What is the Cross?

By 10 April, 2019 Gospel

by f. Luis Casasús, General Superior of the Idente missionaries

Yaoundé, April 14, 2019, Passion (Palm) Sunday (Book of Isaiah 50,4; Letter to the Philippians 2,6-11; Saint Luke 22,14-71.23,1-56).

For a good reason, the Cross is the symbol of our faith. Faith in what Jesus did for us and faith in our program of life as Christians.

Today, the reading of His Passion should be a challenge to embrace this Cross, the greatest sign of salvation for the whole of humanity. Let us take advantage of this opportunity, we should remember that even a Saint like Peter denied Christ three times in an hour.

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1. True peace has a high price. When Adam and Eve betrayed the Lord by eating the fruit in the garden, God provided covering for their nakedness. They knew their sin needed to be covered. God Himself provided their covering. The Lord God made clothing from skins for the man and his wife, and he clothed them (Gen 3:21). God made their coverings of skin: The first shed blood in creation was not a murder, but a sacrifice of an innocent animal. The New Testament confirms the Law: According to the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Heb 9:22).

Do not think that this reality only refers to the area of moral or religion.

At Athens, shortly after the great battle of Marathon, a man was put upon trial for a capital charge. In that famous battle the Athenians had preserved, by their valor, liberty for their little state, against the mighty hosts of the Persians; and among those who had distinguished themselves greatly, the brother of the prisoner was one; and had been sorely wounded in the fight. The man was put upon his trial. The evidence against him was strong and unanswerable; there seemed no chance of the prisoner escaping condemnation. Suddenly there came forward one who asked to be heard on his behalf. It was his own brother. When he was asked what evidence he had to give to show why the prisoner ought not to be found guilty, he simply lifted up his mutilated arms -nothing but stumps- the hands completely cut off; the wounded stumps alone remaining. He was recognized as a man who, at the battle of Marathon, had done prodigies of valor, and had lost his hands. Those wounds were the only evidence he brought forward, the only plea he advanced why his brother ought to be set free. And the story states that for the sake of those wounds–for the sake of all his brother had suffered, the prisoner was acquitted. The case was dismissed at once, and the prisoner obtained his liberty.

This is the price of true peace. We all need this peace. In our soul, which always faces the conflicts of passions; in our relationships, troubled by our attachments; in our relationship with God, blurred by our sins and ignorance. One of the differences between this peace and the peace of this world is that the peace coming from Jesus is contagious and can be transmitted. This explains why we say in the Holy Mass: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.

The peace of this world is changing and unstable, this is why the people of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus as he entered the holy city, acclaiming him as King of Israel and a few days later, the same crowd would reject him: Crucify, crucify him! The peace that Christ brings to us had necessarily the price of blood. In the Jewish tradition, blood represents life and is often referred to as “life blood.” Yes, true peace requires a new life, that is, offering one’s life…not just trying to convince others. The Cross has been rightly called the Tree of Life. The First Reading tells us how God will give to those who offer their lives a well-trained tongue, but also the strength not to rebel and to not shield from buffets and spitting.

2. The way of the Cross. On Palm Sunday we acclaim Jesus, who points out to us the way to this peace, and we ask him to take us with him on his path. In our Ascetical Examination we find reflected the conditions set down by Jesus to become one of his disciples: denying self, taking up the cross, and following Him. To this end, Jesus set an example and promised that those who lose their life for his sake will find it (Mt 16:25). This attitude is more than an effort, it represents the attitude of fully opening ourselves to the divine action. As today’s Second Reading tells us: He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name.

Jesus tells his disciples that they are to deny themselves. In the Gospel, the word that is translated “deny” is the same one used to describe Peter’s action when he is recognized as one of Jesus’ followers. When asked, Peter says that he does not know Jesus; he denies that he has any connection with him. “Deny” is the opposite of acknowledge. Those who hear Jesus’ words are called to deny themselves rather than deny Jesus. They are to step back from being at the top of their priority or center of the universe. Rather than trying to be God they are to let God be God. We are called to put God’s kingdom work ahead of our own desires. Rather we must set aside our own focus on self, our own judgments (wrong or right), our own plans for control. We must be willing to acknowledge the presence of God in our neighbors and to be led wholly by God’s self-giving love for the world and in particular those who are poor and vulnerable.

Intellectual and emotional self-denial (or abnegation) is extremely demanding, because it requires us to approach the Gospel precisely in critical moments, when we are victims of our passions, or when we have no time to reflect. As some people say, we act in automatic mode.

This is true for us all. We do not like people who challenge our plans and our decisions. We tend to take them too personally and as a consequence, instead of weighing the value of their arguments, we spend more time finding ways to counter their objections. We are not ready to listen or to see from the other person’s point of view. Our insecurity and defense mechanisms blind us from seeing the truth. When we sense a violation of justice against us or against others, especially our loved ones, we are indignant. So self-defense is the usual response towards those who hurt us. We therefore need to accept that, in reference to abnegation, we are and we shall always be disciples, apprentices of this subject matter.

If we are faithful in the intellectual acceptance of the Gospel, cherishing it as our daily guide, as our blueprint or manual for day-to-day life (Formulative Union), we will be equipped to face the more concrete difficulties of our Dominant Defect, Attachment to the World and the divinization of our Ego (Purificative Union).

Saint Luke adds a detail not found in Matthew’s or Mark’s account of Jesus’ words: If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me (Lk 9:23). Following Jesus is a matter for everyday life. This is the Spirit of the Gospel. Faithful discipleship involves making decisions every day to live Jesus’ way, not our own. This involves making numerous choices and resolutions, even small ones, to serve our brothers or sisters in need, even if that involves foregoing our own needs and preferences. To take up the cross we often have to die to self in these seemingly mundane, everyday ways.

To carry the cross is not a passive attitude. It does not mean to be crushed or broken, but to be able to walk like Jesus along the way of the cross.

To carry the cross does not just mean to endure life’s travails or suffering through illness, because that is self-focused. Besides, everyone at one time or another suffers from sickness, whether they are Christian or not. And many non-religious people know how to suffer with patience Instead, to carry the cross means to be able to help others in their time of illness, when we are also sick and our forces are not at their very best.

To carry the cross does not mean when disaster strikes my life, this is my cross to carry. Every human being faces and deals with disaster at one time or another in their life. Instead, to carry the cross means reaching out to help carry people who are impacted by disasters in their life, to lift up others who are being crushed by the weight of their sorrow, to dry the tears of those who weep, to bring them the hope of new life by our self-giving love. And all this in the midst of my mediocrity, mi sins and my own limits…or the limits imposed by envy, persecution and misunderstanding.

Jesus was able to carry the cross because He was always aware of being accompanied by his and our Father at every step along this trip that we call life. This is an extremely important grace we share as baptized children of God. It complements the profound aspiration of every human being, be he a believer or not, conscious or not: to give their life for their neighbor.

When Communist troops entered China, led by a trained-abroad lieutenant, an old friend said to the lieutenant: How can you say you’re going to capture the town tonight? Don’t you know that they have 10 times more troops than you do, and you have to cross that river and face those enemy guns that are deadlier than yours? The Communist lieutenant replied: I will gladly die that Communism may be advanced one more mile.

Do I give the same dedication to Jesus Christ?

We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people who make imperfect decisions. Because of this, each person shares equally in a fallen and imperfect nature. And this means that each of us carries a cross of some sort. To carry the cross and follow Jesus means to follow after God and trust in Him, in spite of the shortcomings we all have that in many ways are easier to accept if we can blame someone, and the person we most often blame is God. To take up the cross and follow means to continue to trust and glorify God, despite our struggles.

To follow means to let Christ be in the lead. Where He leads, we do not necessarily know, either where or why. Disciples are not to guide, protect, or possess Jesus, they are to follow him. In this time of Lent, we are asked to reflect on what it means to follow Jesus Christ, what is the true cost of discipleship. Jesus calls us to literally offer our all. And experience of saints and our experience shows that nothing less will do. But to take up our cross requires a sacrifice that can be hard to hear when we are too confident and sure of ourselves…or when it is not the best moment of our energy and enthusiasm.

What is the alternative? To protect your life and reputation, to keep it from God, to play it safe, to gain the world… that means you lose your soul. How much is your soul worth? What can you give in exchange for your soul? We are called to decide if we are to be with him, or flee, or just be spectators at his death.

The people saw in Jesus he who truly comes in the name of the Lord. and brings God’s presence among them. This is his victory and our victory, this is his testimony and our testimony. Not just being successful in an activity or project, but to become closer to the other in the name of the Lord, with one single purpose and one intention: to show the reality of his kingdom of peace in this lacerated world.

The cross is the most eloquent sign of His merciful love, the only sign of salvation for the whole of humanity. May our personal cross be, in a similar way, a little but expressive sign of what Jesus announced: I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself (Jn 12:32).

Jesus’ final teaching is follow me. In this we remember our place as followers of Jesus. We are to watch and listen and follow, we are to learn from Jesus. This is why prayer, the Word of God and the Eucharist are our spiritual food.

There are times when we hear Jesus’ call to go and times when we are to wait. There are many times when Jesus will send laborers to companion us in our work. Jesus does not ask us to take up our cross alone. We have the opportunity to be like Symon of Cyrene, like our Mother Mary, always right alongside Him.

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Your brother in the sacred hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

Luis Casasús

General Superior

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