Today’s feast is the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Seriously? Exalt a cross? The instrument of humiliation, suffering, and torture employed by the Roman Empire? The instrument on which Jesus Christ suffered and died?
Yes. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1Cor 1:18) Hmmmm. So what is this “message of the cross”?
Jesus calls his disciples through the simple words “Follow me.” Later, Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
“Deny himself” – guess that means it is NOT all about me. What I want is not most important. I am not the center. “Take up (my) cross daily” – every day? No vacations? “Follow Jesus” – through betrayal, suffering and death to what?
I don’t mind following Jesus, but I’d prefer to pass on the cross carrying and suffering that goes with it. I would prefer the walking with and listening to Jesus part. However, I think the point of the cross is obedience – obedience to God. We hear St. Paul’s hymn to the Philippian community in the second reading today that poetically describes Jesus’ obedience. After his suffering and death on the cross comes Jesus’ exaltation. If we wish to follow Jesus, I guess this is our path, also. We must go through the suffering.
This suffering might include not having the ‘right’ clothes or shoes, being excluded from the popular group at school. It might mean having to clean my room or do homework, share the TV or computer, obeying caregivers and making good grades. It could be living in a homeless shelter or living with a parent’s unemployment, wondering when the next meal will be or worrying about finding a coat and gloves for winter. Not feeling good about oneself is suffering. Hoping that a classmate will invite me to a party can be painful. A mother’s illness or a father’s absence due to long working hours is difficult to endure. Where is the exaltation in these sufferings?
First of all, we are never alone. Jesus has walked whatever path we encounter and will walk with us, if we let him. Jesus suffering led to his resurrection and to Jesus saving us all. The suffering of carrying our cross can lead us to eternal life. That is the promise. Perhaps this cross is more than just any suffering we endure. Maybe ‘taking up our cross’ means that we are open to whatever God wills, trusting that we will not be alone. There is exaltation in that – being open to God’s will in and for our lives, trusting in our faithful God’s promises.