Monday, September 15, 2014

Homily - "You are worth dying for"

Friends of mine have several children.  When their oldest was 12 or 13, she had to go into the hospital for appendicitis.  The first day or so she was there, she was in a ton of pain and complained a lot which is understandable.  She was asking “why?” over and over again, and ultimately, “why is God allowing this?”  Her mom finally answered with a solid Catholic response: “offer it up.  Offer it up for others because Jesus offered up his pain and suffering for others…the whole world.  He offered it up for the salvation of the world.  You can offer up your pain for your friend whose parents are getting divorced or someone else who is in need right now.  Good will come out of that like good came out when Jesus offered up his suffering”.  Her daughter got it.  She didn’t complain anymore.  At 12 or 13, she grasped some meaning about suffering which is probably the greatest mystery for humanity.

Years ago on our fall retreat, we asked the students to spend an hour meditating on a Scripture verse.  Their initial reaction might have been something like, “ohhhh man”.  But, then I explained that the verse (Colossians 1:24) referred to all of their current suffering.  St. Paul says that he “fills up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ”.  What could be lacking in Christ’s suffering?  His sacrifice was perfect but not complete.  We all complete his sufferings as members of his body.  We all have a piece of the cross to carry.  I explained all of this to them, and asked them to meditate on their share in the cross – maybe it was their own parents’ divorce, or a break-up in a relationship, or death of a family member or friend, or illness.  Some of them wanted more than an hour to meditate, and then said that was the best part of the retreat.

We know suffering.  Each one of us has experienced suffering.  We get it.  So, today’s feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is one that gets our attention.  Why is the cross exalted, though?  One of the reasons is that it provides meaning to suffering.  The 12 or 13 year old girl went to another level – an elevated or exalted level – when she heard the terse explanation of the Christian meaning of suffering.  Those on the retreat went to another level.  Providing a reason or meaning for suffering exalts the cross. The cross is also exalted because it is the way to glory.  We hear in tonight’s second reading from St. Paul that because Christ humbled himself, God exalted him.  If we share in the cross of Christ, we share in being exalted in glory.

A third reason the cross is exalted is that it is our triumph over sin and death.  The world would say this and all of the Christian meaning of suffering is foolishness.  It would look at the large crucifix in any Catholic church and see it as a sign of defeat.  But, it is a sign of victory! It is on the cross that sin and death went to die.  Christ was lifted up in exaltation like Moses lifted up the serpent on a pole.  Good overcame evil in each, and was for everyone to see and receive.  We continue to lift Christ up on the cross: the crucifix in a room should be the highest object in the room.   

We continue to lift Christ up in the Eucharist.  My favorite part of the movie, “The Passion of the Christ” was when Christ is lifted up on the cross.  At the same time, they hearkened back to the Last Supper when he lifted up the Bread of Life.  As Cardinal Wuerl said in his homily at tonight’s earlier Mass, the same flesh and blood that was on the cross is present on the altar at every Mass in the Eucharist.  Awesome!

Finally, Jesus saw each one of us from the cross.  He saw all of our suffering, and said, ‘I’m with you on that’.  A friend of mine became a widow at 27.  She said to me early on, completely distraught, ‘I have no one to talk to.  There are no other 27 year old widows.  No one knows what I’m going through’.  I said, ‘Jesus does.  He experienced every human pain there is.  He know what you’re going through, and you know what He went through’.  That helped her, and it helps us.  He saw us and all of our sins from the cross, and in stretching out his arms was saying, ‘your sins are worth dying for.  You are worth dying for’.


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