Friday, 12 September 2008

The Triumph of the Cross - Year A

Numbers 21:4-9; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17

The Cross in our lives usually occupies the same space we put all the other unpleasant, unwanted things – disappointments, hurts, humiliations, failures - all the burdensome things we don't want to remember, all the broken relationships and sufferings of our lives. Needless to say it's not a pleasant spot to go; it's a dark, uncomfortable place, to be avoided at all costs.

This is what makes today’s feast so puzzling – The Triumph of the Cross. Even for Christians it’s not an easy thing to make sense of, while for the godless world which seeks to avoid the Cross at all times it’s just sheer madness.

This lack of understanding of the Cross and its place in our Christian lives lies at the heart of our difficulties with it. St Peter was the first to reject it: 'Heaven preserve you, Lord;' he said 'this must not happen to you'. Jesus quickly rebuked him but it was a long time before Peter understood. The trouble is, the Cross is God’s way of thinking but not ours.

St Paul seems to have learned more easily: As for me, the only thing I can boast about is the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…(Gal 6:14).

But even Paul recognised that the Cross was to the Jews an obstacle that they cannot get over, to the pagans madness… (1Cor1:23). He said also: The language of the Cross may be illogical to those who are not on the way to salvation, but those of us who are on the way see it as God's power to save. (1Cor 1:18).

God’s power to save! A little later (vs. 24) he calls it the power and the wisdom of God.

Jesus himself said: Anyone who does not take his cross and follow in my footsteps is not worthy of me (Mt 10:38).

At another time he said: If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me (Mt 16:24).

The people at the foot of the Cross of Calvary totally rejected the Cross and yelled: …come down from the Cross!(Mt 27:40)

The chief priests with the scribes and elders made it a condition of faith in Jesus: …let him come down from the Cross now, and we will believe in him (Mt 27:42).

Whatever way you look at it, our relationship to the Cross is a defining reality of our Christian life. This is borne out almost every day in my work as a hospital chaplain. There I meet Catholics who no longer believe in God’s goodness, or even his existence, because of the Cross they must carry; while others, like Mrs Grixti, adrift on an ocean of intense pain, can look up at me and say with gut-wrenching conviction, ‘God is so good. God is so good.’

I know I’m digressing here but one reason for it all is the fact that all too often our faith is dependent – our faith depends. I remember the man who stopped believing ‘because of the war’. I remember the young mother who wanted to believe but every time she went to church something bad seemed to happen. Then there was the old man who could no longer believe because his son was killed by a runaway car; and the woman who came to believe because a prayer was answered.

Very few people believe in the existence of God with a faith that is ‘sovereign’, that is, independent of changing circumstances and experiences. People who say: I believe God exists because God exists.

On the way through the wilderness the Israelites lost patience. They spoke against God and against Moses … .

To lose patience with God or to speak against God is the same as losing faith in him; the Israelites lost faith. As the NAB translation of Psalm 106:13 says so eloquently: …they soon forgot all he had done; they had no patience for his plan; and it’s precisely God’s ‘plan’ that is the key to understanding the Cross.

At this point in our reflection I can’t present you with a fully developed theology of the Cross, rather let me outline again our Christian faith in the power of God who reconciled us to God and made peace by his death on the cross (c.f. Eph 2:16 and Col 1:20).

There is no hope we can ever understand this reconciliation or this peace which Christ won for us, if we don’t have a lively appreciation of the debt humanity was in through the sin of Adam and Eve. Through that Original Sin the floodgates of suffering and death were opened and mankind found itself helpless to restore the innocence and harmony which it had forfeited.

The plan of God was to enter the suffering itself and take it to himself in Jesus.

He has overridden the Law, and cancelled every record of the debt that we had to pay; he has done away with it by nailing it to the Cross (Col 2:14). In this way he opened for us the way to heaven.

He was bearing our faults in his own body on the Cross, so that we might die to our faults and live for holiness; through his wounds you have been healed (1Pet 2:24).

And now he says to each one of us, ‘Do not be afraid. Retrieve all those discarded sufferings, your Cross. Gather them all up and follow me. They are your salvation now, because I have made suffering the greatest possible expression of love open to man. Your sufferings are invaluable when you bear them with me and they will lead you to eternal life.’

7 comments:

Adoro te Devote said...

Great post! People now, more than ever, need to understand the theology of suffering, its importance. Not that I'm a fan of suffering myself...like everyone else, I try to get away from it! But embracing it is what conforms us to Christ.

I still struggle with certain types of suffering, though...like that suffered by the people in Orissa, certain instances of pure unadulterated evil that happen all over the world...certain things that don't have an answer. Even knowing what suffering is about, some suffering is just too much and is evil beyond evil...stuff even Job didn't know about!

But I think that's where faith come in, because as you say, we believe in God because He exists. Not because of our circumstances.

CatholicConvert said...

Thank you Fr. The point about 'God's plan' rings abel for me. During the WYD expo someone mentioned that a vocation is not "finding the plan for your life", it was "finding God's plan for your life". In that context, your comments on suffering and the cross fit neatly - even if they can be hard to live at times.

Delima said...

This is a wonderfully thoughtful explanation, full of faith ...and from quite a different angle... on the mystery of the cross and suffering. I find it inspiring and so helpful. Thank you, Father

Mark said...

here's a great help:


SUFFERING

How to Make the Greatest Evil in Our Lives Our Greatest Happiness

by Fr. Paul O'Sullivan, O.P.

Adrienne said...

Another great homily...

Gina and Dan said...

Thank you Fr, very good and a lot I can learn from this homily.
And Mark, great read on Suffering, thank you:)

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful thing to rest upon ... the un-earned yet limitless grace of God poured out to us sinners while we were living as enemies of God!

Your point about God's way of thinking being opposite to urs is well made ... just consider how Christ laid aside all that was rightfully his in order to perform the Father's perfect will (Phil 2). In contrast, we tend to grasp for all that's not rightfully ours in order to enforce our own sinful will.

Many blessings to you, my friend. Andrew :o)