The Mystery of the Cross

On Saturday I was on Chambers Island in the middle of Green Bay, not the city but the body of water that forms part of Lake Michigan. I was at Holy Name Retreat House leading a retreat for the Catholic men's group called Esto Vir.  In my homily for the Feast of the Exaltation or Triumph of the Cross I said the following:

Our faith is based on a paradox: the very source of death has become the source of healing and life.  This is the cross.

In the first centuries of Christianity the most common image of Jesus was that of the Good Shepherd. There was a reluctance to show Jesus on the cross. This was too shameful. Yet it is the proof of God's love.

As our gospel today states: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might 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" (John 3: 16-17).

How did God save the world? Not with physical power. Not with an army of angels that would force people to follow God's will. Not with a destructive flood like the one that wiped out evil at the time of Noah.

God saved the world with weakness. With a helpless baby born in a stable who would grow to suffer and to die. With a flood of blood and water that gushed forth from the Heart of his Son when he was pierced on the cross. With spiritual power, the power of love.

In 2005 at World Youth Day in Cologne in his homily at the closing Mass, Pope Benedict said that at the Last Supper Jesus anticipated what he was going to do on the next day. He accepted it into his Heart. And in doing so, an act of violence was transformed into the greatest act of the love the world has ever known. Death was transformed into life. Bread and wine were transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. 

St. Thomas Aquinas called what happened at the Last Supper the greatest miracle of Jesus. Greater than healing the sick, feeding the 5,000, calming the storm, or raising the dead.

Pope Benedict went on to say that the transformation must not stop there with the bread and wine becoming the Body and Blood of Christ. He said that the change must now gather momentum and transform those who receive the Body and Blood of Christ so that they will transform the world.

Now we are to love as Jesus loved. We are to not only wear a cross but join our lives to it. We are to offer ourselves as Jesus did when he offered himself to the Father for the salvation of the world, something that he makes present every time the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated. We are, in the words of St. Paul, to offer our bodies, our selves "as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God" (Romans 12: 1)

Pope Francis, in his sermon at the Vigil for Peace in Syria that was celebrated in St. Peter's Square and around the world on September 7, called us to look to the cross so that our world might find peace.  He said:

"When man thinks only of himself, of his own interests and places himself in the center, when he permits himself to be captivated by the idols of dominion and power, when he puts himself in God’s place, then all relationships are broken and everything is ruined; then the door opens to violence, indifference, and conflict. ... We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves. As if it were normal, we continue to sow destruction, pain, death! Violence and war lead only to death, they speak of death! Violence and war are the language of death!

"And at this point I ask myself: Is it possible to walk the path of peace? Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace? Invoking the help of God, under the maternal gaze of the ... Queen of Peace, I say: Yes, it is possible for everyone! From every corner of the world tonight, I would like to hear us cry out: Yes, it is possible for everyone! Or even better, I would like for each one of us, from the least to the greatest, including those called to govern nations, to respond: Yes, we want it! My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross. How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment! There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken."