Once a year where I come from there is a huge county fair. Pumpkins piled high, baked goods, and horses, cattle, and every kind of farm animal await the visitors. More subdued yet no less attractive are displays of lovely model homes. These always feature the newest “built-in” appliances: dishwasher, freezer/refrigerator, and stove. But no matter how lovely and appealing the kitchens with the built-in luxuries appear, reality sets in at the first meal. The food in the freezer has to be defrosted; the stove can collect spills; the dishwasher has to be loaded and unloaded; the fridge has to be checked almost daily to keep things fresh.. Even a shiny kitchen has its hidden “cross” of unpleasantries.
As a teenager, I imagined my own personal cross might come fifty years later: perhaps some colossal battle with cancer or some other enormous suffering. After all I had been healthy, active—a horseback rider, a busy student. It hadn’t occurred to me that bearing the burden of the cross comes built-in with any walk of life, any age, or circumstance. I smile when I recall a clever skit put on by some of our sisters. The act opened with a room full of Styrofoam crosses. The sisters on stage were invited to pick whichever cross they felt suited them.. Some hugged tiny crosses; others lifted large crosses as though they were trophies. Each sister had a different size. Of course size did not matter, since the weight amounted to next to nothing. We laughed when the skit was over because all the participants tried to choose the crosses that suited them best.
Now way beyond my teens, I wonder no longer when the cross will come. I discovered my built-in cross: the effort it takes me to control reactions or responses to annoyances, to be pleasant when I feel cranky, to squelch a nasty remark just when it seems to be perfect timing. All these are ways of taking up my cross—even if it be only made of Styrofoam!
On September 14th, the Church celebrates the feast of the Triumph or The Exultation of the Cross. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, “Ours is not a ‘Christ-less cross nor a cross-less Christ.’ ” Jesus’ cross was his weapon, the means he used to conquer sin, Satan and death.
When Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus asserted that he is a king. However he said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world….My kingdom is not here” (see John 18:35).
Pilate exercised his authority in the Roman Empire which no longer exists. Wherever Christians are the Kingdom of Jesus Christ exists. Together with Jesus, Christians embrace their daily cross. Shown at Baptism with the sign of the cross, we begin and end our daily prayers with the sign of Jesus’s triumph: the cross.
On September 14th, we lift high the cross and thank Jesus for transforming the pain of the cross into the joy of victory over sin and death.
Our acceptance of and embrace of our daily cross is our participation in the kingdom which is not “of this world.”
Christ was condemned so that we would be released from the hold of sin.
Sin committed at all times and by everyone lost its power to condemn us that day. The King of all creation mounted his throne. He used the cross to foil the enemy’s plan to destroy the whole human race.
Saint Paul said, God “takes the things that are not, to confound the things that are” (see 1 Cor 1:27). The cross was the sign of failure, defeat and contempt. God turned the “curse of the cross” into the symbol of Christ’s victory.
Today because Christ nailed our sins to the cross, we exalt the cross, raise it high and rejoice in it. At Mass we celebrate “The Mystery of Faith” immediately after the priest consecrates the bread and wine into the precious body and blood of Christ. The cross too is a mystery. Suffering sneaks into our life, unwanted and at times overwhelming. No matter the size or shape of our cross, it can serve to unite us with the loving sacrifice of Jesus.
The classic, The Imitation of Christ, tells us more about the mystery of the cross—this embrace of what is unpleasant, even painful in our everyday life:
So if you do not want to suffer, you are refusing to be crowned. Fight bravely and endure with patience. Without labor one cannot rest. Without fighting one cannot be victorious.
Lord, may your grace make possible to me what seems, by nature, impossible. You know how little I can suffer and how quickly I am discouraged by a small difficulty. For you name’s sake, help me find all trials lovable and desirable, knowing that to suffer affliction for your love is very good for my soul. (From Solace in Suffering: Wisdom from Thomas à Kempis, Pauline Books & Media: Boston, 2010.)
by Sr. Mary Peter Martin, FSP