"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross
Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. I have written about the Cross here and here. I write about it because the way to unity is through the Cross, as we share in Christ's sufferings not just passively, but actively, in the way that He embraced the Cross and meekly bore its shame, like a sheep that is silent before its shearers. (Isaiah 53:7) St. Peter tells us that the greater the degree to which we share in Christ's sufferings, the more we should rejoice. (1 Peter 4:13) Why? Because we are more deeply sharing in His Life, for He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief and rejection. (Isaiah 53:3)
How does the pursuit of unity involve sharing in Christ's suffering? When in hope and love we extend our hands over the walls of separation, we will face insult and rejection. The Cross is humiliation, bearing insult, rejection, scorn and injury for His sake. For as they hated Him without cause (St. John 15:25), so they will hate without cause those who follow Him, for the servant is not greater than his Master. (St. John 13:16) We know that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim 3:12) The Cross is not the place of safety or comfort or security. It is the place of exposure and complete vulnerability. To be a Christian, that is, a Christ follower, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross. (St. Matthew 16:24) To be a Christian is to submit to crucifixion, and embrace it. In imitating Christ in His meek but undaunted embrace of the Cross, we participate in His saving work of drawing all men unto Himself (St. John 12:32) and thus to His Body, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. The power of the Cross is not in the giving of a mere doctrine, but in the total self-giving of a Person. This is the self-giving sacrifice that demonstrates Christ's love to the world. This is the self-giving Love that we feed upon in the Eucharist, and that we are to demonstrate in gracious sincerity and sacrifice to those Christians from whom by the bitter fruit of schism we are now divided. This love keeps reaching over the walls in hope of reconciliation, as an older brother would seek to be reunited with his younger brother after many years of separation.
To embrace the Cross is to die to pride. And pride is the chief of the seven deadly sins. By it Lucifer fell, seeking to usurp the divine throne. (Isaiah 14:12-14) All the divisions of Christians have their ultimate root in this same sin. Thus these divisions can be overcome only through the grace of humility, and this means embracing the Cross, for humility is the fruit of this tree. Love is not arrogant. (1 Corinthians 13:4) Those who, as St. Paul says, "live as enemies of the cross of Christ" (Philippians 3:18) cause division (Romans 16:17), for they live to self and not to God who is One (Mark 12:29). Unity comes through the Cross, because only through the Cross comes the humility by which we can all be joined into one Body greater than ourselves. (Ephesians 4)
In order to bring to others the humility that must precede reconciliation we must have it first in ourselves, for Christ humbled Himself even to death, to reconcile us to God. (Philippians 2:5-8). In order to stir up in others the self-sacrificing love that does not rest content with separation, we must have it first in ourselves, for Christ did not rest content with our separation from Him through sin, but while we were yet estranged from Him, He demonstrated His love for us by dying for us. (Romans 5:8) My brothers and sisters, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him." (St. John 11:16)
Unite us Lord Jesus to your Cross, that by it we may be instruments of your peace. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.