Have you noticed how it’s getting more and more difficult to keep up with the latest on what foods or exercises are best for us? Experts and the popular media seem to be unable to agree with whether something is good or bad for us. One expert will recommend avoiding fats altogether while another will tell you that some fat is alright. Is eating meat good or bad? Are apples really good for your teeth? And what about exercise? How many people have suffered heart attacks while jogging? I think it’s true that we often find ourselves unable to properly evaluate some of the basics of life, like what we eat, and how we take care of ourselves.
The same dilemma can face us in evaluating other aspects of life. For example, when we examine our conscience: when we look over our lives at the end of each day, or at the beginning of Mass, we may tend to quickly divide our lives into two categories: good and evil. We all do things we recognize as sinful, things we are ashamed of. We probably have parts of our lives that we wouldn’t label as particularly ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’. We may even dismiss some of our personal history because we may judge that it has little to do with God.
Today’s Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross offers us a different standard. Because of the Mystery of the Cross in the life of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we cannot dismiss any aspect of our lives – even our sinfulness – because God is constantly at work in all of our lives, loving and saving us.
The Roman Empire adopted crucifixion as a favourite means of execution, especially for non-Roman citizens. To die by crucifixion was considered both a scandal and a curse; to meet such a degrading end the victim’s life was deemed to be a complete and utter failure. Most certainly, outsiders to the new Christian way would have viewed Our Lord’s death in that light. A first century Roman or Jew would have considered our custom of hanging a crucifix in our homes or places of worship as really something quite shocking.
The Scriptures give us a different perspective: the perspective of faith. We look on Our Lord’s life, from the Mystery of his Incarnation as a human being, to his death on the Cross, not as a failure, but as a triumph. And particularly on today’s feast, we name his scandalous means of death a Triumph.
The second reading from Saint Paul celebrates what faith teaches us about Our Lord. It doesn’t avoid the less attractive aspect of who he was; it doesn’t downplay his humanity. Rather, becoming one of us in obedience to the Father is what leads to the triumph and glory of Christ’s exaltation.
Being ‘lifted up’ is how Saint John describes the paradox contained in the fact of Our Lord’s Crucifixion. That fact confounds what expectations people may have had about the Messiah, and it reveals what Our Lord’s mission was all about: proclaiming and revealing just how much God loves the world, and in particular, the human race.
Saint John also demands a response. Just as the Hebrews had to look at the bronze serpent on the pole to receive healing, so we must respond to the ‘lifting up’ of the Son of Man on the Cross.
From our reflection on what the Scriptures tell us about Our Lord, we can draw some conclusions about our own lives, and where God is at work. Because of Our Lord’s sacrifice, all of our humanity is cherished by God. Being human is not something we need to apologize for. Because of Jesus, God is forever united with our humanity: it is the means of our salvation. Being human isn’t something Our Lord simply put up with. Rather it is integral to the saving plan and work of God.
And so, our weakness, our tendency to fail, our times of feeling frustrated or being stuck in a rut can’t be dismissed in our spiritual evaluations of ourselves. If we truly believe in the Incarnation, then we must search for God there, in our humanity. Like the people in the desert with Moses, we must cry out to the God who travels with us. And especially when we find ourselves ‘in the pits’; in experiences which we might imagine that God is nowhere to be found: there we must seek and find God.
What better example do we need to follow than that of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who sought and found God in the poorest of the poor; she made her response to God’s call and became a saint in the process. We can find God wherever we care to look.
Even our failures are occasions where we can learn how God is at work. Our honesty before God, our recognition of our constant need for forgiveness, can reveal just how loving God is.
Searching for God in every moment of our life – even those moments we are least proud of – can lead us to see God inviting us to a renewed sense of surrender, a generous response, modelled on the response of Our Lord himself.
The obedient Christ comes to us in the Eucharist. He wants to transform our selfishness and thoughtlessness into selfless faith.
May we always respond generously to this challenge.
We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.