Cross: The Summit of Love

Crucifix 2Cross: The Summit of Love

(Sermon delivered in Alokulum National Seminary on Good Friday, 14 April 2017)
They will look up the one whom they have pierced… Have a look at the cross for two minutes.
1. What are the emotions and thoughts evoked in your mind and heart at the sight of the cross?
2. Has the cross become the source of spirituality in your life?
3. Do you turn to the cross at the moments of trails and pain?
4. Does the cross cause fear or consolation?
5. Do you consciously pay attention to the cross?
1. Cross is the answer

“I have been crucified with Christ, and I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in the body I live in faith; faith in the Son of God who loved me and who sacrificed himself for my sake.” (Gal. 2:19).

What converted St. Paul? It is the persecuted Christ. “I am Jesus, you are persecuting… So St. Paul begin to look in the suffering Christians. Perhaps this made Paul to compare the Church as the body of Christ. He began to look the church and was willing to sacrifice his life for Church… which is the same as Christ.

The cross is the school of love. – St. Maximilian Kolbe
Today is Good Friday, the day in which we remember the saving passion and death of our Lord Jesus. On the cross, Christ mightily won our salvation, conquering death and destroying the power of sin forever. All our hope of eternal life is founded upon the cross, and this is why we pray, “We adore you O Christ and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.” – St. Maximilian Kolbe

Again St. Francis De Sales, the Doctor of Love, who is often romantic says, “Mount Calvary is the mount of lovers. All love that does not take its origin from the Savior’s passion is foolish and perilous. Unhappy is love without the Savior’s death. Love and death are so mingled in the Savior’s passion that we cannot have one in our hearts without the other. Upon Calvary, we cannot have life without love, or love without the Redeemer’s death.”

 Through the cross Christ has built with us personal relationship and we have come to know the depth of this love.
 There is no place holier than the cross. It is where heaven’s love and heaven’s justice meet.
 Words from the cross reveal God’s answer to our human needs – healing our body, mind and spirit. God’s process of healing is loving us until the end.

2. Loving the Cross make us better Christians and disciples
Often Christ’s passion create in us emotions. Without emotions we can truly understand the passion of the Lord. There are many emotional scenes in the passion narratives. The meeting with his mother, Veronica reaching to Jesus with a little physical contact… a love and compassion physically expressed, the women of Jerusalem crying for their familiar Rabbi and healer, Simon coming to help, and finally many emotional exchanges under the cross with his mother, with the disciple he loved, and touching conversation with the good thief, and not forgetting Jesus loving conversion with his Father.
Our heart understands reasons that our mind does not follow… it is not just a philosophical statement, but an emotional one. It is difficult to rationalize suffering, pain and death, but they make sense to us when we apply heart to it.
It is easy for us to accept suffering and live joyfully with it when our heart understands it. At the Divine Retreat Centre, a mother who carried around a handicapped daughter said, “Jesus has given me this child as a gift. I consider it as a miracle rather the healing I desired. We can understand suffering as the will of God or as a gift of God when we truly put our heart into it. This process of putting heart into it is a certainly a gift of God. It is a lesson learnt from the cross. Truly to fall in love with the cross and accept it with joy and Christian resignation is truly a miracle. And that is the moment of Salvation for the person concerned.

What do you think about the “Born-Again” churches who do not speak about the Cross? Cross is purposely removed from their thought and preaching. It is a scandal and an obstacle for them. May be life of prosperity is salvation.

But perhaps for the Catholics the use of the cross is a daily affair. But not that we are conscious of it and we have found a meaning in it. We see it every day, we carry it all the time. We have even made it an ornament, a symbol of authority, a logo, but not so much an object to be made example and venerated. Pope Francis who wants to resemble Jesus in day to day dealings and wants the Church to identity with the poor and the suffering says, “The Christian Cross is not a furnishing for the house or an ornament to wear, but a call to the love with which Jesus sacrificed himself to save humanity from evil and from sin,”
During the Second World War, a Catholic Church was turned into a Field Hospital in a French territory. A French Soldier with bullet wounds was brought for an emergency surgery. He was put on the Alter which was used as the surgery table. The doctor apologized him that due to the lack of Anastasia he has operate him without it. But the courageous soldier told the doctor, “Please turn me towards the Crucifix, let me keep looking at it and you can go ahead to cross. My pain is nothing compared to the crucifixion of the Lord…. it heals me of my pain.

3. Cross and Love of God
Cross is the manifestation of God’s love for humanity. Because upon the cross hangs Extreme Love and there is nowhere else to experience such a love as this. We ought to cultivate a sense of admiration, veneration and imitation for the cross. Perhaps our human nature and the easy life of the modern world wants to ignore the cross. As St. Paul himself said, Cross is a scandal for the pagans but for those who believe it is salvation. I can confidently say that our belief in the Resurrection is of not much use if we do not believe and love the Cross and the suffering Lord. There is no resurrection without Good Friday.
Real life has so much to do with the Cross of Christ. Jesus’ sacrifice is perfect because it encompasses all of the common and uncommon crosses of the human experience: betrayal, despair, physical pain, poverty, fear, abuse, rejection, seeming failure, loss, death.

On Good Friday all of the suffering that afflicts the world is addressed in an act of Extreme Love by the only person who can effectively reconcile death with life, and sin with salvation. As Jesus hangs in love upon the cross, He answers every hard question that has ever plagued us: Why do the innocent suffer? What is the purpose of death? What will be my own end?

We can only grasp a small part of the explanation Christ offers, as we gaze at Him in His willing agony. With the crucifixion we have arrived at the painful apex of God’s mysteries, and it confuses and repels us. “If you don’t like mysteries, stay away from Christianity,” says Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR. We know love is there, dying on the cross, but we can’t understand the mystery of its presence.

We’re taught by Jesus that God’s purpose is to die, so that mankind can be raised to new life. Our response to love must be love. “Love is repaid by love alone,” wrote St. Therese of Lisieux. We demonstrate our great love for God by doing the work of God—dying to ourselves and rising to Him, conforming ourselves so completely to Christ that we cooperate in His work of salvation.

4. Loving the Cross is Thirsting for Jesus and neighbour
Cross should evoke in us a sense of sacrifice, service, mortification and martyrdom, all these are fruits of love, and they have foundation in love.

Mother Theresa lived love and breathed love in very practical terms. She talks of true love thus: True love is when it begins to hurt you. A love that does not hurt, love that does not cost, love that does not challenge and involve sacrifice is not love at all.

Mother Theresa asks us today: “Jesus is God, therefore His love, His Thirst, is infinite. He, the creator of the universe, asked for the love of His creatures. He thirsts for our love… These words: ‘I Thirst’ – do they echo in our souls?”

Mother Teresa made sure that in every one of her convent chapels, the words “I THIRST” would be posted next to a bloody crucifix, in bold black, serving to remind everyone of God’s most extraordinary love.

She transcribed Jesus’ conversation with her: I thirst for You. Yes, that is the only way to begin to describe my love for you… I thirst to love you and to be loved by you — that is how precious you are to Me. I thirst for you. Come to Me, and I will fill your heart and heal your wounds. I will make you a new creation, and give you peace, even in all your trials I thirst for you. You must never doubt my mercy, my acceptance of you, my desire to forgive, my longing to bless you and live my life in you… If you feel unimportant in the eyes of the world, that matters not at all. For Me, there is no one any more important in the entire world than you.

I would summarize her evangelization method in the following words: The most intimate way to feel the love of God is to feel the cross… the only way to save the world is to speak about the cross… the best way to pray is to contemplate the cross… the honest way to repent is to look at the cross… the most successful way to evangelize is to preach about the cross. True evangelization can take place only in the context of love.

Without love we cannot understand, accept and love the pain, trails and challenges of life. Without love we will flee from the cross. Our pain and challenges will make us flee or at least keep grumbling, getting tired and dejected.

When that suffering occurs, we often block it out with distractions such as television, Internet, food, alcohol, drugs, pornography, and the list goes on and on. We do anything to avoid confronting the reality of the Cross. We flee. We flee mentally and physically.

From the Cross we learn compassion and the true nature of authentic human nature. Perhaps cross makes us better human being. A balanced human being. Cross gives enough wisdom to handle the reality of suffering, pain and temptations to be what we are not and what we should not be.

A Buddhist monk was crossing a river with his young novices. In the running water he finds a scorpion struggling stay afloat the moving water. Feeling pity for the creature, the monk tried to rescue it by getting hold of it. Alas it stung him and began to bleed. Out of pain he released it. Feeling pity for it he again he caught it in his wounded hands. And the creature stung again. Amazed with is “unreasonable” act the novices rebuked him saying, “Master, why do you want to save this merciless creature. Without any further thought, he told the novices, “It is its nature to sting, but our nature is to feel compassion and save it.”

5. Loving the Cross is being more like Jesus
Christ took on human flesh, which united Him to us in solidarity and united us to one another. That is the Incarnation Principle—God becoming human, becoming one of us. It is because of this deep unity that He commands us to love our neighbor. Love requires a desire within us for the good of our neighbor. That means asking the Holy Spirit to help us gain fortitude because love requires the Cross.

We need courage to enter into the Cross of our neighbor, but love compels us to do just that. We lighten the load of one another and we expand our own capacity for love when we choose to walk with those around us who suffer. Entering into the suffering of others is not just for the likes of St. Teresa of Calcutta; it is for you and me.

Love requires the Cross. One of the ways God prepares us for Heaven is in teaching us to enter into our own suffering and the suffering of our neighbor. The Cross is transformative. The Cross makes us saints.

Evangelist John is the best narrator of the Passion. Because he was the only disciple, or the male person who witnessed the passion of the Lord, from the beginning to end. In today’s passion John does not see the cross just in terms of suffering but also in terms of the power of God’s love. He sees the cross not only as an instrument of torture but also as a throne on which Christ sits as divine and majestic king. Jesus told us earlier in the gospel that when I am raised up I will draw all men to myself.

Why is suffering important to us as Christians? While the world frequently misrepresents almost everything Christians believe, they seem to instinctively understand that we have a certain understanding about the nature of suffering. This has often been something even non-Christians have respected and admired about Christianity: it offers us real lessons on how to deal with life once the pleasure cruise inevitably stops.

6. Seven words from the cross
Many saints, spiritual masters and spiritual writers have written on the Greatness of the Cross. Many of them have lived with the thought of the cross all their life; for many cross has been the source of their holiness and source of love. They are even identified with the cross – St. John of the Cross, Benedicta of the Cross, etc.

In authentic Christian spirituality…
• Cross is our salvation
• Cross is our answer
• Cross is our victory
• Cross is God’s own love.

Through the cross Christ has built with us personal relationship and we have come to know the depth of this love.

There is no place holier than the cross. It is where heaven’s love and heaven’s justice meet.
Words from the cross reveal God’s answer to our human needs – healing our body, mind and spirit. These seven words summarises the spirituality of the Cross. We can compare them to the teachings of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount, the parables of Jesus, and other incidents and encounters of Jesus with people.

(1) Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
“If we confess our sins, he will make us righteous.”
Why are they to be forgiven? They are:
Elders of the Jews…
Roman soldiers…
Rulers and Governors….
They were people who were ungrateful…
They were apostles and friends who left him when he needed them most.
Forgive them of what?
Sins of hatred, cruelty, selfishness, ungratefulness, Waywardness.
He suffered so that we may not suffer but we be forgiven and learn the greatness of forgiveness.
“Lord do not hold this sin against them.” (St. Stephen)

(2) Today you will be with me in paradise.
“Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
Now Jesus extends his love and embrace to a single needy person.
It is the extension of friendship at the moment of great pain.
Among many thoughtless people Jesus’ righteousness was noticed by one… Perhaps he had a gentle soul.
Evil man though he was, he feared God, and that was the beginning of his repentance.
All that we have to say is….
“God wants all to be saved.”

(3) Woman here is your son, here is your mother.
“Whoever does the will of my Father is my mother…”
Jesus also extends his love and care for his loved ones. He cares for her earthly needs.
Jesus thinks of loving his beloved beyond his pain.
Jesus wants to heal the wounds of the sword that pierced this gentle woman’s heart.
Now John receives a great love from his master, he is to share that love with the whole world
“Son they have no wine… Do whatever he tells you”

(4) My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?
“He emptied himself taking the form of a servant.”
Perhaps it is the most painful words of Jesus.
It is in paradox with his words, “Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.”
It is the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus, a total abandonment.
Jesus seems to be saying, I have emptied myself completely for you.
“The Father loves me”

(5) I Thirst.
“I am the Living Water.”
Jesus’ death was a slow death
Probably he was physically thirsty. As Psalm 22 says, ‘my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
It is clear manifestation of his suffering.
But his physical thirst brings out his thirst for our salvation.
“Whoever drinks the water that I give will never thirsty again.”

(6) It is finished.
“When I am lifted up I will draw all to myself.”
What is finished? His suffering?
Satan’s hold on the earth is finished, we have been saved.
It is the words of Jesus’ victory. A successful completion of his mission on earth.
Jesus seems to be giving account of his duty… A handover ceremony.
My suffering is finished… My redemption story has just ended…
It is finished for me, but you begin where I have ended. I have done my duty, you begin yours.
“Die to sin, and Rise to eternal life.”

(7) Into your hands I commend my spirit.
“I lay down my life on my own… I and my Father are one.”
It is the prayer of fulfilment… It is reporting to the Father after the duty well done.
It is a prayer of satisfaction.
It is a prayer of total surrender.
It is an act of returning to God. An act of holy death, a total resignation.
It makes the other prayer… ‘Why have you forsaken me…’ a positive one.
It is manifestation of Trinitarian unity – oneness.
“It is not I who live, it is Christ who lives in me.”

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