Aug. 31 is the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A, Cycle II).
Aug. 31 is the last day for white shoes at Sunday Mass. Labor Day is Sept. 1, and white shoes are verboten after that. At least, that’s what we learned when we moved to the East Coast. Growing up in California, April had never encountered the rule. But then, she had never encountered seasons, either.
The rule is arbitrary and unwarranted. But there’s something nice about it, all the same. It’s a way of acknowledging the significant changes that are happening: in the season (as fall approaches), in the academic year (school is starting again!) and in family pastimes (the finality of the Labor Day barbecue).
This August was the perfect way to end the summer break. There were five weekends in it, not just four. We know this because we have our Saturday barbecues. We invite everyone we know to come to our house with something to grill and something to drink. We provide corn, salad and lemonade.
The final barbecue ends with closing ceremonies and the awarding of certificates of participation. Tom composes a valedictory poem for the occasion. The last one started this way:
Imagine a world
without Hoopes barbecues
What a cold, ugly world
that would be!
A world of aimless, dull Augusts
Eating alone in our yards,
Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalms 63:2-6, 8-9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 16:21-27
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In today’s Gospel, Christ says we should take up our cross and follow him each day. But the problem with our crosses is that they are never the ones we would pick for ourselves. Today’s readings show three kinds of crosses you can expect if you choose to follow Christ.
Cross No. 1: Feeling cornered. In today’s first reading comes the startling line “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.” It goes on to explain that the prophet fell in love with the Lord, and now he knows too much. In order to satisfy his conscience, he must always speak a harsh-sounding countercultural message — one he gets ridiculed for.
Nowadays, we’re all called to be little Jeremiahs. We all innocently decided to follow Christ, not intending to bother anybody. Now, we find that Christ’s message is always relevant to circumstances that we face — and often not what others want to hear.
When our brother says he’s moving in with his girlfriend, when a friend says he’s thinking of divorce, when the relative merits of candidates come up, we find that we can’t simply be neutral. We must find some charitable way to say something.
Cross No. 2: Feeling abandoned. The responsorial psalm wonderfully describes the intense longings souls have for God. If the refrain about the soul thirsting for God sounds like sweet longing, the first verse reveals something else: “My soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.”
It’s very unlikely that we will experience the kind of dark night of the soul St. John of the Cross did. That comes from a level of mysticism that very few people on Earth reach. But we each experience a kind of darkness in our spiritual lives when we face our faith and find it wanting. God allows terrible things to happen in our lives, and it’s hard to understand why. When that happens, we long for the confidence and consolation we had in God and are left feeling parched.
Self-sacrifice. The reading of St. Paul explains what both these crosses amount to: dying to self so that you can live for God. Or, as he calls it, “offering your bodies as a living sacrifice” after deciding to “not conform yourself to this age.” From this you get pain, difficulty, and you end by being “transformed by the renewal of your mind.”
At any rate, as the Gospel reminds us, the cross is unavoidable. Like Peter, we always want to say, “Lord, this should not be!” It’s only later that we find the excruciating cross was exactly what we needed, and thank God for choosing better for us than we ever would, or could, ourselves.
Tom and April Hoopes are editorial co-directors of
Faith & Family magazine (FaithandFamilyLIVE.com). Hear Tom each Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. on Sirius Satellite Radio’s
The Catholic Channel 159.