Posted by: Fr Chris | September 14, 2018

The Holy Cross and Our Situation Today

September 14, 2018

Today’s official feast day title is The Exaltation of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross.  This reflects the paradox that Saint Paul writes about – the Cross is a stumbling block to pagans, Jews, Muslims, nonbelievers of all kinds. Why would a merciful and loving God require the death of His Divine and Human Son in such a terrible way?

Ave Crux, Spes Unica! is an old Latin phrase: Hail O Cross, our unique hope! The instrument of death becomes an instrument of salvation. In imperial Japan, they crucified people who were discovered to be secret Catholics, part of a network of faithful that waited nearly 200 years for Catholic missionaries to return. In the Soviet Gulag, there were cases of priests nailed to doors and then doused with water in the middle of winter, leaving them crucified and frozen to death. Muslims routinely call Christians as Worshippers of the Cross.  In the recent upsurge of Islamic fundamentalism, many Christians have been crucified on church doors or along the roads to punish them for continuing to believe in Jesus  Christ, and to frighten remaining  Christians into converting. In all of these examples and more, the Cross on which Jesus died has been used by  pagan, communist, and Muslim regimes to frighten people, where instead it simply increased their resolve to imitate their Savior by accepting such a death in His honor, confident of what awaited them after death.

The original Cross is said to have been buried, and Saint Helen to have been directed to it during excavations of Jerusalem in the early 300s. A sick person who touched the cross was cured, but when a funeral procession went by, Helen had them stopped and touched the cross to the corpse. The man immediately came back to life. The instrument of death gives life and healing, both literally in these two cases but also spiritually and psychologically for millions over the last twenty centuries.

The Gospel tells us that Jesus was crucified outside the walls of the city – that was a death reserved for the worst criminals. The Jewish leadership wanted to get rid of Him and His miracles, His challenges to their authority, His constant call to conversion. The Romans were the only ones with the authority to kill him, and do so because the procurator is too weak to stand up for the authentic truth. The apostles take off, except for the youngest, who stands with the Blessed Mother and the other women. We must be willing to stand at the Cross in our lives, with St. John and Mary and the others – we can’t run away. From the Cross comes the Church and we are staying with this Church founded by Jesus Christ, not by some ordinary guy who wants to make his own theology.

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Jesus dies in order to bring salvation to the entire world, not only the Jews.  The cross is a door. Through it we will find redemption and God’s abiding love. Stay stuck in front of it and we may be moved by Christ’s great suffering, but not find the resurrection. Saint Edith Stein wrote that we must embrace the Cross, go into the Cross, and only then will we find the power of God on the other side. In His death, which He willingly went to, Jesus makes the weak strong, makes sinners into holy people. Jesus defeats death itself, conquering Satan and all his wicked plots, to emerge triumphant as the king of kings, the risen Lord.

The pouring out of Jesus’ blood and water from the wound in His side is very important, which is why the Gospel records it. At this stage, Christ is dead. He had been in a long, brutal passion, with neither food nor water since the Last Supper. He has been tortured, flogged, abused psychologically in the mocking, and forced to drag a heavy weight over cobblestone streets while His blood and sweat pour out of His body. Then He is nailed to the cross, and lifted up, like the bronze serpent of Moses, for the people to look upon. But when the soldier wants to insure that Jesus is truly dead, he runs the spear through His side into the cavity around His holy heart.  Nothing should really come out, because by that point the body is exhausted. So everyone is surprised by not only the fluid coming out, but the amount and force: it gushes out, pours out, floods out. From that wound, the Church is born. That wound from what traditional Catholic devotion calls the Sacred Heart gives out water, which baptizes us, and blood of the Holy Eucharist,  which feeds us.

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“Blood of Christ, inebriate me; Water from the side of Christ, wash me” is from the ancient Anima Christi prayer. His Precious Blood, which we will receive tonight, is that same blood that poured out onto the streets of Jerusalem and soaked the wood of the holy Cross. This Precious Blood should fill me, enliven me, indeed cause me great joy, as a testimony to the awesome love of Christ, willing to die so as to bring about my salvation; the incredible humility of the Holy Trinity, that one Person would take on our weak humanity in fullness so as to save us.

The Church is seen as being born from the wound in the side of our crucified Lord. Right now the Body of Christ is suffering, as decades of sexual abuse of children, teenagers, and adults at the hands of priests and even bishops continues to come to light. The Church is being wounded by the sins of some of its clergy – only some, but enough to do serious damage to the reputation of Catholicism and to thousands upon thousands of souls, and through the financial payments of compensation and for therapy of victims, to cripple the Church’s charitable and educational work in many dioceses. The exalted nature of how some clergy live and think of themselves, the failure to weed out abusive personalities, the STILL ongoing emphasis on protecting the institution rather than the souls and bodies of the faithful, the isolation some clergy lived in, and the failure to stop predators when they were first discovered all contribute to the mess we are in. It is a profound moment when the Body of Christ is being attacked by these sins, and the only one benefiting so far is Satan.

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Today is a day of abstinence for us anyway as it is Friday, and a day of expiation nationally for these sins. Personally I think every bishop involved in any cover up who is still around should be kneeling in his cathedral facing the people and prostrating himself on the floor in complete sorrow, and not in fancy vestments either but sackcloth and ashes. Whether or not that ever happens, we as the members of the Body, some of us having been personally affected by these sins, all of us being spiritually wounded, must remember that it is from that sacred wound that the Church was born on Mount Calvary. The sacred wound gave us life. This wound can again give life – if the leadership of the Church is willing to be washed in the blood and water and pray again with that ancient prayer, “Blood of Christ, inebriate me; Water from the side of Christ, wash me” and listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and act accordingly. For ourselves, may we each listen to that same Holy Spirit, and move forward. Let us work at being healers for those who are wounded directly and indirectly. Let us listen to those who are suffering. And let us take our strength from a God Who was willing to suffer alongside us and die as we die, in order that we find peace in this life, and eternal happiness with Him, the Virgin Mary, and all the saints in the life to come.

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