Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Triumph Of The Cross Is A Given; The Triumph Of Our Crosses Is Not.

(Feast of the Triumph of the Cross: This homily was given on September 14, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Philippians 2: 6-11; John 3: 13-17.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Triumph of the Cross 2008]

The triumph of the Cross is a given; the triumph of our crosses is not.

“Fr. Ray, what exactly does that mean?”

I’m so glad you asked!

The triumph of the Cross—the Cross of Jesus Christ—is one of the most important and fundamental beliefs of Christianity.

Of course, to those who do not share our faith in Jesus, it probably sounds like the ultimate oxymoron—the ultimate contradiction in terms. And that’s understandable, because in the ancient world crucifixion was a sign of defeat, not a sign of victory!

It would be like someone today speaking of “the triumph of the electric chair” or “the triumph of the firing squad”.

To most people those expressions would make no sense!

Only those of us who have faith can see the victory that came in and through Jesus’ sufferings! That victory is spoken of in today’s second reading from Philippians 2, where we are told that Jesus “humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a Cross. [But] because of this God highly exalted him [in the resurrection], and bestowed upon him the name above all other names.”

Jesus said in today’s gospel reading that he would be “lifted up” in crucifixion, so that he would become the source of eternal life for all who believe in him.

And that’s precisely what happened on Good Friday: Jesus took our sins upon himself on the Cross (including, incidentally, the sins we haven’t even committed yet), and made atonement for them to the heavenly Father.

This is why St. Andrew of Crete went so far as to say that the Cross was Jesus’ “trophy”: he said that because “it was the means by which the devil was wounded and death conquered.”

Put it this way: Without the victory of the Cross, there would be no resurrection, no forgiveness, and no hope of heaven!

It’s as simple as that.

I said at the beginning of my homily that the triumph of the Cross is “a given”. By that I meant that it’s an unchangeable fact of our Catholic Christian faith. Jesus won the victory over sin and death by his sacrifice on Good Friday, and nothing can ever negate that victory.

It’s true, and it will always remain true—even if some people don’t believe it!

But, if you recall, I said something else a few moments ago. I said the triumph of the Cross is a given, but the triumph of our crosses is not a given.

The good news is that because of Jesus’ victory on his Cross, we now have the potential to experience many “victories” ourselves in the midst of our personal crosses. But having the potential and realizing the potential are two different things!

I think one of the problems is that some of us don’t know what these potential victories are; hence we don’t pursue them, nor do we recognize them when they actually do occur.

So what are they? What are these potential victories—these potential “triumphs” that we can experience through our daily crosses?

Well, think, for a moment, of the major sufferings you’ve experienced in your life.

Have you learned any positive lessons from those crosses? Have you learned the importance, for example, of being compassionate? Have you learned the importance of trying to be more patient? Have you learned to put other problems in perspective? Have you learned what’s really important in life?

Well, those positive lessons you’ve learned—whatever they might be—are victories! They represent the triumph of YOUR cross! That’s one reason why, when I’m going through something difficult, I always say to God, “Lord, what are you trying to teach me through this suffering? Help me to get the message!”

Another question: How have you changed in a positive way through the crosses you’ve experienced? This is a little different than the first question, because, as we all know, it’s possible for a person to learn a lesson intellectually, but never really apply it to his life! This question is specifically about positive change. I know people, for example, who have become less materialistic after they’ve been afflicted with a serious disease. They’ve suddenly become much more generous with their money, time and possessions. That positive change is a victory of God in them. I know people who have become much more humble after they’ve lost their job, or had a struggle with drugs or alcohol. That positive change is a triumph of their personal cross.

Another question: For whom have you offered up your sufferings? Like St. Paul, Catholics are supposed to believe that offered up suffering is like offered up prayer: it draws down God’s blessings upon us and upon other people. Well, to the extent that you consciously do this—to the extent that you offer up your personal daily crosses to God in union with the Cross of Jesus Christ—you experience victory, since you do something good with an evil you’re experiencing in your life.

Have your sufferings brought you closer to God? This is yet another way that you can triumph through your cross. In fact, there are probably people in this church right now who returned to the practice of their faith after something bad happened to them.

Another question: Have you ever used your suffering as an occasion to share Christ with someone else? If so, that act of witnessing was a victory—a triumph—of your cross. Not long ago I had to take a taxi cab to a doctor’s office, and I ended up getting into a conversation about Christ with the cab driver—a young woman in her late 20’s—on the way there. I wasn’t happy about having to go to the doctor, but I still used the occasion of that cross to do something good—spiritually—for someone else.

Looking back on it now, I realize that was a victory.

And finally, by looking to Jesus and reflecting on his Cross, have you found strength to deal with your own sufferings? If you have, then you’ve experienced victory and triumph by allowing the Lord to build you up in faith and hope. Your cross may not have gone away, but you were better able to deal with it.

My brothers and sisters, these victories are all possibilities that can become realities for us every day, since crosses come to us every day. And to some extent at least, they’re under our control!

We can’t always choose the sufferings we experience in life—that’s true—but we can choose to have victories in the midst of them! I can choose, for example, to learn from my crosses; I can choose to change in a positive way in response to my crosses; I can choose to offer up my crosses; I can choose to let my crosses bring me closer to God; I can choose to share my faith with others when I have a cross, and I can choose to look to Jesus for the strength I need to deal with my cross.

All this having been said, my prayer today is as follows (and I hope you make it your prayer as well):

“Dear Lord, since I’m going to suffer one way or another, help me to make the most of the opportunity. In the midst of the many crosses that come into my life, help me to experience all the victories that I possibly can—every day!”