Monday, September 14, 2009

Triumph of the Cross

Though in the form of God,
Christ Jesus did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance, he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross.
Because of this,
God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him
the name that is above every name,
that the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth
and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:6-11 - Triumph of the Cross

He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
"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 and that of the gospel will save it.
Mark 8: 35-35 - Sunday 24th Week of Ordinary Time (B)

Another day hardly noticed by most Catholics - an ancient feast honoring the mystery of the Cross of Christ rooted in the discovery of a relic of the true cross by St. Helena in the 3rd century.

But for many Christians, particularly for those in the Order and Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, this is a great feast of the liturgical year.

And for us Redemptoristines its significance is doubled as it is the anniversary of the death of our foundress, Maria Celeste Crostarosa, in 1755. In her colloquies with Jesus she heard these words,

"Just as I never followed my own will but only the Divine Will
and just as I espoused myself to the cross on Calvary,
so too all my chosen souls,
by embracing my cross and denying their own will,
bind themselves to the Divine Will
and unite themselves to my own Divine Delight...
Oh, with what love I embraced the cross,
loved it, desired it, and took pleasure in it - all for your love.
Likewise, those who love me
bind themselves to the cross and rest thereon,
like a spouse who rests on the nuptial bed."

Spiritual writers have spoken of the "folly of the Cross." We look upon the crucifix, that image of extreme bodily suffering, an image so gruesome that we would not likely approve of similarly horrible representations for our ordinary environment - we look upon it and cannot fathom how the Son of God, third person of the Blessed Trinity, in human flesh came to submit himself to this excruciating suffering. This is the great mystery of our redemption.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul said that Jesus humbled himself by becoming human, like one of us. This movement, the Incarnation of Jesus in human flesh, was the beginning of his suffering, a suffering which culminated in the extreme, in his crucifixion. To be human is to suffer. This is not a 'poor me" statement. It is not the lament of a "half empty" approach to life. To be human is to experience both great ecstasy and great suffering. This is the mix with which we were gifted when we were brought to this life.

Our culture and society seem to be bent on creating endless avoidance of this reality. When Jesus told his disciples of his destiny to suffer, Peter could not accept it. Jesus not only rejected Peter's take on things but then informed him that he would not be the only one to suffer; anyone who wished to be a companion and follower of Jesus would have to do likewise. Suffering is a certainty in the human condition. Jesus is pointing to the way in which he and his followers must deal with the reality of such experiences. It is interesting within this context to consider that Jungian psychology declares that neurosis is the avoidance of legitimate suffering.

When we hear Jesus's words in the Gospel of Mark, "...Whoever loves his life will lose it" or those to Maria Celeste which direct the binding of self to the cross as a spouse is bound to the nuptial bed we cringe a bit. Is our Lord asking us to embrace suffering in a sadistic way? No. Jesus, our brother who shared our human experience in every way, asks us to embrace the reality of our human condition, to accept the suffering that is sure to come and allow it to unite us all in the human condition. To reject suffering inevitably leads us to those behaviors and choices which negate the needs of others, that bring us to seek power, to assert our superiority. And as Jung reminds, rejection of legitimate suffering, creates dis-ease and even disease in the self. Jesus calls for a healthy embrace of all that is a natural part of human experience. How wonderful to have such a brother in our human reality - the divine lover - who became one of us and taught us by his ultimate sacrifice.

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