GOOD FRIDAY, (April 19): CHALLENGE TO CARRY OUR CROSSES (L/19)
Anecdote #1: Alzheimer’s patient remembered the cross of Jesus. President Ronald Reagan’s family watched in pain as he lost different aspects of his brilliant memory due to Alzheimer’s disease. First, he began forgetting ordinary things like how to turn on the shower or to use a toaster. Soon he could no longer remember people who were his old friends or close work associates. Then he began to forget even who his children were and finally his wife. As the Reagan’s life was drawing to an end, his family gathered around his bed. He knew none of them. Five days before his death, his wife Nancy Reagan placed a small cross in his hand. At first,a he seemed puzzled, then looked intently and said, “Jesus” and closed his eyes. On the day he died after 1 p.m., as Nancy Reagan held his hand, Ronald Reagan opened his eyes, which he hadn‘t opened in five days, looked right at his wife of 52 years. Then he closed his eyes and he drew his last breath.
(A)The cross and the crucifix are meaningful symbols, as the dove symbolizes peace and the heart symbolizes love. The crucifix and the cross are the symbols of the loving and sacrificial offering of self for others. First, it is only in the cross that we see the face of God’s love. There is no greater love than that of a person who is willing to die for another, and the cross tells this love story. Second, the cross is the symbol of the remission of our sins: The Bible says that when Jesus died, he took all our sins on himself on the cross, and so he conquered sin and the devil’s power forever. Whenever we see the cross, we should realize that Jesus, bruised and crushed, died for our iniquities. “But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.” (Is 53:5). Third, the cross is the symbol of humble self-emptying for others. It is the symbol of the cross-bearing Christ leading us in our life’s journey of pain and suffering, carrying his heavier cross and still encouraging us, strengthening us, and supporting us. Fourth, the cross is the symbol of the risen Christ who promises us a crown of glory as a reward for our patient bearing of our daily crosses.
Anecdote #2 The Soviet premier’s cross: In 1962, President John F. Kennedy met USSR’s Premier Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna. Their wives were present. The US State Department warned Mrs. Kennedy to avoid Mrs. Khrushchev. Mrs. Kennedy did not follow the advice. She gave a silver plate as a gift. Mrs. Khrushchev was embarrassed, for she had no gift. She searched through her large handbag. Finally she found a cross. The premier’s wife of the officially Godless USSR gave the cross to Catholic Jacqueline Kennedy. Though neither spoke each other’s language, the cross served as their translator.
(B) The Cross always means pain. But the pain I suffer for myself is not Christ’s cross unless I offer my suffering with His on the cross for the salvation of all of us. The true cross of Christ is the pain I suffer for others. It is the sanctifying pain we experience in sharing our blessings sacrificially with others. It is also the pain we suffer in controlling our evil tendencies responding to God’s loving invitation to us to a higher degree of holiness. It is, as well, the pain we suffer because we are standing with Jesus, his ideas and ideals and gladly following him and accepting scorn and humiliation from the rest of the world.
(C) Our crosses come to us mainly from four sources. Some of our crosses, like diseases, natural disasters and death, are rise from natural causes. We face other crosses when we do our duties faithfully. Our friends and enemies supply a few of our crosses. Finally, we ourselves cause many of our crosses as natural consequences of careless living and evil addictions.
(D) Good Friday presents us with the question: Why should we carry our crosses willingly? First, cross-bearing is a condition for Christian discipleship. Jesus said: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mt 16:24). Second, it is by carrying our crosses that we make reparation for our sins and for the sins of others related to us. That is why St. Paul said that he was suffering in his body what is “lacking” in Christ’s suffering. Third, it is by carrying our crosses that we become imitators of Christ in his suffering for us. St. Paul explains it thus: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2: 19-20).
Life messages for Good Friday: (1) We should carry our crosses with the right motives: This means that we should not carry our crosses cursing our fate as does a donkey unwilling to carry its load. Nor should we protest as do the oxen or horses pulling their carts. Our motive should not be to earn a reward from God as hired workers labor for their wages. We should carry our crosses like a loving wife who nurses her paralyzed husband or sick child, with sacrificial love and dedicated commitment. The carrying of our crosses becomes easier when we compare our light crosses with the heavy crosses of terminally-ill patients or patients in emergency wards. We need to draw strength and inspiration from Jesus Who walks ahead of us carrying his heavier cross, while supporting us in carrying our crosses.
(2) We should plant the cross of Christ in our daily lives: We have to begin every day with a sign of the cross, asking the blessing and protection of the crucified Lord in our lives that day. Our repeated promise of sharing the crucified Lord’s love with others around us at home and in our place of work, will enable us to live dynamic Christian lives. A loving, prayerful touch on the cross we wear on our body will encourage us to serve others selflessly with real commitment. Such prayer will also open our hearts to receive immunity from a lot of temptations and an increase of divine strength to fight and defeat stronger temptations. At the end of the day, we can make an examination of conscience by reviewing how much or how little we have stayed upon the foundation of Christ’s cross.
(3) We can heal our inner wounds through the cross of Christ: An area where it is very important for us to apply the cross of Christ in our life concerns the area of inner healing. We all need healings from those wounds to our character that we sustained early in life, especially during our first seven years. Someone who has an abusive or withdrawn father, or a critical mother will develop specific character traits in an attempt to respond to the wounding, for example, a tendency to anger or a tendency to fear and withdrawal. The good news is that the cross of Christ can heal and undo even these early wounds to our character because every moment of our life is present to God, and, hence, He can heal the wounds in our past. Part of this healing involves repenting of the sinful ways in which we have responded to those wounds. Forgiveness is vital to such healing. If we do not forgive those who have wounded us, we are actually holding on to the bitterness and hurt in our hearts, and this will completely block healing and transformation. Thus, through the cross of Christ, inner healing is accomplished in accord with the pattern of dying and rising with Christ.
St. Paul on suffering and the cross
1) Gal 2: 19-20: “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by Faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”
2) 2 Cor 4:10–11: “We are always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
3) 2 Cor 5:14–15: “For the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”
The Monk Thomas Merton talks about the Cross and Suffering:
“The Christian must not only accept suffering: the Christian must make it holy. Nothing so easily becomes unholy as suffering. Merely accepted, suffering does nothing for our souls except perhaps to harden them. Endurance alone is no consecration. True asceticism is not a mere cult of fortitude. We can deny ourselves rigorously for the wrong reason and end up by pleasing ourselves mightily with our self-denial…..Suffering, therefore, can only be consecrated to God by one who believes that Jesus is not dead. And it is of the very essence of Christianity to face suffering and death not because they are good, not because they have meaning, but because the resurrection of Jesus has robbed them of their meaning.”
The redemption of all people is only accomplished by the death of Jesus upon the cross. This truth is the foundation of all transformation and holiness in us. Because Christ’s cross is the price of our redemption, we must treasure this gift unceasingly throughout life. Joy and gratitude to God for the work of the cross must be the bedrock of any Christian spirituality. At the same time, Christ calls us to apply the power of the cross in our lives so that we may truly “take up our cross and follow him.” As St. Paul teaches so clearly in Romans 6, taking up the cross in our lives can only happen if we daily reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. The Good News is that Jesus has saved us through his cross and gives us the means to be fixed with him to his cross in our death to sin and to rise with him to the life of grace leading to eternal bliss with God.
The transformation of the Roman Cross. Brutal and barbaric, the cross was a tool of political power for the Romans. They maintained their power because of people’s fear of death on the cross. When one was condemned by the state, the condemned literally had to “take up his cross” and carry it to the public place where he was to be crucified. It was part of the humiliation process, the mechanism of social control for which crucifixion was invented. Even the Jews considered it an instrument of suffering and shame: “cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree” (Dt 21:23). Jesus went to the cross as one who was rejected and abandoned – rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and abandoned almost completely by his disciples, too. Jesus did not die as a hero or a martyr. Yet Christianity had, and still has at its center, this most awful symbol of death and disgrace. But some modern preaching reduces bearing the cross to little more than performing acts of kindness toward other people. Hence, we must learn to appreciate the real message of the cross in our Christian life.
# 1: Trinket or Treasure: Ann Thomas tells this story of herself. She was at a garage sale with her friend Betty. Ann had just sorted through a tray of trinkets. Betty came up and asked, “Any luck?” “No!” said Ann. “It’s just a pile of junk. She stepped aside to let Betty see for herself. Betty took one look at the pile, picked up a tarnished old cross and said, “I can’t believe it. I’ve found a treasure! This cross is made of antique silver.” When Ann’s friend got home, she cleaned the cross and polished it. It was indeed a treasure. Ann ended the story saying, “Betty and I both looked at the same cross. I only saw junk; Betty saw a treasure.” Later Betty’s seven-year-old son, Bobby picked up the cross, held it reverently in his hands, and looked at it for a long time. Suddenly he began to cry. “What’s wrong?” asked Betty. Bobby said, “I can’t help it. I was looking at Jesus on the cross.” Three people looked at the same cross. One saw junk, another saw a treasure; a third saw Jesus. (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies).
# 2: Christian powder: You might remember comedian Yakov Smirnoff. When he first came to the United States from Russia, he was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, “On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk–you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice–you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, ‘What a country!’” Smirnoff is joking, but we make these assumptions about Christian Transformation. We go to church as if we are going to the grocery store to get some “Christian powder.” Just add water and disciples are born not made. No wonder, why some televangelists teach that you get the passport and visa to heaven by just accepting Jesus as the Lord and personal Savior and by confessing your sins to him. Unfortunately, there is no such powder, and disciples of Jesus Christ are not instantly born. We must understand what it means to be a disciple. Does this mean denying ourselves? YES. Does this mean that just saying that you follow Jesus is enough? NO, it is not. We read in Matthew’s gospel, “Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16: 24) L/19
“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle C (No 23 A) by Fr. Tony: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit my website: http://frtonyshomilies.com/for missed homilies, 141 Year of Faith “Adult Faith Formation Lessons” (useful for RCIA classes too) & 197 “Question of the Week.” Contact me only at email@example.com. Visit http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html for the Vatican version of this homily.
Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.