Today, we celebrate your parish of the Holy Cross Feast Day. Today’s Feast Day celebration is liturgically the celebration of the “Triumph of the Cross.” It is not easy to understand the meaning of the “cross” because none of us want pain and suffering in our lives. Let us take a simple example.
There is a story of a Jesuit and a Franciscan who went out for lunch together. Being Friday, they ordered fish. A few minutes later, the waiter served them the two fried fish they ordered on a plate. However, one fish was significantly larger than the other. As soon as they said their Grace before meal, the Jesuit took the larger fish and gave the smaller one to the Franciscan.
The Franciscan got a bit upset and said, “I don’t know how you Jesuits live your spirituality. We Franciscans are well trained in our Vow of Poverty and simplicity, and if I were the one serving the fish I would have taken the small fish for myself and given the larger fish to the one I serve. The Jesuit replied, “But, that’s what you have now! So, what are you complaining about?!”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, this may just sound like a humorous story, but it has much truth in it because if we reflect more carefully on our experiences, we will see that the pain we experience in our lives are not always physical pain. In fact, the physical pains in our lives are the easiest to attend to. If we fall and break our leg, the doctors will put a cast on our leg and we will suffer the inconveniences of not being able to walk for perhaps six months, until the bone is healed.
However, there are other types of “pain” that are more complex; these are the emotional pains of life. Sometimes these pain come from greed or other emotional problems that we may have; as in the Franciscan and the Jesuit story that I shared. At other times it may be the pain of self-centredness; and worse still, the pain of pride. Emotional pains are deeper and far more complex than physical pain.
While physical pain is due to the finiteness of our human existence, emotional pains are those that affect the way we relate to one another and with God, our Lord. In other words, emotional pain is inseparably connected to our spiritual life. While emotional pain can lead us to sin, it can also help us to grow in holiness. I like us to next reflect on this truth.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “The Son of Man is lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” Moses “lifting up” the serpent in the desert foreshadows and points to and anticipates the future event of Jesus being lifted up on the Cross. And as those who were bitten by snakes in the desert will be cured by looking at the serpent staff that Moses raises up, likewise, those who are to gaze upon the Cross of the Crucified Christ, with faith, will gain the gift of eternal life.
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, what do we see when we gaze at Christ Crucified on the Cross? A non-believer may see a suffering man being crucified. A believer will see beyond the suffering of a man, but a God who loves us so unconditionally that He is willing to lay down His life for our sake and salvation. In faith, we also believe that the Crucified Christ that had died on the Cross is not the end of the story. There is the Triumph of the Cross. There is the reality that as Jesus sacrifices His Life and dies on the Cross for us, He will Triumph and Rise from His Death. Likewise, Jesus in today’s Gospel tells us that if we are to believe in Him and love as He has loved us, we too when we die, we will “not be lost but have eternal life.”
There is a story of an engaged couple Jane and John who both took the law bar examinations. Both of them prepared very hard for the examinations. On the morning when the results were published in the newspapers, each one of them frantically looked for their names. Then Jane found her name as one of those who passed, but could not find John’s name on the list. Jane’s heart sank and she tried to phone John her fiancé, but he was not answering his phone. They had before the results agreed to meet up for lunch at a particular place that day. As Jane was waiting for John to turn up, with a heavy heart her mind was filled with thoughts like, “How can I console him? How can I make him feel less miserable? How I wished I was the one who failed as I am more able to take the failure?
Then, all of a sudden she saw John rushing towards her from a distance. Jane was surprised to see John waving wildly at her and appeared to be somewhat happy. “Was there a mistake?” Jane asked herself. “Did I miss out his name?” As soon as John reached her, he hugged her with joy and said, “Sweetheart, you did it! You passed! I am so happy for you.”
This is what happened. John was happy that Jane had passed and he was able to go beyond the pain of his failure. On the other hand, Jane’s foremost concern was John’s failure. She could not rejoice because her fiancé had failed.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, when we love someone deeply, we become selfless and our hearts and lives are totally focused on the person we love. Such deep love between John and Jane is very evident in the sacrifices parents make out of their love for their children. Parents often live a simple and frugal life so that they can save as much as they can for the future needs of their children’s education and well-being. The deepest form of such selfless and sacrificial love is when someone loves God so totally that he is willing to die for God.
Yes, my sisters and brothers in Christ, you and I do not want pain and suffering in our lives, neither does the rest of the human race. However, the big and main difference between the rest of the world and us is that we are blessed to be given the gift of faith in Jesus Christ – a faith that assures us that if we are willing to live like Him and carry our crosses in our daily living, we will then gain eternal life that He has promised.
Ten of the apostles died a martyr’s death. Hundreds and thousands of Christians, including infants and new converts especially in the early Church since the time of Christ, had willingly died for their faith. It is the Holy Spirit who gave these holy people the light and the strength to live and die as Christ did. That Spirit who has led the Church for the past 2,000 years is also the same Spirit who is present amongst us here, and residing in each of our hearts that we are celebrating on this Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not merely look at the superficial reality of the pains and trials of our lives. Let us also not only look at the wrong side of the pains and trials of our lives. Let us see the deeper meaning and truth of our pains and trials. Like Jane and John in our story, or like good parents who lovingly make much sacrifices out of love for their children or like the thousands of saints and martyrs of our church who are willing to die for their faith, we too can do the same in the challenges we face.
And so, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that the Triumph of the Cross can also be experienced in your life and in my life daily, if we are willing to love more unconditionally as Christ has shown us. And if we do, we too will discover the great energy and strength of the Holy Spirit within us; the Spirit of the Risen Christ who will bless us with the spiritual experience the unconditional Love of Christ within our hearts and in our homes. We are each invited in today’s Gospel, to experience a love that is divine; a love that is able to transcend and go beyond our pains and trials in life; a love that can experience the mystery of the Triumph with the crosses that we carry in our lives.
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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