Rev. Fr. Kyle L. Doustou 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
August 30-31, 2014
The Cross. It’s the predominant symbol of Christianity. It appears on church walls and steeples…it hangs over our beds and over our hearts. It appears in our hospitals and is peppered throughout our cemeteries. It might be made out of wood or stone, maybe even gold or silver…it might be very plain or very elaborate, it might be beautiful or maybe even grotesque. It could be big…it could be small. It could be calming or it could be gut-wrenching. Whatever form it might take, however it might make us feel, wherever we might encounter it…that simple intersection of vertical and horizontal beams has affected the entire world. Once the torture device of ancient peoples, the means by which criminals were executed, the cross has waded its way through time to become a symbol of peace and love. And why? Jesus Christ picked it up and placed it on His shoulders. Jesus Christ fell under its weight. Jesus Christ allowed Himself to be nailed to it. Jesus Christ hung on it in agony. Jesus Christ literally bathed it in His own sweat and blood. Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, died on it. It is only because of His sacrifice, only because of His self-denial, only because of His unbelievably infinite love that those two ridiculous and wretched beams have any significance.
This is not some fairy tale or well-crafted story, and yet how easy it is for us to reduce it to just that. The cross, almost omnipresent in our lives serving as a reminder of the great act of love of the God-man, is so easily forgotten about and missed, or even worse, belittled. When Jesus is reduced to a peace-loving hippie…the cross of Christ is belittled. When the gospel is reduced to a story about love and tolerance, devoid of any substance or challenge…the cross of Christ is belittled. When we take our Christian faith for granted, limiting it to the hour we spend in church on Sundays (if we even do that much!); when we care more about “fitting in” with and pleasing others than we care about Christ; when we endeavor to secure for ourselves human respect, human acceptance, and human admiration, at the expense of our relationship with God…the cross of Christ is belittled. That sign of pure sacrifice, pure self-denial, and pure love is reduced to a charming little lawn ornament, a pretty piece of jewelry, or an antiquated church decoration when we fail to allow its power and glory to saturate the whole of our lives.
In our Gospel today, Jesus clearly articulates the cost of being His disciple: “whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” The cost of discipleship is no less than what the Master Himself has paid…His very life. When He exhorts us to take up our crosses, He’s not referring to a wall ornament or a necklace, but the heavy intersected beams of self-sacrifice and self-denial. The Christian life is defined by this cross and no other. And it is for this reason, and this reason alone, that the cross is represented all around us: to be a constant reminder of the price of God’s intense love for us and the response that we owe. If we are not willing to lay down our lives as He did, then what right or reason have we to even gaze upon its representation? It becomes a silly and meaningless symbol.
All around you, at any given moment, there is a world in desperate need of you. It doesn’t need you to be wonderful and smart…it doesn’t need you to be beautiful and popular and successful…it doesn’t need you to “be yourself” or to “be unique.” It needs you to be what the cross symbolizes: a living embodiment of love, self-sacrifice, and self-denial. By His cross, Christ made known His great love for us and offered His salvation to the world…and by the cross that He asks each and every one of us to take up, He continues to make this love and salvation known. If we don’t take up our crosses, we can’t do this…truth will not spread; the hungry will not be fed; the sick will not be cared for; the poor will be ignored; the marginalized will be forgotten. There is no “happy medium” between selfishness and selflessness…our Lord exhorts us to be hot or cold, all in or all out. We need His cross to do this…we need the power of His cross to transform us and make us willing to carry and die on our own crosses for the sake of others.
The power and glory of the cross comes to us every time we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Christ makes known to us, in giving us His own flesh and blood, that it is only through death that we can ever hope to have life. Look to the cross today in this Holy Mass and ask Christ to make you ready and willing to embrace it. Don’t let the cross fade into the background of your life…don’t let it be belittled by your own complacency. Accept that you were made for love and for nothing else, and then like your God, pour out your love on your own cross of self-sacrifice and self-denial. Live for God and live for others…die to yourself, and you will have everlasting life.