Saturday, August 30, 2014

Aug. 31, 2014: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Click to hear audio homily
A few days ago contractors were cleaning up after painting our parish hall. I asked them to rehang the large crucifix back above the entrance. One of the contractors, who used to be Catholic but now attends a Baptist church said, “Fr. Paul, I still hang a crucifix in my house, but the church I’m attending says that we should not hang a crucifix. They explained that Christians serve a Risen Christ, not a bloody, suffering victim as seen on Catholic crucifixes. Can you explain why we hang a crucifix instead of a cross?”

A 4-yr. old attending mass for the first time with his maw maw turned to her and asked, “Maw maw, who is that man? Why is he on that thing? He looks scary.” The child had his first encounter with crucifixion, a cruel and horrible method that Romans devised to execute criminals. So naturally, any person seeing a crucifix for the first time would likely react negatively. We hear a similar reaction in Peter in today’s Gospel. Peter did not understand what Jesus was about to do as he entered Jerusalem. Jesus, peering ahead with prophetic vision, foresaw a chain of events that would cause him to suffer greatly and ultimately be killed on the cross. The disciples were shocked by what Jesus had revealed to them, and even though Jesus mentioned being raised from the dead on the third day, they did not understand. Peter would have none of this talk about doom and gloom awaiting Jesus as he said, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” Peter’s words were not a result of spiritual discernment;  instead, Peter yielded to human dislike for suffering. Then Peter was struck by thunderous words from Jesus, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Recently I visited a parishioner at a hospital room in the newly-built section of Our Lady of the Lake. On the wall of the hospital room hung prominently a crucifix. I wondered what the patient was thinking as she lay there looking at the crucifix. Have you done that recently, to sit and meditate looking at the crucifix? Who is Jesus for me? Who put Jesus there on the cross? Why did he choose to suffer and what does his suffering mean for me? What is he inviting me to?

When we pray with a crucifix, we receive a special invitation from Jesus. First, Jesus invites us to reflect on our own life; he reminds us of seriousness and consequences of our sins--consequences which he willingly took on by carrying the cross and sacrificing himself on it. Yet he did this for us because he considers us an intimate friend whom he loves so much. We know from St John’s gospel that on the night Jesus was to be arrested and taken away to be crucified he said to his disciples, "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:13) So clearly we need to read into this passage Jesus’ own sacrifice -- his own love for his disciples, and indeed all of humanity, for which he was willing to lay down his life.

Second invitation:  the crucifix inspires us to bear our suffering patiently.  Heavenly Father chose suffering for His Son from His birth to His death and Jesus reminded us that the servant is not above the master. If He, as God-Man had to suffer in order to enter into His Glory, then we too must suffer in order to prepare ourselves for our glory. The sufferings of this life not only make our temperament more like the Divine Personality of Jesus, but detach us from the things of this world. This Divine preparation opens our souls to the working and pruning of the Father.

Third invitation: crucifix shows us the model of true love. Crucifix doesn't hide the reality that love is sometimes painful, for true love requires forgiveness. St. John Vianney instructs us, "O what inspiration there is in the Crucifix! Who could find it hard to persevere at the sight of a God who never commands us to do anything which he has not first practiced himself?" If Jesus cried out from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do,” are we not also invited to do the same, to forgive those who did not know what they were doing as they hurt us?

These invitations are a few of the reasons why we place a crucifix and not a plain cross in the center of our faith life. Pope Pius XI explained, “A plain cross has no blood and no nail holes - it has no trace of suffering - yet It was the love of a suffering God that saved the world. When a cross is plain, we are deprived of seeing this truth...we are deprived of being reminded of how much God loves us and how He has proved his love...we are deprived from the comforts of seeing this and we may turn in towards ourselves rather than to our Crucified Lord.”

Jesus made this invitation to love in today’s Gospel, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” We follow Christ on the cross in order to get to the resurrected Christ. The crucifix is a reminder that it alone is the way of life that brings us ultimate happiness. It reminds us that the path to resurrection requires us to love as he loved.