The cross has always been a stumbling block for many. Many people love the glorious and risen Jesus. Many people speak of blessings and prosperity. But how many speak about the cross these days? Many will accuse us as the prophet of doom, those who talk about the cross. But talking about the cross is not being a prophet of doom. It is far from it. It is about power of Love.
I remember talking with a friend of mine who has been following christianity but not yet baptized. She told me that one of the most difficult thing for her to commit herself to christianity is the cross. Look at the saints and the sufferings they have to endure. Why would one ever want to suffer? Why should we carry the cross?
For many years, I too have been scared by the cross. I was scared by the sufferings I have to endure. When I look at the cross, I look at burden, at sufferings, and difficulties that we all have to endure. It is only until recently that the Lord helped me to look deeper into the cross.
I used to see only sufferings on the cross. But now, every time I see the cross, I see someone who is capable of loving in the midst of all the sufferings. Jesus loves and he never stops loving. Many of us would stop loving at the point of suffering. Many of us would start looking only at themselves when difficulties come. But Jesus did not. He continued to love even in the midst of sufferings.
Sufferings and difficulties seem inevitable. God did not send suffering contrary to what people might think. No he didn’t. But this is what he did. He sent his own son to redeem our sufferings. He sent Jesus that suffering might no longer be the last word, but rather a pathway to redemption. What kind of redemption is this?
We all, realize it or not, are fallen. There is a tendency inside us that rebels against God, and not only God, but also towards other people. Selfishness is not uncommon in todays world. People taking advantage of other people, lying, oppression, and many others are a few examples. One of the greatest temptation that we all have is even worse. Instead of loving, we use other people for our satisfaction. Pope John Paul II said that the opposite of Love is not hatred, but using others because of our self-love. In a word, we are all fallen.
What we are fallen from is what God plan for us. God made us into his own image, and that image is one of love. It is in loving other and being love by other that we will be happy. And yet our fallen nature draw us to “self”. We are drawn to be selfish. We are drawn to run away from God, and even blame God. In other word, we have lost of our true self who is able to love.
Now this is what Jesus told us, his new commandment. “to love as I have loved you”. It is in this love that we are being redeemed. By receiving God’s love, we are able to love the way God loves. And this is the way that God loves, by sacrificing himself totally for us.
Jesus did not die on the cross because God the Father wants it that way. We put Jesus on the Cross. If Jesus even lives today, he would be put on the cross by us. Because the way he lives, the way he acts, the way he speaks disturb us. His light and his righteousness would make us uncomfortable. His life when it is compared to us, reveals our darkness and weaknesses. When we live side by side with him, we know we are wrong and selfish, and we do not like it. And because we do not like it, we try to get rid of him. If you look at the secular world today, to talk about God might be an offense to some people. This is what happen during Jesus time. Some people didn’t like him, up to the point they want to kill him. And they did.
Many of us would do the same. Many of us would kill that voice that tell us what is right and what is wrong. Many of us would “kill” people who seems to be righteous. And we did that by laughing at that person, make fun of him, get away from him, make his life difficult. We see that all the time in the office, political system, and even friendship.
And in all those situation, the Cross stands tall. In that cross, we see Jesus who continues to love. We see that man is capable of loving in the midst of suffering. In that cross, we see our true dignity as a human person. We realize that we are not created for hatred and selfishness. No, but rather we are created to be beautiful. In that cross, we see someone who is beautiful. Yes, he is beautiful because he is a loving person. He is capable of loving even his enemies! And in that cross, we see how Jesus continues to receive love from his father.
Many of us blame God the Father for sending Jesus to the cross. It is one of the most sad misunderstanding. If you are a father, you will understand. My baby just born two weeks ago. And I had time to reflect what it means to be a father. I began to know that I would never send my son to suffer. It would break my heart. But I know what I will send my son to, I will teach my son to love, and I will ask him to love others. That is what God the Father is asking of Jesus. God the Father simply asks Jesus to love. And Jesus said Yes, because he loves the Father. In my imperfection, I can see how hurting for the Father to see Jesus on the Cross. You need only look at the sufferings of Mary at the foot of the Cross to see a heart of a parent. It hurts the Father so much. Now I understand what Jesus meant when he said, “when you see me, you see the Father”, and also “I only do what I learnt from my Father”. In Jesus, we see God the Father who loves us so much. It was not only Jesus who sacrificed Himself. It was God the Father who also sacrificed himself, his only son, his love. In that Cross, we see the agony of Jesus and also the Father. We see the suffering of Jesus as well as the Father. Jesus is able to sacrifice himself because that is what he sees from the Father. It is in this love that we are saved.
This is the message of Christianity, that there is someone who loves us no matter what. No matter what is your past, no matter what you did, there is someone who loves you that much. God is that one who loves us. He would do everything to love us. This is the message of great news, in fact for two thousand years the world has been talking about this Good News. The Good News that sets us free. It sets us free from all our sins and past, but also from our fear. Because we know that God loves us, what should we be afraid of? As St. John told us in his letter, “perfect love casts out any fear”. We have a future, and it is bright, because God loves us. Our future is in God, that will be one of happiness.
It is on that Cross that we see Jesus gave himself to us. One of the most touching scene was when one of the soldier pierced Jesus heart, and water and blood came out. For us catholics, that water and blood symbolizes the Sacrament of Baptism and Eucharist where graces flow.
In San Damiano Cross (figure), we see how that water and blood is offered to all people. God has given us his graces. Through Baptism, we have received the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God’s love. I remember I attended a talk from a Jesuit priest Father Robert Faricy, and he said that the Holy Spirit only does two things, he helps us to be able to receive more love, and to help us to love more. Through Cross, we have been redeemed from our sinfulness and selfishness. We have received graces that enables to love more, to love God and to love others. The Holy Spirit is that “inner law” that helps us to obey “love one another as I have loved you”.
I often stumbled at the word of Jesus when he said, “if you love me, you will obey my commandment”. It sounds so conditional. Recently, I read a commentary somewhere that helps me to open my eyes. It is not a condition, but rather a promise. Jesus promise us that if we love Jesus, we will be able to love the way he loves. That’s a great promise!
And implied in that promise is that we will be able to love in the midst of all the sufferings and difficulties that we experience in this life. We might experience that difficulties in our family, or our office. We might experience sufferings in our relationship. Jesus promise us that there is a redemption. That redemption helps us to be a more beautiful person, a person who is capable of loving, even in the midst of sufferings.
As I look at the cross, I no longer look at the sufferings that I have to endure, but I look at that person who loves me so much, that he is able to endure sufferings for me. That’s is a great hope and promise. Love redeems, Love saves. And blessed are we who believe in this Good News.
“Blessed is she who believes that the promise made her by Lord would be fulfilled” -St. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist