14 Sept, Wednesday, The Triumph of the Cross
Num 21:5-9. When the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, to punish their infidelity, Moses raised the statue of a bronze serpent as an antidote, to give them healing from their ills.
Ph 2:6-11. The hymn to Christ who humbled himself, even unto death – but God exalted him above all creation.
Jn 3:13-17. The Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”
The Cross that Saves (Ottaviano D’Egidio cp)
It might seem an anachronism, trying to celebrate our passion for life while stressing the victory of the Cross, a sordid instrument of death. We’ve declared our position regarding torture and the death sentence – “Let no one lay hands upon Cain, to kill him” – and yet here we are, acclaiming a structure on which a wholly innocent man was put to death, one who had spent his life helping and healing others: “He has done everything well.”
Jesus himself had told the Baptist’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Lk 7:22). And a woman would cry out, “Blessed are the breasts at which you nursed” (Lk 11:27). And He, Jesus, that young prophet from Nazareth who was to be hung on a cross following an unjust sentence, and denied any proper defense in a trial which was nothing but farce, his human dignity mocked and disregarded as he was struck and spat upon, dressed as a madman and a soothsayer – He, the wisdom and Word of God by whom all things in heaven and on earth were created – was tortured with a crown of thorns on his head, scourged and taunted with the words of “ECCE HOMO!” He was an object of pity to behold, “There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him” (Is 53:2).
How can we now rejoice in the instrument of his death, this frightful gibbet where thieves, slaves and other malefactors were executed and upon which He, led as a lamb to the slaughter, will be nailed? It is because the presence of Jesus transfixed to that Cross will give life to death, just as the instrument of his torture becomes the throne on which he will sit: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). The instrument of death has been transformed into the instrument of life and this is the reason for our rejoicing: in so doing we proclaim the triumph of Life which has been born of it.
In Numbers 21:6 we read, “In punishment the Lord sent among the people fiery serpents, which bit the people so that many of them died… and the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a serpent and mount it on a pole, and if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover’.” In today’s Gospel Jesus recalls that event and applies it to himself: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-15). They will look up at the serpent and will be healed, they’ll look back upon the one they’ve transfixed and eternal life will flow from the instrument of death.
We must help people understand and live the paschal meaning of human suffering, and our redemption which is both nailed to the Cross and flows out to us from it. The laity need to share in this mystery in order to discover for themselves and share with us the spirituality of the Passion in both contemplation and mission. It’s not a case of two different lives, mission and contemplation, but rather two different aspects of the same spirit, which will empower us to be present in the struggle against marginalization of every sort and in defense of creation.
Of course, we can’t just focus on our own cross in life. One by one let us silently take up one of the numberless crosses to be found on mount Calvary, because Jesus has said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23).
Transformed by the Holy Spirit the disciples spread over the world, and we know they were originally just a small band of twelve, plus Mary the mother of Jesus and a few women who prayed. Out yonder was the Roman world with its own peculiar form of globalization, yet with the help of the Holy Spirit, given through those wounds, there followed the proclamation of the Word, a great witnessing and martyrdom. It is our duty also to allow ourselves to be transformed by the Holy Spirit.
We entrust our Congregation and the whole of our Passionist Family to the loving protection of Mary and the intercession of our father, St Paul of the Cross.
To Save Sinners (William Byron, S.J.)
“This saying is trustworthy,” writes Paul, “and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” That’s the meaning of the name Jesus- “Yahweh saves.”
That’s who Jesus is. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
Two days ago we celebrated throughout the Catholic world the feast of the Triumph of the Cross – the Exaltation of the Cross. And in the morning prayer of the Church on that great day of remembrance, the praying Church worldwide repeated in antiphonal praise these words: “To destroy the power of hell Christ died upon the cross, clothed in strength and glory, he triumphed over death.” He triumphed over death. He came into the world to save sinners. He died upon the cross to destroy the power of hell.
“This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” All of us are sinners who accept, and are accepted by, Christ Jesus. He died upon the cross “to destroy the power of hell,” and standing with him, as we do today, we are not powerless in the face of the evil we encountered six days ago.
We are a people of hope. We hope not in a vague and undefined future; we hope in a merciful, all-powerful God. If God is all-powerful, we might be asking ourselves, why did he not prevent this evil from happening, why did he stand by as thousands suffered and died? For the same reason, I must tell you, that God stood by and permitted his Son to die on the cross for our salvation.
God permits evil, but does not positively will it to happen. God’s permissive will opens the door to the abuse of human freedom, to human beings using their own free will (that which makes them human) to do evil things. God will not suppress human freedom, just as God will not suspend the law of gravity or other physical laws of nature. If you freely choose to act against those laws, as unfathomable as that choice may be, you live or die with the physical consequences of that choice. But God is always there to rescue you from the moral consequences of your evil, sinful choice, if you simply turn to him and seek his mercy. Mercy is God’s ever available and always effective act of rescue. May God have mercy on them all-victims and criminals- – whose deaths have brought us to our knees in prayer.
The Gospel is a celebration of mercy. Yes, a celebration. “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.” “Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.” “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
Rejoice in your faith today, dear friends. Rejoice in your hope-hope in a saving God who has and will save you from your grief, your weakness, your powerlessness, your sin and sinfulness. Rejoice in the acceptance of the fact that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” That means you. That means all who lost their lives in the highjacked planes, in the buildings they struck, and in the rescue efforts that ensued.
Rejoice in your firm belief that mercy is God’s always available and eternally effective act of rescue no matter how great the dimensions of your personal or national disaster.
Last Wednesday, a friend sent me an e-mail message that ended with this quotation from Gandhi: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it . . . always.”
Giving Meaning to Life’s Pain (Kevin Schmittgens)
Central Idea: Through the cross of Christ, we find meaning for our suffering, our sadness, our lives.
A couple of years back there was a horror film called They Live. It starred WWF pro-wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper, which gave me reason enough to see it! It was about how aliens had invaded the earth and that they had taken human appearance.
Very sneaky of them! What was different about this film is that the hero discovered that the aliens true appearance could be revealed by seeing them through special sunglasses. Whenever you looked through the glasses you could see who was an alien and who was not.
You might be wondering what all of this has to do with the feast of the Holy Cross, well, probably not a lot, but hang in there I will make a connection soon enough.
This past week was not an easy one for me. For two days in a row, I celebrated the funeral masses of two members of my family, my cousin Susie, who died of cancer, on Wednesday and my uncle Tony, who died unexpectedly, on Thursday, It was quite an emotional ride. On top of that, this past week, I heard others talk about their individual trials and sorrows. Devastating stories of alcoholism, abuse, family strife. Sometimes as a minister, you are witness to an incredible display of human suffering, pain and misery. Beyond all of this, with the funeral of Mother Teresa, the plight of the poor and dying has been highlighted this week, as we watch lepers, orphans and refugees participate in her mourning.
And it was then when it hit me. A truth I always knew, but sometimes forget. Everybody has a story.
One of the things I try to remember as I deal with my students on a daily basis, is that when I look out at a class, all of them have a story, all of them have some sort of baggage and difficulty in their lives. Some of them have problems that I could only have imagined at fifteen years old. When I look out at a congregation on Sunday, I have to imagine that you all have stories as well.
Some of you are dealing with illnesses and disease. Some of you are dealing with loneliness and loss. Some of you are dealing with brokenness in your families.
Everybody has a story.
Wouldn’t it be nice, if we could put on a pair of sunglasses and see inside people’s hearts and souls, to see their sorrows, to see their pain, in essence, to see the crosses they bear. Maybe we would be less quick with a sharp word, maybe we would be more giving, maybe we would be more supportive, maybe we would love a little better, a little deeper. If we could see the crosses that people carry every day, how would it change the outlook on our own lives. How might we grow in compassion if people’s stories of sorrow and difficulty were easily seen? Or would we simply become numb to their problems?
Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Cross, which is one of the strangest celebrations of our Church. Why would we celebrate a form of execution? Why would we celebrate torture and torment? The ancient church would have been repulsed by this celebration, for the cross was a symbol of loss, destruction and failure. So why do we need to celebrate this, why do we remember the cross?
The simple answer is that we celebrate the cross because by it Christ has redeemed the world. When we ponder and meditate on the cross, we discover how deeply God has loved us, we discover what our crosses mean, we discover compassion. Our reflection upon the cross of Christ, in a sense, helps us to see the crosses that others carry in their lives, it puts our own suffering into perspective.
The other day, driving down the road, I saw a man jogging with a cross. No kidding. My guess is that he was doing some sort of marathon to raise either money or awareness. But it reminded me that people all around me, even those I may get angry at as I drive down the highway, have their crosses that they bear.
May our reflection on the holy cross, the fact that Jesus emptied himself so that we might be filled, help us to be more aware of the suffering of others around us. May it help us put our suffering into perspective. May it also help us see how the cross of destruction is indeed the cross of life. He lives.
First Reading: Book of Numbers 21:5-9
The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.
The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”
So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
Second Reading: Philippians 2:6-11
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Gospel: John 3:13-17
No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.