Monday, September 16, 2019

How our crosses can be holy crosses.

Each year on September 14, we Catholics are invited, by virtue of the arrangement of the liturgical calendar, to ponder and appreciate anew how important and unique our Christian faith is when we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Cross.  Inevitably, whenever people think about the Christian faith, the image of the Cross comes to mind.  We are people of the Cross, and Christians are readily identified by the crosses that adorn their necks, hang on the rear view mirrors of cars, or above our doors and on the walls of our homes.  

But the power of the cross and what it truly symbolizes can be something that is forgotten, taken for granted, side-stepped and perhaps put aside rather easily, and it will be to our disadvantage if we do that.  

I say this with much conviction because in truth, every one of us has some form of the cross in our lives.  These come in so many different forms and can take the form of ill health, failure, being victimized, experiencing setbacks, betrayal, or even being victims of natural disasters.  Each time we encounter these tough realities in life, we have an option before us, which basically falls into two categories of a positive option or a negative option.  The negative options are the options which see us getting upset, angry, bitter, regretful, acrimonious and being generally difficult to live with.  Unfortunately, this option is the one which we see many people taking, and it results in a very fractured and broken world.  Someone needs to be blamed and someone has to pay the price for the sufferings in life, and it’s not going to be me.  It’s largely a residue of original sin, where someone else is to take the blame.

The other option is to take these sufferings in a positive light.  I can say with some degree of certainty that this isn’t the default option that the human person is prone to.  I am certainly not advocating masochism when I say this.  Taking suffering and any form of the cross in life in a positive way comes in different forms as well.  It can range from being of good cheer in our disposition, being grateful for little things, and reaching out to others despite our lot in life.  These positives are not uniquely Christian. Even atheists and people of non-Christian faiths can choose to take these positive options.  

But there is yet another level of the positive that is unique to Christianity – almost a step-up, and that is to carry our crosses with an eye on the Cross of Jesus Christ.  Only when we are consciously doing this with our personal crosses can these crosses then share in the power of redemption that the Cross of Calvary uniquely has. This dynamic lies behind the often misunderstood Catholic language of “offering it up for souls”, “performing acts of mortification and sacrifice” and “living with heroic virtue”.  To be sure, this kind of language isn’t broadly shared by our separated brethren in the Christian world.  

We Catholics are firm believers in what St Paul mentions in Col. 1:24 when he says “in my sufferings for you, I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for his body, that is the church.” It is only when we bear this in mind that we have the reason and obligation to carry our crosses with a certain willingness, eagerness and inner joy, because it is not just for ourselves and for our sins that we do this.  We are also doing it for the universal church of which we are members. We are doing this to benefit our brothers and sisters whom we don’t know, but who need some solidarity in carrying their crosses too.

What’s more, it opens up for us Catholics the wider dimension of what the phrase “body of Christ” means when we participate consciously at each Eucharistic celebration.  Whenever Catholics come up to receive Holy Communion at Mass, and say “Amen” to the priest’s “Body of Christ”, that “Amen” is not just a yes to the real presence of Christ in the consecrated species.  It is also a yes to the willingness to live out as fully as we can to the call to become a vibrant part of the universal Body of Christ, and part of this response of becoming a vibrant member is seen whenever we take up our crosses and follow Christ on our journey toward heaven.

I guess I am making this reflection with special emphasis because as I am confined to my convalescence quarters to regain usage of my replaced hip, I am made painfully aware that I am also carrying a cross.  Christ’s Holy Cross empowers me to carry this well, to carry this with a purpose bigger than myself, and to carry this with a Christian elegance.  When the going gets tough, I am reminded to imitate my Blessed Mother to stand silently at the foot of the Cross as well, and stands there with her Son, giving her the title of Stabat Mater.

The Feast of the Holy Cross which we celebrated just a few days ago reminds us not only of this need, but also of the value and power that our crosses in life have a potential for.  Yes, suffering is an energy and a power, but it is also easily left untapped. Like any source of power, it has immense potential – potential to change us and to change the world.  But when the only thing we do is to complain about it, ask incessantly “why me?” and make the world around us more miserable than we are feeling, this power is wasted, its potential unharnessed.  

We all have crosses.  We also have the choice to, with effortful love, turn them into holy ones as well.

1 comment:

  1. Dearest Fr Luke,

    Thank you for your post on Redemptive Suffering this week… and frankly this week is the first time whereby I had dared offered up my cross fully to God, knowing full well that it was a cross given for love of me. It was a sign of growth in my faith for me.

    I had never saw physical pain as necessary since there is always painkillers. So many a times I had somewhat equate avoidable pain as masochistic… So years back when I was shown the film of St Francis’ stigmata, and how St Francis in the context of the film mentioned that as all good things are gifts from God; our suffering is the only gift that truly belongs to us that we can offer back to God. I guess I never fully understood it in full measure as intended.

    I had understood the step up and noble intentions of redemptive suffering, and in fact have embraced the magnificent purposes of this wonderful teaching, but so far it has always been lame attempts that I had done everything humanely possible and now I offer up whatever unavoidable suffering I must endure for the love of God and neighbour… its always human intelligence first... while God does give us wisdom in discernment... its the attitude of the heart that needs correcting.

    God loves me so much as to correct this… in just this past 2 weeks, I was stricken down with dengue fever. Prior to the onset of high fever, I was praying for intercession of a young man who met with a traumatic accident overseas, and felt strongly prompted to pray. So before I knew I was diagnosed, I have offered up whatever physical suffering I am to endure for this intercession, thinking it as an infection. And tears flowed uncontrollably, immediately I know it was a graced prayer and that God heard my prayer. I feel so loved by God that He saw me worthy to stand in the gap to pray, that He love me so much that my suffering is of value to him...for the young man and his family who are in so much distress. And also immediately before I knew my diagnosis, I felt a great sense of peace and surrendering in what I had to go through… turned out to be daily needles and blood taking… (God in his love for me knows my phobia for needles and pain…) ...weakness and frailty… yet there was such peace and quiet joy and strength to go through it within me. I know my faith journey had taken a few steps forward and so much thanks for this free will God has given me, I had the choice to transform a suffering into positive expression of love, abandonment, trust and hope. This fruitful act of freedom changed my inner heart attitudes of faith, trust and charity. We must realize what hurts us more is not suffering in itself, but the resentment, rebellion, resistance and anxiety that aggravates the torment we are already going through… Only God Almighty in His omnipotence, love and wisdom has the power to draw good from evil. Only He can write straight with crooked lines. :)
    As quoted from a beautiful read I had in my convalescence, “I choose to be free”, the author Jack Phillips wrote; “Our only real security in this life is not our ability to control events with intelligence or foresight, but the certitude that God who is faithful will never abandon us; his Fatherly love is irrevocable.”

    And I pray and hope all of us reading this will have the beautiful experience to completely declare upon God – in full surrendering – “Jesus, I trust in You.” And be awed at God’s hand moving… Amen.

    Thank You Fr Luke.
    Wishing you a blessed and graced time recuperating.
    United in prayers.