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Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB

Missionaries must 'lose' their life if they are to follow Jesus

Voices Jul 24, 2017

In honour of Canada's 150th birthday, Canadian bishops re-consecrated the country to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, depicted in a close up of a painting by Leopold Kupulweiser. (Wikimedia Commons)

This is an excerpt from a homily given July 2, 2017, for the Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

To follow Jesus is to make a radical choice, one requiring that we put our priorities in place. Even family claims, as St. Thomas More so clearly understood by remaining faithful to his conscience, despite the pleas of his wife and children, cannot outweigh Christ’s claim for being a disciple’s first love. And it is undoubtedly true that this claim of his can sometimes lead to hard choices.

Jesus must be “number one” in our lives.  

Let’s put this in the simplest and most direct terms. Jesus must be “number one” in our lives. He seems uninterested in being number two. No one, no matter how close to you in love, comes before him. But remember, too, that love for God by no means excludes other loves, but it does prioritize them, putting them in the proper order.

The second condition for life as a disciple is to “take up one’s cross and follow Jesus, losing one’s life for his sake” (cf. Mt 10:38-39). Jesus asks this of his followers because he has first shown us the way by his own obedience to the Father even unto death on the Cross. Whenever we experience our own crosses, he has already experienced that suffering before us. We do not take up our cross to find Jesus. Rather, it was he who descended even to the cross, in order to find and save us, to dispel the darkness of evil within us, and to bring us to the light.

But what does “losing one’s life for his sake” mean?

It is the logic of the grain of wheat that dies in order to sprout and bring new life. Jesus himself is that grain of wheat which came from God, the divine grain that lets itself fall to the ground, that lets itself sink, be broken down in death and precisely by so doing germinates and can thus bear fruit in the immensity of the world.

What Jesus is saying about “losing our life,” I believe, is this: we can surrender ourselves completely to another person, “lose or spend our life,” only if by doing so we fall into the hands of God. Only in him and for him does it make sense to lose ourselves, to surrender ourselves completely. Only in him can we truly find ourselves, our fulfillment, and our happiness.

This attitude can all summed up in the prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola: “a prayer which always seems to me so overwhelming,” admitted Pope Benedict, that he was “almost afraid to say it, yet one which, for all its difficulty, we should always repeat."

Take O Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will. All that I have and all that I possess you have given me: I surrender it all to you; it is all yours, dispose of it according to your will. Give me only your love and your grace; with these I will be rich enough and will desire nothing more.

On this Canada Day weekend, when we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, the Bishops of Canada are consecrating our nation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Shortly we will make this prayer together, imploring Our Lady’s intercession for, and maternal guidance upon, our country, so richly blessed but also struggling to remain faithful to its highest values, which are grounded in the Gospel and the moral conscience of humankind.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary symbolizes her maternal love, a tender love first shown to Jesus, her son, and then extended to each one of us as her spiritual sons and daughters placed under her protective mantel on Calvary.

Mary brings us individually and as a people to him.  

Through love of her Son and of all of humanity, Mary brings us individually and as a people to him. In the words of St. John Paul II: “If we turn to Mary’s Immaculate Heart she will surely help us to conquer the menace of evil, which so easily takes root in the hearts of the people of today, and whose immeasurable effects already weigh down upon our modern world and seem to block the paths towards the future.”

In order that we might grow as a “holy nation” and assume our responsibility of sharing in the building up of the Kingdom, it is fitting that we should turn to Mary to intercede with the Lord for us: that our people may be increasingly disposed to the good news of salvation, and that they will strive to forge a just society according to God’s design. By consecrating ourselves and our nation to Our Lady, we pray that a fresh enthusiasm and a deeper faith will be born in the hearts of believers which will bear fruit and abundant graces for all Canadians.

The act of entrusting ourselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary through this act of consecration reinforces our relationship of love with her through whom we dedicate all that we have and all that we are to our almighty and ever-living God.