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Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus says that a disciple must carry his own cross and follow him. All of us sinners tend to see the universe turning around our ego, our needs, our projects, our plans, and our likes and dislikes. True conversion—the metanoia that Jesus talks about—is so much more than moral reform, though it includes that. It has to do with a complete shift in consciousness, a whole new way of looking at one’s life.

Jesus’ teaching must have been gut-wrenching to his first-century audience: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” His listeners knew what the cross meant: a death in utter agony, nakedness, and humiliation. They knew it in all of its awful power.

If God is self-forgetting love even to the point of death, then we must be such love. The cross, in short, must become the very structure of the Christian life. This is just what Jesus shows on his terrible cross. And this is just what we, his followers, must imitate. Taking up the cross means not just being willing to suffer but being willing to suffer as he did, absorbing violence and hatred through our forgiveness and nonviolence.