The Cross

This will probably not become a regular practice, but included here is the short homily preached at conventual Mass today at the abbey, which a couple of people found helpful. Before you read it, have a look at the readings for the Mass if you have not seen or heard them already. Whatever our particular vocation – monk, priest, sister, single person or married, the Cross is central, indeed crucial (!), to the basic Christian calling to repent and believe the Good News. No Cross, no resurrection.

In this morning’s gospel, a brief vignette dense with significance, we see the Samaritans refusing to receive our Lord, and the disciples offering to call down fire from heaven upon them as punishment. Yet it is the disciples that Jesus rebukes.

It is not because the disciples still think in crude, what we might call Old Testament, terms that our Lord rebukes them. Rather it is because they fail just as much as the Samaritans to comprehend who Jesus is and what he must do, but yet think they understand. The Samaritans could not receive Jesus because they were constrained by their tradition which held that the Messiah would be manifested on their own Mt Gerizim, and not in Jerusalem as the Jews believed, and to which Jesus had turned his face in travelling. The disciples could not fully receive Jesus because they thought, according to the prevailing Jewish expectation, that the Messiah would emerge as a liberating King.

When our Lord entered Jerusalem a few days before his passion and death, acclaimed by the rejoicing crowds, we can imagine that the disciples would have felt almost smug in their assurance of what they thought was to come. Yet as we know, the only throne to which the donkey of Palm Sunday carried Jesus was to the throne of the Cross. Neither Samaritans nor disciples yet understood that the Messiah must die for them, to liberate them not with armies but with self-sacrifice. Christ came to walk the way of the Cross, to suffer and to die, and all his life on earth must be seen in the context, the shadow, of the Cross. And to be Christ’s disciples requires that we too must carry the Cross, suffer, and die.

Job grappled with what seemed God’s abandonment of him, to the point of despair. But he kept faith, accepted his suffering as something that made sense at least to God, and so God vindicated him. When we find ourselves bearing the Cross, more often we flee it than accept it. Maybe we flee it because we do not see the Cross for what it is, but see only that we suffer injustice, something we do not deserve, something we should not have to endure. Yet what else was Christ’s Cross but injustice, something he did not deserve, something by rights he should not have had to endure? Yet he did endure it, for us for our salvation.

When we can truly and deeply accept the Cross as necessary in our lives we will find then also the strength to carry it. And then all our sorrows, our estrangements from family and friends, the slights of our brethren, the misunderstanding from our superiors, the inconstancy of those we trust, the pains of body, the infirmities of mind, all “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, will no longer be food for despair, but food for the journey, our journey to heaven.

At this Mass let us join our sufferings and those of our loved ones, our cross, to the Cross of Christ as we make present on the altar his sacrifice on the Cross, confident that as we offer ourselves in sacrifice with him he will offer us himself, to be our Viaticum, our food and strength for the journey.

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