The Sunday before the liturgical feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Sept.14), Sixty Minutes aired a segment on Christians in the Mosul area of Iraq. cross. The anguish of Christians in these towns and villages is compounded by the replacement of the toppled cross atop their churches by the black ISIS flag. The cross is the rallying symbol for these suffering Christians, and they weep, lose heart when its prominence is lost.
The cross is a symbol that is used and misused, treated lightly or warped into what it is not. Some elements of society have adopted the cross as part of their theatrical jewelry. Young rap stars are bedecked with crosses as they sing of raping others.
The cross is woven into our life of faith like no other symbol. We were baptized in water with the sign of the cross. We bless ourselves with water and the sign of the cross when entering church. Parents rooted in faith will often bless their children at bedtime with a prayer and sign them with the cross. We begin and end our liturgies, celebrate each sacrament with the sign of the cross. Throughout the historic visit of Pope Francis last week, we saw him carry a crozier with a cross at its top at liturgies, sign people with the cross, wear it openly on his white papal clothing.
For believers, the cross is a universal symbol, a triumph of love over hate, a triumph of faith over cynicism, a triumph of embrace over rejection. It is also a symbol of contradiction. How could this instrument of execution used in the Roman Empire as a penalty reserved for lower class criminals be for us a symbol of redemption? Talk of the cross sometimes makes us squirm. It makes us think of suffering and death, and these are realities people try to avoid. Our age, in particular, wants no part of pain and suffering. We don’t want to experience it and we don’t want to see it. Here in the USA, at our southern border and across Europe this summer, suffering people are being turned away or treated harshly. Yet, ironically, it is only through suffering that we, individually and together, come to fullness. We make life decisions through our experiences of suffering. To put it another way, through suffering, the meaning of life becomes clear to us. We become refined through suffering. God is committed to us in the goodness of our lives, laced as it is with loss, bewilderment emptiness, pain and suffering of all sorts.
The cross reminds us that God’s love does not protect us from all suffering. Rather, God’s love is a shelter in all suffering. With Jesus who went before us to the cross and His resurrection, we are encouraged to go on. Pope Francis last week, urged us to grow in depth of living our faith. Let’s let the cross be a symbol of our willingness to do so.
Do you have a cross hanging prominently somewhere in your home? That used to be the case in many if not all Christian homes. If you hang a cross in your home, it will be a reminder to all who live in this house that faith that supports your life and a non-verbal way of proclaiming to all who enter that believers live here. Why not have a household meeting and decide whether you should do this?
~Sister Joan Sobala