Remembering Father Kenneth Leech (1939-2015), who died on September 12. Fr. Leech was one of the great prophetic voices in the church in our time. It was a privilege to be in his presence, but also to read his books, all of them leading in some way to transformation of thought and action. I am struck that yesterday's Gospel reading included these words of Jesus;
Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34)
And today, September 14, is the Feast of the Holy Cross, when we pray:
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him...
A book of Fr. Leech's to which I return again and again is We Preach Christ Crucified. In it, he has this to say about Mark 8:34 and the radical call to take up our cross.
Like many of the 'hard sayings' of Jesus, this sounds impossible. It is only possible through the power of the cross itself by which we have in fact been crucified. This is what Paul means when he speaks of the destruction of the old self.
[Romans 6:6-8] We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin...But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
It is only through solidarity in the cross that we can attain solidarity and communion with God in the life of the new age. There is no short cut.
What does it mean to bear the cross?...To be a Christian is to be signed with the mark of the cross, the baptismal mark of incorporation into Christ. To bear the cross in solidarity with Jesus is not to endure some mysterious kind of suffering which is thrust upon us, still less is it a way of describing an interior psychological attitude or orientation. It is a path freely chosen, the social reality of committing oneself in this world to the values of the world to come. This is clearly a call to lose on's life for the sake of the gospel. It is not a call to imitate Jesus as a figure from the past but to follow the risen and present Jesus of today....To respond to the cross is to follow, to share; it is to be a disciple. it is to respond to a new and amazing relationship of co-operation with God which is utterly different from the relationship of slave to master. We are sealed not as slaves but as children, as inheritors of the Kingdom of God. [We Preach Christ Crucified, pp. 60-61]
Thanks be to God for Ken Leech: rest in peace and rise in glory in the world to come.