- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2005

The following are excerpts of a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Dennis Kleinmann at Saint Mary Catholic Church in Alexandria.

From all reports, Cardinal Ratzinger, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, did not want to be pope. At 78, it was said he was looking forward to retirement, returning to his home country of Germany, where he would finish out his life writing and doing some research.

It was also suggested that the homily he gave as dean of the College of Cardinals just before the opening of the papal conclave, where he strongly spoke out against the “dictatorship of relativism,” was meant to be marching orders to the cardinals but an indication that he did not want the papacy.

In addition, he himself said at an audience after his election that when it looked like he was gaining votes, he prayed: “God, please don’t do this to me.” He then said: “Evidently, this time He didn’t listen to me.”

Also after his election, an American cardinal revealed that when asked, as is traditionally done, “Do you accept the papacy?” he simply bowed his head in silence. Asked again, he almost sheepishly responded: “If it be the will of God.”

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” These words of today’s Gospel are ever so fitting of Pope Benedict XVI.

He has truly denied himself and has taken up his cross. Lest there be any doubt in our minds, not only does he now have the tremendous task of leading all people, all of us — all sinners — to Christ, to salvation, to heaven, but he also has to face all kinds of ridicule. We need only to consider all that has been said of Benedict these months since his election as pope. He is a Nazi. He is a Rottweiler. He is too authoritarian. Just last week, he was accused of being out of touch with the world’s youth as a million of them gathered to be with him for World Youth Day in Cologne [in Germany].

It would appear that Benedict is not afraid to deny himself and pick up his cross. But the question is, are we? We see in this passage how Peter responded to the idea of suffering.

This passage follows last week’s, where Jesus declared that Simon Peter was the rock upon which our Lord would build His church. Almost immediately, Peter does not want hardship. Certainly, he doesn’t want it for Jesus, who in turn replies: “Get behind me, Satan … You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Isn’t that true of many? Too often people seek the easy way. They want what is convenient, what will bring the most pleasure — at times at the expense of their salvation. That, of course, is not the way of Jesus Christ. His way, as He tells us today, involves sacrifice and suffering. He will die on a cross for us. He asks no less from us.

Most will not die on a cross — but we are to accept the sufferings that come our way. We usually do not have to look too far. Daily we encounter the cross. The message of Christ is not to shun those crosses, but to accept them, if not even embrace them.

That is so countercultural in our world today. People turn to pain killers — prescription medications, alcohol and illegal drugs. Society in general, advertisements in particular, preach the good life to us — if we just drive this car or have this plasma TV, our life will be great; we won’t have to suffer, or at least we will suffer less. Abortion will erase the suffering, inconvenience or displeasure of a pregnancy. Embryonic stem-cell research will provide a cure for Parkinson’s disease and many other things that ail us.

The reality is that pain can be a good thing. Put your hand on a hot burner and you will experience pain — a warning to get it off or do great damage to your hand. So, too, in the spiritual life. Suffering in this life helps to purify and strengthen us.

Suffering ultimately is the result of evil. Sadly, our world is filled with evil. When we confront evil, we suffer. We cannot give in to evil. The road to holiness passes through the cross of suffering. The road to heaven, the glory of the resurrection is preceded by the cross of suffering. This is not easy.

Thankfully, the grace Jesus has obtained by His death on a cross is always there for us. That grace helps us not only to accept suffering, but to see the value in it. Pope Benedict seems to have a handle on this. He did not want the seat of suffering, the chair of Peter, but he did accept it, and now with the grace of God he is helping us, just as Pope John Paul II did before him, to see how suffering is redemptive.

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