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The Cross: the ‘sacrament’ of Christianity

Homily for the feast the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September 2014)

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. We celebrate today the significance of the Cross as the ‘sacrament’ of Christianity. As a sacrament, the cross is a sign that points to us the Christ who died on the cross for our sins and for our salvation and a symbol that makes Christianity real and relevant in us.

I have mentioned few times before, the more we strive to follow Christ more closely, the more we feel the weight of the Cross, the more we realize the sufferings we have to bear. Yet, this must not weigh us down, rather this must be a source of  encouragement for us because as Fr Frank Moloney SDB would put it: ‘The Cross is the place where we see how much God loves us, and where we see how much Jesus loved his Father.’ So the cross is a concrete expression of God’s love for us. Thus, the cross is to  be exalted. It is to be celebrated. It is to be embraced.

The cross comes in many ways, in many forms, through people around us and through situations unfolding before us. For me, it comes through the many times of difficulties and challenges I had to face and overcome. It also comes through the many difficult times of trials and sufferings of the people I loved and cherished. At times, I can’t help but say in my prayers: ‘Lord, why do you answer my prayers for other people, but not my prayers for my own family or for myself?

I might seem to be selfish of me in that but it’s true that at times I feel the cross I had to carry is that heavy to bear. However what keeps me going is the truth that in Christ, the cross no matter what it is, or how heavy it is, it has great value, it has meaning, it sustains life, it is life as a Christian.

So to exalt the cross, we need to carry it with Christ. Therefore, we must never give up carrying our own Cross just as Jesus didn’t give up the cross.

How not to give up carrying the Cross?

First, we reflect on the First Reading:  If things don’t go on our way, let’s trust that God has something better for us. In our first Reading however, the people of Israel took matters into went against God by their complaining. They lost patience. And this is one enemy of trust. They forgot to trust that God has been leading them all the way in all events of their life as a chosen people. But thanks be to God, He showed the Israelites He is still their God and He never left them despite their complaints against him. He showed them, he still cared for them by giving them opportunity or another chance to live.

This teaches us therefore that to carry our cross faithfully and to never give up is to turn to God in repentance and humility, to look up to God for help, for support, to acknowledge  our weaknesses and dependence on  God. Another message of the cross as Fr Pat O’Sullivan S.J. would suggest is that ‘when we experience negativity in our lives, in whatever form it takes, we do not transmit that negativity on to others, but take it into  our hearts and transform it, so that it becomes a source of life for us and others.’ (Prayer and Relationships: Staying Connected- An Ignatian Perspective,p83)

Second we take into heart what we declare as a response to our Responsorial Psalm today: ‘Let us not forget the works of the Lord’. If we feel the Cross is too heavy for us, let’s  trace the story of our salvation, on how God walked with us and still does, in every moment in history, directing all our ways, giving us the proper care, the blessings, the guidance, the graces we need in our journey. Let us just remind ourselves always ‘how many things God has given us, blessed us, and graced us with, even without us, asking for them?’ If we learn to count our blessings, the cross would be lightened, and even gives more meaning in our Christian life.

Third, we reflect on Gospel and on the second reading today: Let us renew our faith in Christ as our only Lord and Saviour, the one upon whom God’s riches is dispensed, the ‘way, the truth and the life’ for us. He is the one who makes the cross a sign and a symbol of our redemption. He is the one who changed the meaning of the cross from being a punishment to a reward for true and everlasting life. Only in Christ that  we can see  that the Cross has not the final say. In Christ, we realize that the cross is only but a necessary gateway to life. Because of Christ, the cross has become exalted and thus worthy for our celebration. Thus, it is important to have Christ and the cross together for apart from Christ, the Cross has no meaning at all.

So let us not give up on the Cross, rather, with Christ let us carry it everyday, celebrate its significance in our lives, as well as we continue to live in the hope for the life beyond the Cross.

I would leave you with a reflection on the beauty of the cross by St Andrew of Crete. He said:

So great and outstanding a possession is the cross that he who wins it has won a treasure. Rightly could I call this treasure the fairest of all fair things and the costliest, in fact as well as in name, for on it and through it and for its sake the riches of salvation that had been lost were restored to us.

Had there been no cross, Christ could not have been crucified. Had there been no cross, life itself could not have been nailed to the tree. And if life had not been nailed to it, there would be no streams of immortality pouring from Christ’s side, blood and water for the world’s cleansing. The legal bond of our sin would not be cancelled, we should not have attained our freedom, we should not have enjoyed the fruit of the tree of life and the gates of paradise would not stand open. Had there been no cross, death would not have been trodden underfoot, nor hell despoiled.” (from the Office of Readings # 2 for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross)

We, Christians have the cross to be the sign and symbol of our Christian identity, just as a flag is a symbol to our national identity. It is a great gift and a privilege for us. Let us cherish this, say it with devotion and  celebrate its salvific value, and be proud of it as our Christian identity- in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

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