The selection from Isaiah is a final proclamation that joy will return to the bitterly exiled children of Israel and that God will be vindicated over sorrow and pain. The miracles and healings of today’s Gospel show this triumph of God as already at hand and on the move for us in our encounters with “the cross” in life.
Our cross changes with age and circumstance. By its very identification as “cross” it is experienced initially as a painful proposal. Whether it is the sadness of a physical condition, the call to a purified love or the demands of labor, it can at first be a turn-off. We view it with the skeptical eyes of a child who has no idea why the Father would allow such a thing. It is a long road to St. Paul’s “boast in the cross.”
The ability to authentically boast in a cross is a grace of God that seems to come only after we have accepted it and experienced its transformational potential. Crosses bring suffering and we can become angry with God. This is a valid response to pain but unfortunately it yields nothing but exile from God. As Christians we profess that God is found on the cross, crucified. The one great crucifixion has the power to transfigure all humanity’s crucifixions as potential communions with God.
Suffering abounds, and without God, suffering is a deep sorrow, but with God it becomes a redeeming cross. Suffering comes early in life. Younger years bring the experience of love and often the sadness of relationships unexpectedly disrupted by sin. The cross reveals itself as the call to love freely without possessing and if accepted it becomes the very source of love’s salvation. Sometimes we’re too late to see this, and our cross becomes one of learned wisdom which protects and safeguards future communions of heart.
Time can be a great cross as our bodies grow in fatigue as our souls remain young. Time’s passage can be troubling as we long for a great pause or rewind. When this anxiety is confronted with God he transforms it into a call to set our heart on things above and not the things of earth. We are summoned to deeper prayer.
Prayer itself can be a cross. Mature souls have assured us that there are dark trials that come with love’s perseverance in prayer. Through these God purifies our intentions as we learn to love God not for what he gives but for who he is.
The cross of daily labor is known to almost everyone, employed or not. The relational expectations of family, co-worker, neighbor or friend can weary us. Yet the mysterious presence of the Lord is discovered in courageously choosing love when we have not the strength. Paul closes by saying that he “bears on his body the marks of Jesus.” These may have been the wounds of Christ, the beatings Paul endured or maybe the outward evidence of his own inner acceptance of his crosses. We can all share the latter glory.
Questions for Reflection
1. What are my difficult crosses?
2. What cross is a blessing?
3. What are the crosses that lie ahead?
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Greenville, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.