The Grace and Courage to Lay Down One’s Life for Christ

Jesus said at the Last Supper, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, though you will follow later.”  The ever bold Peter responded, “Master, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you” (Jn 13:36-37).

Of course, we know that Peter spoke too soon.  He would indeed follow Jesus; Peter would follow the Lord to the cross and stretch out his hands, glorifying God by laying down his life (Jn 21:18-19).  But not right away.  Only later would he be ready to do that.

Instead, as our Holy Father Pope Francis pointed out in his first homily as Supreme Pontiff,

The same Peter who professed Jesus Christ, now says to him: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. That has nothing to do with it. I will follow you on other terms, but without the Cross.”

When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord, we are worldly: we may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord.

Peter’s first instinct was right, we should be ready to lay down our lives for the Lord, but he was a bit too rash and a bit too proud at that moment.  Instead of staying with Jesus, Peter became weary and fell asleep.  And by not praying with Jesus, Peter found that he lacked the fortitude on his own to even admit that he knew Jesus.

“Jesus does not force you to be a Christian,” then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio explained in a homily last year.

“But if you say you are a Christian you must believe that Jesus has all the strength – the only one who has the strength – to renew the world, to renew your life, to renew your family, to renew the community, to renew everybody. This is the message that today we must take with us when asking the Father to make us attentive to the voice of the Spirit that does this work: the Spirit of Jesus.”

If we want to be able to lay down our lives for the Lord, we need his help, we need his grace.  We need to walk with him.  Jesus will give us strength – the strength is not you, but him in you.  He gives us the strength, he renews our spirit and gives us the courage to become his witnesses, which in Greek is translated as “martyrs.”

Let us make the words of Pope Francis our own: “My wish is that all of us, after these days of grace, will have the courage, yes, the courage, to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Lord’s Cross; to build the Church on the Lord’s blood which was poured out on the Cross; and to profess the one glory: Christ crucified. And in this way, the Church will go forward.”