Saturday, September 12, 2009

Christ and His Cross

There is a saying: "Don't seek Christ without his cross. You might find a cross without Christ."

Jesus cannot be separated from his cross. The whole purpose of his life was to bring us back to God through his death on the cross. The cross is the fulfillment of Jesus' mission on earth and the realization of God's promises. Without the cross, Jesus is just another good man who said some nice things but who has no power to forgive sins. With the cross, Jesus is the Savior of the World holding out to us the promise of everlasting life.

Jesus makes this very clear to his disciples. To save the world, he will have to be rejected, will have to suffer and will have to die. In so doing, Jesus will take upon himself the punishment we deserve for our sins.

Peter, however, would have none of it. He didn't want to hear that Jesus, whom he loved dearly, will have to suffer. I have no doubt that Peter would gladly have suffered and died for Jesus. But it is often more painful for us to see the suffering of those we love than to go through the suffering ourselves. Peter loved Jesus so much that he couldn't bear the thought of him suffering and dying. And so he cried out: "God forbid that any such thing happen to you!" However, Jesus rebuked Peter in the strongest possible terms, going so far as to call him "Satan". For Jesus, there was no other way for him to save the world and gain for us the forgiveness of our sins except by embracing the suffering of the cross.

Peter did what we are so often tempted to do. He tried to separate Jesus from his cross.

If Jesus and his cross come as a package, then we cannot welcome Jesus into our lives without also welcoming his cross. We cannot follow Jesus without picking up our own cross. We cannot love Jesus without also loving the cross.

Each of us has a different cross to bear. For some, it is illness. For others, it is financial hardship. Most of us struggle under the weight of a cross made up of many smaller crosses. Whatever form it may take, we can often stumble under its weight. We can feel alone and isolated because of the pain we feel. We can become bitter and let suffering harden us and close us off from others.

But, when we welcome Jesus into our lives and choose to live as his disciples, our cross is transformed from a burden into a source of life and even joy. We begin to experience that we are not alone in our pain, but that Jesus is carrying our cross with us. Our suffering no longer closes us off from others, but helps us to become more sensitive to the pain that others experience in their lives. And, instead of making us bitter, our pain begins to open our heart to the love and mercy of Jesus. We even begin to inspire others by persevering through difficulty. Suffering, then, takes on a whole new meaning in our lives. We begin to love the cross because it is the means by which we come to know Jesus in a profound and personal way.

We can begin to experience the transforming power of the cross in our lives by following the advice many of us received from our parents whenever we complained about something - by "offering it up". It is as simple as saying, "Jesus, I offer this suffering up to you for my sins and for the sins of the world." Or, "Jesus, I offer this pain to you for my friend who is also in pain." We can offer up our suffering for our own sins, for the souls in purgatory or for others who are also suffering. When we offer up to Jesus whatever difficulties, inconveniences and hardships we experience, they are transformed from sources of anger and frustration into opportunities to give Jesus more of our heart and more of our lives. Eventually, we even become grateful for the struggles we encounter in our daily life because they bring us closer to Jesus. We come to love the cross because we understand that it is the way to Jesus.

There is a still deeper meaning of the cross in our lives. If we decide to live according to the gospel message, we are going to experience difficulties. We are going to be ridiculed for our beliefs which seem out of touch to many people. We are going to be rejected by our friends, co-workers and classmates because we live differently than they do. We are going to be accused of being close-minded and judgmental. We are going to feel left out of the crowd. It is the same rejection and ridicule that Jesus experienced in his life. When we have the courage to stand up for what we believe, to go out of our way to help the poor and the needy and to defend the rights of the weak against the powerful, we will know the real power of the cross not only to transform us but to transform the world.

Jesus cannot be separated from his cross. But, just as importantly, the cross cannot be separated from the Resurrection! The power of the cross comes from the fact that it leads us to the Resurrection. The Resurrection is Jesus' victory over sin and death. It is the Resurrection that we celebrate when we gather every Sunday. We come to this place with our cross on our shoulders to proclaim boldly that there is no suffering, no persecution, no difficulty which God cannot transform. And, we reaffirm our commitment to embrace the cross by overcoming evil with good through the power that Jesus gives us in his Body and Blood.

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