Exaltation of the Cross


Hans Burgkmair crucifx ca. 1473

This week the Church observed the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  The Cross for us is like a compass that points our way through difficulties.  Instead of grumbling in the wilderness of our lives, wondering where God has led us, we can look to the Cross to be our guide.  It is not only healthy spiritually, but also advantageous emotionally to cling to the Cross.  None of us are spared difficulties.  What makes the difference is how we embrace them.

I’ve heard it asked so many times.  Someone experiences a tragedy.  Something terrible has happened.  A person asks, “Where is God?”  Then they spend the rest of their life and/or countless number of years blaming God for what happened to them.  They wonder what the Almighty God was doing when their difficulties hit the fan. 

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

The Book of Job is an example of suffering in the Old Testament.  As a brief summary, Job was a wealthy righteous man who found himself afflicted when he lost riches, family, and became covered with sores.  At that time, it was the custom of the people to believe that suffering was given as a punishment from God. Therefore when a person encountered a tragedy, people would search for what grave sin a person or their family had committed.  But the lesson contained in this Divinely inspired Book of Job is that suffering can happen to the righteous as well as the unrighteous.  In fact, although God doesn’t cause suffering, He can sometimes allow it as a spiritual test and to help strengthen someone.  There is a quote going around on the internet that states:  “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”   My Mom always likes to call it, “The School of Hard Knocks.”

What’s the point?

So if something bad happens what is God trying to do?  Where is God?  Though no one can know the mind of God, sometimes people miss the whole point of why Jesus suffered, died, and was resurrected.  He came to help us through this life, not to contribute to the difficulties.  The difficulties that we encounter come naturally as a result of being part of an imperfect world. Suffering and hard times are the consequence of original sin (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1521).  Sin entered the world when God, out of love, gave mankind choices.  This is because true love involves being able to choose. We can accept Him or reject Him.  We can do His way or our own way.  It is that simple.  A priest friend of mine once told me “God is not pushy.”  Some have tried to purposefully block God out of their lives, their homes, their communities, and their countries.  So when we ask where is God?  We must also ask where we have put Him.

Some of life is a Dark Night of the Soul

People ask:  “I can’t see God, I can’t hear God, I can’t feel God — how do I know that He is here?”  However trite it might sound, this is what faith is all about.  Faith is a gift.  We all have a chance at this gift.  It is not that some get it and others don’t.  It is freely offered to everyone.  Immediately what comes to my mind is that everyone is invited to go to Mass where one can indeed see, hear, and feel God.  One can even “taste and see” through the Eucharist.  This is because Catholics believe that Jesus is really present in the bread and wine which becomes His Body and Blood through the consecration.  In addition to the Sacraments, people can also encounter God through prayer, other people, and in nature.

So then, where is God?

He was on the Cross. He is on the Cross.  It is not like God can be bound by time.  His crucifixion happened for each one of us for all time.  Through our own individual difficulties, He is on the Cross suffering and dying for us.  He leads the path and directs the way.  In fact, He is the Way.  The Cross is not something to ignore, nor stamp under foot, rather it is something that we can look up to and rejoice in.  It is through the Cross that Jesus obtained victory over all sufferings.  A humble soul follows Jesus’ example of humility by picking up his or her own Cross and following Him.

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