Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Every year on September 14 the church celebrates the finding of the true cross by Empress Helena, mother of Constantine. The cross was an instrument of torture and oppression. But Jesus has turned it into a sign of God's great love. In fact the cross teaches us that love is stronger than violence and hate, stronger than force or fear, stronger than money and power. Love wins. In the game of life, hearts are the trump card. Don't be tempted by spades, clubs, or diamonds. If you are holding the King of Hearts, you will always win.
Jesus invites his Disciples to carry a splinter of the true cross. Just like the love of Jesus transforms the brutality of the cross, so must our love radiate through our daily struggles. Often, we feel that we have been given too much to carry. But this is not true.
Picking the Perfect Cross
One day a man complained to God that he had the worst cross while every other Tom, Dick, and Harry seemed to have an easier life. That night Jesus appeared in his dreams. He said, "Are you not happy with the life I have given you? Alright, I will let you chose your own cross." The man saw before him a vast field of crosses. He put his cross down and looked for another.
He picked a cross which looked comfortable. But looks were deceiving. It was the cross of a man who never faced his problems. He'd known abuse, had a son out of marriage, a failed marriage, and a string of different jobs. This man ran away to his cabin every weekend rather than facing life. The man kept shifting the cross, but no matter how he turned it, he kept finding hard edges that rubbed and wore.
The next one looked perfect. But it had splinters that dug in. It was the cross of someone who was never satisfied. He carried the disapproval of an overbearing father and an ungrateful boss.The harder he tried to carry it, the deeper the splinters dug.
The next cross was the smallest, but it was by far the heaviest. It was the cross of mental illness and depression, a deep darkness that made him struggle to find hope.
Finally he picked up an unlikely cross that was large and unwieldy. It was the cross of providing for an ungrateful wife and lazy children, a cross full of daily cares and worries. He was able to balance and carry it surprisingly well.
He announced, "I'll take this one."
"Well chosen," said Jesus. "That is in fact the cross that you came with."
We don't need a change of crosses; we need a change of attitude. We cannot avoid suffering, no matter how hard we try. Jesus invites us to follow his example: Carry it willingly as an act of love. Do we live our marriage as an act of love? Do we see our job as an opportunity to love? Do we face struggles with health, friends, and family as opportunities to love?
When we look at a crucifix, we do not see the suffering because it has been transformed by the love of Christ. Our lives should be the same way. Instead of challenges we should see opportunities to love. When people look at us, they should see love.
I celebrated Mass at one of our nursing homes this past week. I asked the people, "What was it like to give birth?" After hearing several responses, one woman summed it up: "It was hard, but it was worth it." What a perfect answer. The Exaltation of the Cross means this: the path of Jesus is hard, but it's worth it.
(14 Sep 2014)
Pause and Reflect
- Spend some time gazing at a Crucifix.
- Examine yourself - what is one burden that I should be treating as a cross?
- Consider a neighbor who seems to have a heavy cross, or one who appears to "have it easy." Pray for them.