There was a young man who had some choices to make. He was an intellectual and a poet, had begun a promising career as an actor. His family had known some sorrow: his older brother and mother had died while the young man was still a child, and his father was to die around the time his country was invaded. Picking his way in the chaos and occupation was going to be difficult, because as an able young man he could easily be a threat and a potential target of the occupying power. On the surface, he worked in a factory, but he had a choice to make about where his first loyalty lay, with his home country or the occupying power, and where his first choice of career was, whether it was theater or academia. He took a while to consider what to do with his life, and eventually chose to enter an underground seminary to study for the priesthood. It was probably the most dangerous choice he could have made, for if he was discovered he could have been imprisoned, since the occupying power had little regard for the Church or Christianity. It was a choice that set his life and made many, many choices for him in the future. When the Germans were driven out of Poland, the Russians occupied the country, but the man who was to be Pope John Paul II stayed faithful to his first commitment and stays faithful to his commitment to the people of God through today in spite of all else.
While a bishop in Poland during the Soviet era, his commitment led him to confrontation with the unjust authority, which is never an easy thing to do, to the point of pushing for the establishment of a parish in a model community that was meant to be atheist from the beginning, and supporting a labor movement that had little chance of success from the outset. But his resources of faith helped him through those difficult times and helped him stay with the first commitment he made, even when it would have been enough to stay silent.
Today’s Gospel is about making real choices, and making them with an eye to where these choices are going to take us. Jesus calls his disciples to make some choices based on new priorities. In that culture, loyalty to family was perhaps the first loyalty, and in a culture where people had few possessions, conserving what they had was common sense. It was also time when people were not very mobile, particularly people who were tied to the land. So the idea of leaving everything behind and following Christ might not have made sense right off the bat. Christ doesn’t make the choice easy for his followers either: he goes to great lengths to warn his followers to make sure they have the resources to live us to the promises that they have made.
But making a choice for Christ in that time didn’t mean complete abandonment of family: we have many stories in the Gospels about Jesus and his disciples encountering family members, and after his death Peter tries to go home and pick up his life where he left off. But the priority is set; there is no going back. Making the choice of discipleship is what makes the rest of the choices in the lives of the disciples, even to death. Making the choice of discipleship is embracing the Cross.
When we consider the choice we make in Christ, it can be easy to be overwhelmed. I know that I get overwhelmed from time to time. It’s a choice that can come into very real conflict with our obligations to family and to ourselves. It’s a choice that comes into direct conflict with the phrase “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” But our embrace of the Cross isn’t only death, but also new life; it is true freedom. Our embrace of the Cross is seeing our lives in perspective, seeing our priorities in perspective. It means that we do not have to be possessed by what we own, by others’ opinions of us, or even our own inflated opinions of ourselves. Our embrace of the Cross is even freedom from our own past: through Christ’s death on the Cross, we are no longer bound to our sins, we are not bound to our past.
So we go through a chaotic time, picking our way through difficult choices and honoring several responsibilities, but we do not need to be overwhelmed by everything going on around us or everything we need to do. We have made a choice that will help us with all the choices we have to make: we have chosen to be disciples of Christ, to embrace the Cross and to live as he has shown us. Even if we end up in places we would rather not go, even if we end up in struggles we would rather not take part in, by embracing the Cross we know that our troubles are temporary.
Our assurance is that we know Jesus has chosen us, and has given everything for us. We can draw strength from the one who loves us, because we know our Savior walks with us and will bring us home to live with him forever.