When I was younger, there was a lot of talk about "finding yourself." Dramatic actions were taken in the name of this quest; people would leave their town, country, home, family, even spouse and children. This setting out was considered the prerequisite to an authentic experience of self-discovery.
People don't use that phrase as often anymore, but the proposal has become widely accepted that authentic self-knowledge and self-actualization occurs only in the context of a breaking off of what has gone before, especially of relationships, in order to pursue one's deepest desire or dream.
The celebrations of this type of resolutely self-centered action not only fail to focus on the damage done and grief experienced by those left behind by the self-searcher, but they also neglect to look to closely at what the seeker finds and gains when successful.
Not that any of you who pause long enough to read these thoughts would be likely to undertake such a search, but you, like me, have spent much of your lives surrounded by applause and acclaim for those who have. It affects our outlook and understanding.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? (Mt 16:25-26) Jesus' words ring familiar in our ears, but do we hear what he is saying to us, poor little rich twenty-first century sophisticates that we are? We who think we know what he was really about, we who think we know what the Gospel really is, we who are amazingly comfortable coming before him with our lives as they are and our expectations as we have shaped them?
If you want a search, look today, look at the scenes that pass before us. Look as we hear the familiar words of the Passion of Our Lord according to Saint Matthew. This is the longest of the Passion accounts, and every word, every action depicted is familiar, expected. Oh, the cock is about to crow! Is this the part where we shout Crucify Him? How long until we can sit down?
Why go through this agony? The agony of standing all that time, the agony of the words, the agony of the familiar actions, and the agony of the end we already know -- why? Because it really happened. But not only that; because it happened in order to be available for you to attend. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (Jn 3:14-15) That’s why.
The lifting up not only of the cross but also of its spiked and suffocating victim is for you. The injuries and the indignities are held up for you to see and hear. Bad as it was that the Son of God suffer it all in front of that curious and indifferent and hostile crowd, that is not enough. The lifting up must go on before every curious or indifferent or hostile soul ever and everywhere. So must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Look at Him there, breathing his last. Look at His mother, and His one remaining apostle, there below him. Look at the two dead criminals. Look at the centurion and the soldiers. Look at the taunters and the keeners; look at the mourners and the gloaters, the spitters and the shouters; look at the ones who averted their eyes and wept. Look. Look long and slow. See if here, now, you can manage to find yourself.Monsignor Smith