting point is always to offer hope to every and anyone who asks us for a reason for our hope.

Always being ready to offer hope is our calling as Christians. The world is so full of hopelessness, loss, and the seemingly unfillable gap between where we are and where we want to be.

Our call is to show that the gap isn’t the end, you get there and fall into nothingness. Rather, we must tell the world that one never has to face that chasm anymore – for Jesus Christ, risen and alive – has filled it. He has bridged the gap. He is our hope and our gift – to offer in gentleness and reverence, with clear conscience.

People around us must deal with the hopelessness that we used to face – part and parcel of the sinful human condition. As followers of Christ we have already recognized that hopelessness has been overcome. The depth of death is no more. Darkness has been crushed and light is ours. We have taken hold of the Savior and His tools that overcome hopelessness. We can point every and anyone we meet to Him and use His tools to share the promise of true hope.

According to a recent Pew Forum study, there is persecution of Christians in 131 of the 193 countries in the world. That’s almost 70%. The people Peter wrote to were similarly being slandered and threatened. Their witness to Christ’s hope made them the constant targets of those who served the empire and hailed nation as lord. They had a choice. Leave hope behind and again face the gap, the deep pit of despair, or stand firm in the Holy Spirit, the promises of Jesus Christ they held.

Peter reminds us that to this very day, regardless of the world’s resistance, irrespective of persecution, the promise of Jesus Christ is hope-filled. Jesus’ execution by the world was not the end. It was the beginning of hope.

From a merely human point of view, death is the end, the gap cannot be filled, and the chasm cannot be crossed. But thanks be to God, death is ended, the bridge is in place, and we can take the hand of every and anyone and offer them a reason for hope.