I’ve spent the last two weeks trying to articulate both in my own mind and on paper the message of the cross. A difficult endeavor. Just ask my poor husband, Mark, who’s had to hash this subject out with me multiple times:) It wasn’t until I knelt at Mass on the Feast of The Exaltation of the Holy Cross that I heard the Lord speak directly to me on the subject.
“What is the message of the cross, Lord?” I asked in prayer as I knelt meditating on the life-sized, very real looking corpus hanging on the cross above the altar.
“Take courage, I have overcome the world!” I heard the Lord speak so clearly that my eyes welled with tears. I took out my notebook and quickly wrote it down so I would not forget. Please Lord, help me to remember.
It’s easy to forget that Jesus has overcome the world, especially when we bump up against the reality of suffering regularly in life. Clearly, Jesus’ “overcoming” of the world did not mean that He eradicated sin and its temporal consequences—suffering and death—from this planet. In fact, immediately before Jesus said to His disciples that He has overcome the world, He spoke the words that every human being knows are all too true: “In the world you will have trouble” (John 17:33).
If Jesus didn’t eliminate the troubles of this world, particularly the dreaded human experiences of suffering and death, then how did He overcome the world? He did so by giving those difficult earthly realities—and this is the message of the cross—an entirely new meaning. In and through the cross, suffering, which the world views as an enemy to be avoided at all costs, becomes a pathway to holiness, hope, and deep intimacy with God. Death, which is seen as the ultimate curse and loss, is transformed into the threshold of eternal life and the door to ecstatic communion with God. The most confounding human troubles, which appear to be worthy only of avoidance, become the very means by which we are able to conquer the world and overcome its sting. The world’s understanding of these hard realities is turned on its head. Christ has overcome the world. That’s the message of the cross.
Our human tendency is to shun the cross—and I’ve done plenty of that. Yet Jesus tells us to deny ourselves that urge, and to take up our cross and follow Him (Mt. 16:24). Taking up the cross doesn’t mean that we run around looking for trouble or asking for more of it. That’s unnecessary. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Mt. 6:34). It does mean that when the cross presents itself in our lives, we ask God for the grace to turn toward it and embrace it with courage; that is, with heart. We trust God’s grace to strengthen us unto endurance, and with each new challenge to give us more strength, so that, one day—maybe today—we may run this race with ease.
I am learning through many personal crucifixions that the posture of acceptance of the cross creates an opening for God to enter in. Such an open stance in the teeth of suffering enables God’s peace, hope and joy to penetrate the human heart, right in the midst of the pain. That is the mystery and the glory of the cross. And it’s how we continually learn to overcome the world and all of its sorrows.
At this moment in time, I am witnessing three young families incarnate the embrace of deep suffering, and their lives speak volumes about the message of the cross. The parents of three little boys, with a fourth baby on the way, standing strong in faith in the face extensive surgery for testicular cancer. The mother and father of five young children, blazing a trail of hope amidst beastly breast cancer treatment. And the parents of a two-year-old baby, whose daughter has been ravaged by aggressive brain cancer, offering their precious child back to God in love under the crushing medical indictment: “there is no cure.” I marvel as I ponder their pain and read the words of their e-mail update: “God created Madison. If He wills to cure her, that would be wonderful…If He wills to take her beautiful soul to heaven, that would be wonderful as well.” Wow. Now that’s the message of the cross in living color. A heavenly perspective seen only with the eyes faith, made possible only through the reality of grace. Foolishness to the world, but the power of God to those who are being saved.
God's power is loving, for he is our Father, and mysterious, for only faith can discern it when it "is made perfect in weakness." Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 268.