The Gospel reading for today's Feast is the following:
"Jesus said to Nicodemus:
'No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.'
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him."
Today I heard a reflection on the Scripture proclaimed at mass that I was truly moved by. Bishop Cisneros, Auxiliary Bishop of Brooklyn, meditated on what the "Cross", especially the symbol of the Crucifix, really means for us in our modern day culture. He discussed the Cross depicted in art, and also how it is worn in jewelry. He shared a story that contrasted the more "beautiful" or "artistic" vision of the Cross that is common today. He told us of his first day of school, how he accidentally walked into the Sacristy of the Chapel rather than the hall to the classrooms, and as it happened, the Chapel's large Crucifix had been laid on the floor for cleaning. He thought he saw a man who was dead and bloodied lying on a wooden cross, and he ran to his mother to say he did not want to go to school! The Bishop made the point that we often desire to escape or elude the crosses that are present in our life, because they do contain fear and suffering, and we would prefer the more gentle and pretty ideas.
The meditation went a little further, and drew upon the specific act of the Crucifixion, and what the Cross is meant to symbolize - the great act of love, that is remembered in every celebration of the Eucharist. The Cross is meant to be a sign of love, one that we would look to for encouragement, peace and joy, and yet it is understood either as something feared and avoided, or as something emptied of its meaning.
This made me ponder the images of the Cross of the Crucifixion that I have hung in my office, or in my house, or that I wear around my neck. Am I wearing this Cross because I feel protected by it, as if it is a charm that wards off evil? Sometimes, yes. Do I hang these images of the Cross out of habit or out of a limp attempt to remind myself that I believe, and that believing means doing? Yes. How often to I embrace the Cross? How often to I kiss the feet of the corpus hanging on the Cross in my room? How often do I pray in acceptance of suffering? How often do I thank the Lord for things that try me? How often to I embrace the Cross out of love, just as my Lord and my God embraced the Cross out of love for me?
I thought about how I wear my wedding ring all the time. I certainly believe that I will be married whether I have that ring on or not. Yet, I want the ring there, as a reminder of our promise, commitment, and of our love. Is this not the same attitude that should go with wearing a Crucifix around my neck? Should I not know, already and without doubt, that I belong to Him who loved me, whether I have a symbol of it or not? Yet, should I not desire to be reminded every day that love means action, and that action means sacrifice, and sacrifice means accepting the suffering and doing so in thanksgiving.
I recently read something that was discussing how it is unlikely that someone in our day and age would be asked to give his or her life for Christ in martyrdom, but that we can still choose to live in a sacrificial witness of Christ. It may very well be true. But moreover, there are many Christians who are being martyred, although perhaps not in this country. Yet, in this country or anywhere that persecution is not taking place, the call and challenge goes out to each Christian that we must make present, that we must witness, that we should re-present the Cross to the world in our humble service, silent suffering, and joyful acceptance of all that we are given from God, easy or difficult.
I pray on this feast for new grace, that the Holy Spirit would fill me with a sense of the depth and breadth of Christ's love for me and for all, specifically manifested in His willing death on the Cross. The second reading at mass was from Philippians, and the first half read:
"Brothers and sisters:
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross."
Love, if we believe in the Lord, should be defined in these lines - that we would understand that it is emptying, humbling, and giving of our very self that is the most authentic and genuine act of love we will ever be able to show.
May the Lord assist us in our journey to His arms.