As Jesus approached the final chapter of his life on earth, the shadow of the cross hung over him. He must have found it hard to look ahead, sensing imminent failure, betrayal, suffering and death. And he certainly must have struggled fiercely to hold on his trust in the Father, and his faith in ultimate victory. This was His time of trial and testing. And yet, from the very beginning of His ministry until His final days, everything He did and said pointed towards hope, healing, reconciliation and wholeness.
This is our testing season. We need to use our time on earth together to strengthen the bond of intimacy between ourselves and the Lord. We need to be shored up by His example of courage and generosity. Most of all, we need is be reassured that He will hold us close during these difficult days, give us hope, and lead us to our ultimate victory, our final destination.
Christianity is not a flight from reality but it is a journey to the desert - a journey to prayerful solitude. Like Jesus, we need to be alone in the presence of God, to entrust our lives to Him, to share our fears with Him, to reinforce our trust in His promise of resurrection. We need to trust that, like the leper in today's Gospel, we too can be cleansed and made whole.
There is a sense of paradox in our journey of faith. God makes us in his own image, with incredible power of intelligence and unlimited freedom of choice...but He clothes us in flesh; we are charged with very volatile emotions and passions, strong likes and dislikes, powerful instincts of love and hate; but then are challenged to be perfectly holy, so as to reflect the very holiness of God. When He saw that we were really not doing a very good job of getting it all together, He sent His own Son to share fully in our humanity so that He could show us the way to wholeness and holiness.
But again, we encounter paradox and what seems like a twisted divine sense of humor. Jesus is a very difficult model to follow. He makes outrageous demands on our sense of the reasonable. He seems to believe that we can transcend all of the limitations of our fragile nature.
The answer is wrapped up in this ever-present mystery, at the heart of our Christianity, of dying to ourselves so that the love of God and neighbor might come to full bloom in us. The Crucified Christ teaches us how to die... and the Risen Christ teaches us how to live. The Cross conditions us to self-denial, to contradiction, to failure, to foolishness for the sake of love. The Empty Tomb assures us that the victory and the power of the Risen Lord are ours.
It is through that power, gifted to us by Baptism and come to full measure by our growth in and exercise of Christ-like love, that we defy the world and its standards. It is in that power that we are able to take on the foolishness of Christ and love as He loves, so that we are steadily made perfect in the very holiness of God.
We are disciples on a journey of hope. Along the way, we often stumble and sometimes we wander off along the wrong paths, only to be brought back onto track by His gentle tug on our shirtsleeves... and most of the time, we're kicking and screaming and complaining that we should going in the "other direction." It is a journey of growth, and of learning - learning that being Christian, being Catholic, is not just something we do, it's what we are; learning that the Eucharist is not just something we participate in each week, but rather that which we must always strive to become.
It is - and always will be - a constant struggle.