Last Sunday we celebrated an important feast that often goes unnoticed because it falls on a week day most of the time. Established to honor the central symbol of the Christian faith, the feast invites the faithful to focus their attention on the tree on which the Son of God died and won our salvation. It is called the Exaltation of the Cross, and it celebrates the story of St Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, bringing back the true Cross from Jerusalem to Rome.
Our culture seduces us into thinking that our birthright is to live a painless life. We have pills for everything. Before we can say “Anbesol!” our tooth ache must disappear. We have rows and rows of painkillers in our pharmacies. If we need something stronger, we can always get a prescription. As social critics tell us, we are gradually becoming the “Prozac nation.” However, there are losses and heart aches for which there are no viable antidotes. These inevitable sufferings are what constitute our personal crosses.
Writing to his Christians in Corinth, Paul lamented how most people do not understand the power and wisdom of the Cross. He wrote: (1 Cor 1:17-25)
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."
For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.
It is not just the Romans, Greeks or Jews who do not understand the Cross. Even faithful Christians fail to fathom the power and wisdom of God as they are manifested in that ignominious symbol. In the face of suffering most of us raise the same questions: “Why? Why me?” Over the last five years, I have had to console and comfort families that have lost their loved one either prematurely or in tragic circumstances. It has been one of the hardest things that I have had to do.
Most instances of human suffering defy any acceptable explanation and even those explanations cannot mend broken hearts or restore shattered lives. The only viable source of comfort that I can offer to hurting individuals is this. The Father who did not spare His own Son but allowed Him to die a cruel death on the Cross does not abandon us. Jesus did not give an explanation of suffering; He suffered. By taking upon Himself every human suffering and even death, He has walked the road to Calvary before us. We are not alone. We do not carry our burdens alone. We may not understand why life is so unfair. However, we know our Brother was treated more unfairly than anyone on earth. He walks by our side and holds our hand.
Here lies the logic of the gospel, the paradox of our faith. It is through the Cross that Jesus reached His glorification. Without Good Friday, there is no Easter Sunday. There is no crown without the cross. It is by walking with the Master on the road to Calvary that we will see the light of Easter. It is by embracing our personal crosses that we will share in Christ’s glory.
Let me leave you with an exhortation from a spiritual classic, The Imitation of Christ:
In the cross we have salvation; in the cross we have life; in the cross we have protection from our enemies.
In the cross there is the infusion of heavenly sweetness; in the cross there is the strengthening of minds; in the cross there is spiritual joy.
In the cross is the height of virtue; in the cross is the fullness of holiness.
In the cross alone do we find the soul’s eternal salvation and hope of everlasting life. Take up your cross, therefore, and follow Jesus and you will pass into unending life.
Carrying His own cross Jesus preceded you, and on the cross He died for you so that you too might bear your cross and long to die on it. If you die with Him you shall also live with Him, and if you are His companion in suffering you shall likewise be His companion in glory.
Let us bear our small and big crosses with a smile and bring them to the altar. Let us unite our suffering to His so that our participation in the Holy Eucharist may benefit us, our families and our world.
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...