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24th Sunday, Ordinary Time

We are addicted to beauty. People with money undergo surgery. Those with some resources buy lotions and skin treatment. Beauty clinics are sprouting everywhere. Last week as I blessed one, I found the people there were astonishing. The doctor told me that one woman’s eyelashes were artificially extended. A man’s flawless skin was due to medicines. The doctor offered to remove my wrinkles. So the next time you see me looking young…

Today, the gospel inquires about a serious spiritual matter. More than physical beauty, we are really in search of spiritual radiance. More than beautiful faces, we are really in pursuit of the face of God – not just any god the world presents, but the true God who comes to us in the person of Jesus.

Knowing the heart’s intimate desire, Jesus poses a challenge: Who do you say I am? Do you really know Me? Who do you take Me to be? Peter and the others have seen Jesus healing, preaching, serving – all these things attracted them to follow Him. Jesus’ presence shows the compelling beauty and power of God.

But Jesus soon reveals a secret. He was not meant to be just a healer or teacher or social worker. His life will traverse a series of sorrows leading to the cross and to death. The one the apostles follow is neither just one handsome, gorgeous face nor just a mighty, powerful person. His body will be burdened with a heavy cross, lacerated with wounds and expire under torture. Peter was shocked, so were the others. This was not what they expected. This could not be the face of God.

Today we are still scandalized when we realize that to plunge into the identity of Jesus is to meet Him as He carries His cross. We are still in shock when we realize that to follow him is really to go through the crosses of life with Him and for Him.

There is the tendency to embrace Christ and to skip the cross. In a culture frantic for beauty and comfort, we want to be happy without responsibility. We want to fly to the moon without the laborious takeoff. We fashion our God out of pure strength, power and beauty without the Cross, which is His instrument to transform and save the world. That is why we embrace only the image of Christ that suits our taste.

So many people turn to preaching that makes them feel good, assure them that miracles will happen and that life will be free from rocky bump rides. So many people take up the gospel that wants to avoid mention of sacrifice or suffering and pain as the way to follow the will of God. But though God does not delight in suffering, God is powerful to utilize our pains in order to mold us into the people He has called us to be.

There is radiating beauty on the face of Jesus, but it was acquired not by avoiding but by carrying His cross. Let us pray for the grace not to be afraid of our crosses in life, but to have the strength to take it up with Jesus our Savior. It remains a mystery, but the only way to glory is through the Cross.