Sunday, September 14, 2014

You Can Do a Lot of Good With a Cross.

(Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: This homily was given on September 15, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Numbers 21: 4b-9; John 3: 13-17.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Holy Cross 2014]

You can do a lot of good with a cross.

That’s one of the most important lessons we learn from the feast we’re celebrating in the Church this weekend.

Think about it.  We’re here at Mass today because Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, DID SOMETHING GOOD WITH HIS CROSS.

And that’s the ONLY reason we’re here at Mass today!  Without the Cross, without the sacrificial death of Jesus, we would be (as St. Paul would say) “still in our sins.”  Without the Cross, there would be no redemption; without the Cross, there would have been no resurrection; without the Cross, there would be no hope!  This is why Jesus said to us in today’s gospel, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert [that’s a reference to the event we heard about in today’s first reading from Numbers 21], so must the Son of Man be lifted up [that’s a clear reference to the Cross], so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. … For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

It’s all summed up beautifully in the Preface of this Mass (which I’ll read at the altar in a few minutes) where it says, “For you [Father] placed the salvation of the human race on the wood of the Cross, so that, where death arose, life might again spring forth and the evil one, who conquered on a tree, might likewise on a tree be conquered.”

Because Jesus Christ did something good with his Cross, the world has been reconciled to God the Father.  Because Jesus Christ did something good with his Cross, we can be forgiven of our sins—if we sincerely repent.  Because Jesus Christ did something good with his Cross, we have the hope of living forever in the glorious and eternal kingdom of heaven.

Now the reason I mention all this today is to make the point that what’s true of Jesus Christ is also true of us, his disciples.  Just as Jesus did something good with his Cross, so too we, his disciples, can do good things with our crosses.

And that’s really good news, because we all have them!  There is no one on planet earth right now who is exempt from suffering and trial.  In this fallen world of ours, everyone has a cross to deal with!  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that in this fallen world of ours everyone has multiple crosses to deal with!  The problem is that many people don’t do anything positive with them!  They only passively endure their crosses; they don’t actively and deliberately use them for good, like Jesus did.

And that’s sad, especially since those crosses are going to be there for them, one way or the other.
So how exactly can we imitate Jesus and do good with the crosses we’re currently experiencing?

Well, one of the most important ways we can use them for good is to allow them to make us more empathetic and compassionate toward others who are suffering.

I’ve certainly tried to do that in dealing with Parkinson’s Disease.  Not that I didn’t try to be empathetic and compassionate before I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2010.  But since my diagnosis I know that I’m able to “connect” with suffering people and feel compassion for them at a much deeper level.

And that’s a good thing.

Another way to use our crosses for good is to allow them to make us more effective ministers of the Gospel.  

A woman I know was recently diagnosed with cancer, and is having a very difficult time dealing with it on the spiritual level as well as on the emotional level.  So one of the things I’ve done is to put her in contact with another woman I know who’s going through the same trial, but who’s dealing with it very well because of her deep faith.  This second woman will be able to help the first far more effectively than I ever could, because she’s experiencing the same cross that the first woman is experiencing—and because she’s willing to use her cross to help the other woman.

By the way, this is why I will sometimes will ask faithful parents in this parish who have lost children in the distant past to talk to other parents who have lost children more recently and who are really struggling to cope.  Those parents who have found strength and hope through their faith in dealing with the death of their child can help other grieving parents far better than I can.  But they have to be willing to use their terrible cross for good: by listening to those other parents in their pain, and by sharing with them the faith and hope that they’ve found in Jesus Christ.

Another good thing we can do with our crosses is to allow them to motivate us to re-set our priorities and grow in holiness.  

This is something I saw happen to my father during the final year of his life.  My dad, as many of you know, died of cancer back in 1971.  What you probably don’t know about him is that he tended to be a workaholic for most of his life.  That’s the way he was raised.  He loved my mom, my sister and me and we knew that—but he was almost always on the go.  In fact, he had a very close friend from Pawcatuck that he served with in the Navy named John Sylvia.  Some of you might have known John; he was married to Tina Trumpetto.  Our families were very close, and several times a year we would make the “long trip” from Barrington to Pawcatuck to visit.  (And it was a lot longer back then, because Route 95 wasn’t finished yet.)

Well, years after my father was gone my mom said to me, “Do you know how tough it was at times to get your father to take a break from whatever project he was working on and make that trip to John and Tina’s house?  Do you realize that John had to have something lined up for your dad to do when he was there: something for him to paint or fix or build?  Your father wouldn’t go just to relax; he’d only go if he could do some work for John while he was there.”

Well, thankfully, during his final year on earth, my father’s perspective on things changed for the better.  His cross of cancer motivated him to re-prioritize a lot of things in his life and to make the effort to grow in holiness.  Consequently he finally learned to relax and slow down and enjoy his life and his family.  He was no longer consumed with the insatiable desire to work, and my sister and I were the prime beneficiaries, since he spent a lot more time with us.

And, at the same time, he grew much stronger in his faith!  Prior to his diagnosis my father went to Mass every Sunday and holy day, but during most of the final year of his life he went to Mass every day.

I guess you could say that my dad used his cross to teach himself some of life’s most important lessons—which is something else we can do with ours.

And that’s a great blessing for us—and for the people around us—when it happens.

Two other ways we can use our crosses (and these are the last ones I’ll mention this morning) are as sacrifices that we can offer up in reparation for our sins, and as offered-up sufferings designed to bring blessings into our own lives and into the lives of others.

The Catechism tells us in paragraph 2487: “Every offense committed against justice and truth entails the duty of reparation, even if its author has been forgiven.”  That’s the concept that stands behind the penance given in Confession.  When the priest gives us absolution in the confessional, we are forgiven for all the sins we’ve confessed and repented of.  We’re forgiven totally and completely!  But that’s not the end of the story.  We still have the obligation to make reparation (to make amends) for those forgiven sins.  And one of the ways to do that is by offering up to the Lord our personal sufferings—our personal crosses—in union with his.

We can also use our crosses by offering our sufferings up as St. Paul indicated that he did in his life.  In Colossians 1 Paul said, “Even now I find my joy in the sufferings I endure for you.  For in my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church.”

Remember when the nuns told you to “offer it up”?

Well they were right!  Just as St. Paul understood that the Colossian people were being blessed because he was offering up his sufferings—his crosses—for them (in union with the sufferings of Christ), so too did those nuns understand that our offered-up sufferings today can bring special blessings and graces into our own lives and into the lives of the people we love and pray for.

The truth still applies.

Yes, my brothers and sisters, you can do a lot of good—an awful lot of good—with a cross!

Jesus knew that—and he made the choice to use his Cross to save us and to save the world.

By the help of his powerful grace, may we make the choice to use our crosses—every day—for our own good, and for the good of many other people.  Amen.