Monday, September 15, 2008
Rembrandt drew a painting that was titled “The three crosses”; anyone looking at this painting would be drawn first to the center cross on which Jesus died. Then the viewer would look at the crowd gathered around the foot of that cross, they would be impressed by the various facial expressions and actions of the people involved in the awful crime of crucifying the Son of God. Finally, their eyes would drift to the edge of the painting and catch sight of another figure, almost hidden in the shadows. Art critics say this is a representation of Rembrandt himself, for he recognized that by his sins he helped nail Jesus to the cross.
The church this weekend celebrates the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross which is always celebrated on September 14th and every 5 or 6 years depending on a leap year we get the privilege to celebrate it on a Sunday. The feast itself even though it’s an important aspect doesn’t necessarily focus on the brutality of the crucifixion but on the great gift the cross has given us. It’s the wood of the cross that held our savior who upon it died for our sins that have set us free.
In the gospel, we realize the deep love that God has for us which was revealed in the death of his only son on the cross. The cross becomes a sign of exaltation—not only for Jesus who God lifts up in glory as we heard in the second reading from St. Paul to the Philippians but upon all who gaze on the cross in faith is lifted up to eternal life. By the celebration of this feast it’s to recognize that we gain eternal life. How do we gain eternal life? There are two aspects that must exist, one is that we need humble obedience as Christ was a humble servant. To believe in God’s only son who gave his life not to condemn the world but to save it.
Pope Benedict a couple of weeks ago, spoke on how the cross is not an option, “to complete the work of salvation, the Redeemer continues to draw to himself and his mission men and women who are ready to take up the cross and follow him. Just as with Christ, it is not “optional” for Christians to take up the cross; it is rather a mission to be embraced out of love.”
My dear brothers and sisters we live in a society that no longer wants to look at the cross. It’s too hard to pick up the cross and instead the tendency is to hold onto the things that gives satisfaction, things that are not too difficult to follow. My brothers and sisters if we don’t let our young people at times experience the hardships of life even though it might be difficult to see them go through it, they will never grow and become the better people for it. We also need to continue to grow and realize that our reward is not here on Earth, this is just the test, the reward comes after this life. So yes, that means going against what society says is appropriate. It’s not just saying, “well that’s how they do it nowadays.” It’s speaking out against the injustices of the world.
For example we are now in the midst of the elections and I will never speak from the pulpit about a particular candidate because that is not my duty but I will speak on the issues that we should be concerned about as those ready to pick up the cross. We have heard much about the issue of life. We always have to realize that we are a culture of life but do we choose only one aspect of life. Last time I checked we support all forms of life from the moment of conception to natural death. Remember my brothers and sisters we are not a buffet line in which we choose what we like and dislike. It’s like when we were children when our parents said that we must also eat our vegetables. We need to support laws that protect the unborn child including having programs for women to support this child that they are about to have to the person in prison waiting on death row and keeping in mind that Pope John Paul the great who believed the lives of these men and women are considered valuable. From the child that is being neglected at home to the point of being at death’s door to the elderly woman who is extremely ill and is considered invaluable to society because she no longer can function. These situations my dear brothers and sisters are just some issues that can be difficult but we must do what is right.
One of the most common arguments against God and religion is the argument of suffering. People say that if God really existed, and if he really were a good God, he wouldn't allow so much suffering in the world. And when we hear that argument, our initial reaction is to agree. "That's right," we think to ourselves, "after all, if I were God, I wouldn't allow so much suffering." Hundreds, probably thousands, of books have been written explaining how superficial and illogical that reasoning is. But today, Christ himself gives us an answer to the problem. He raises our eyes to his cross, to his crucifixion.
It reminds us that Jesus saved the fallen human race not by eliminating the suffering that our own sin unleashed in the world, but by taking that suffering upon himself. He who never sinned allowed himself to be punished with every conceivable kind of suffering, to the point of crucifixion. That moment of his apparent defeat was actually the moment of his eternal victory - the Triumph of the Cross. Why? Because suffering on earth is not the worst thing that can happen to us. We know that for certain, because Jesus himself suffered, and he was God. The worst thing that can happen is to be separated from friendship with God. That's what sin does. What Jesus did on the cross was to win back our friendship. By suffering with us even though he didn't deserve it, he showed us that he truly loves us - unconditionally, no matter what, even if we crucify him. By suffering with us, Jesus showed us that we never have to suffer alone, that suffering itself, through faith in him, can become the path to wisdom, peace, and intimate friendship with God.