Taking Up the Cross in Houston

 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time: September 3, 2017

 

“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.” (Matt. 16:21-27)

 

Houston Texas. Aug 25, 2017. Hurricane Harvey.

On Aug 25, 2017 Hurricane Harvey blew into Houston

and devastated that city and much of the Texas coast.

What happened there over the past week had all the makings of something apocalyptic, a grim reminder

of how frail we humans can be against the forces of

Mother Nature.

A one in one thousand years flood turned the nation’s fourth most populous city into an eerie ghost town. “Texas,” declared FEMA chief Brock Long, “has never seen and event like this.” But amid the destruction, we also saw that indomitable spirit that humanity is known for when nature strikes. That is on full display to this very minute. Countless brave and daring volunteers and emergency workers risking their own lives to save others.

 

Men and women in their own private boats from East Texas and Louisiana patrolling flood waters to rescue people, complete strangers. A throng of people on a freeway overpass helping emergency workers pluck people, complete strangers, from raging waters below. A mother and daughter team rushing to put up a blockade in front of a flooded street that had become a river of death. All the people who rushed into, and not out of, Houston, despite the lurking dangers, to help with the relief efforts, to help save people’s lives.

 

This is the incongruous beauty of tragedy: it tends to bring out the best in us. It also makes our differences less important as we stand together, rallying for the same cause. Houston police Lt. Jack Harvey said “That water doesn’t care how rich or poor you are. It doesn’t care if you’re black or white, Christian or Muslim, or what your sexual orientation might be.”

 

What is happening in Houston proves that old adage: “Adversity doesn’t make character, it reveals it.”

 

Maybe this is what Jesus meant in the Gospel today when he said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

 

Right now, in Houston and the surrounding areas, people are setting aside their fears, their despair, their hopelessness to take up the cross: the cross of selflessness, the cross of compassion, the cross of generosity.

The cross that Jesus asks his followers to take up is not a cross that cedes to crucifixion but a cross that is the means to resurrection.

 

If we are true to Jesus’ call to discipleship, we will find ourselves embracing values that contradict what society prizes. We will manage to move beyond our fears and anxieties to take the first and lonely steps toward reconciliation, love and understanding.

 

In my own mind, I cannot help but contrast dominating news casts this past week in Houston, with the dominating news casts two weeks ago in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The news this week was filled with heroism, humanity at its best.

The news two weeks ago was filled with hatred, humanity at its worst.

 

Thank you Houston, we needed you.

 

Amen.

Fr. Terry Hazel

 

Sunday Readings

Jeremiah 20:7–9

You seduced me, O Lord, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you prevailed.

 

Romans 12:1–2

“This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

 

Matthew 16:21–27

[Jesus said,] “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”