“If we worry too much about ourselves, we won’t have time for others” — Mother Teresa
I recently talked with a friend and we discussed some of the regulations that schools, businesses and places of worship were putting into place. She made a comment that at one of these locations, they did not have mandatory rules regarding certain safety measures, because if they did that, some people would not come back.
I reflected on the comment at the time, and then continued to reflect on it throughout the next week as I considered this paradox of Christianity that we believe. That Jesus himself said about his life, “No one has taken it away from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it back. This commandment I received from my father” (John 10:18). That we die in Baptism but then are raised in new life. These are not simple teachings and they often don’t make sense to the world around us.
As I continued to reflect, I thought about the call to lay down our lives. When we pray the rosary, we reflect on the mysteries of Jesus’ life. One of the Sorrowful Mysteries is when Jesus takes up his cross and we pray for the grace of perseverance. I pray a Scriptural rosary that includes a Bible verse for each of the 10 Hail Mary’s that you pray when you reflect on each mystery. When I reflect on Jesus taking up his cross, the first seven verses are the chronological verses explaining how Jesus takes up his cross and comforts the crying women, and how Simon the Cyrenian carries the cross. But it is always the last three verses that get to me.
Those verses include the following: “Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self” (Matthew 16:24); “He must take up his cross every day and follow me” (Luke 9:23); and “Whoever would save his life would lose it. Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Matthew 16:25).
In just a few minutes of prayer, these powerful words of Jesus speak right to the heart.
What do these verses teach us about how we are to live our daily lives? It is pretty clear that we are to lay down our life like Jesus did. And I can’t tell you what that means exactly. Each of us in our own lives has our cross that we need to take up in order to share God’s love. For some, it may be loving a friend or family member who is hard to love or get along with. For another, it may be to serve in a ministry or service that challenges you to love outside your comfort zone. For another it may be to lay down a right that we may be guaranteed by the law, but that we need to lay down in order to love, serve and protect others.
Jesus could have fought back. Did he grab a weapon and protect himself? Obviously the answer to that question is no. Did the martyrs just have it all wrong, and they should have fought back to preserve their lives? No, in fact Tertullian, one of the early church fathers said “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.”
I look around and I feel like believers are really proud of not having fear, of not changing how they live their lives because of a pandemic, with a pride that they are being a witness of their faith to a world scared by the health crisis. But the responses of non-believers that I see is not in awe of this “great faith.” In truth, the reaction is one of confusion, “I thought Jesus taught to love and these people who call themselves Christians seem to love themselves and their rights more than anyone around them.”
When we are baptized and decide to fully give our lives to God, we, like John the Baptist, are desperately seeking for Jesus to increase in our lives while we decrease (John 3:30). That is the kind of faith that will draw people to Jesus. We can trust in God and not live in fear, but if we don’t lay down our own lives for those around us, we are just a clanging gong without love. God is love. And true love, as shown by Jesus, is laying down our lives for others. And if that causes disruption or discomfort in my life, then so be it.
Right now the world is hurting. People are losing loved ones and losing jobs and are lonely. But they don’t want to hear about our God when we care more for our own rights than we do their souls. We must all ask ourselves an important question—Who do we love? Are we making every decision with a desire to share God’s love, even if it makes us uncomfortable?
I love reading about the lives of the saints. They gave up riches and positions of power and comfort and many gave up their very lives. We can all be saints. But I will be the first to admit that I need to decrease and let Jesus increase in my life. And the best way I can do that is to lay down my life for those around me.
Kasey Carty Jordan is a former missionary to China and currently serves in youth ministry with her husband Kurt at their Catholic parish. She is also the executive director of Camp to Belong-Georgia, a non-profit that serves siblings separated in foster care. The Jordans reside in Monticello with their seven children.