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I compose and post these articles with only one desire in my heart: to praise God and to offer modest help on your spiritual journey.

Friday, March 27, 2015

WAY OF THE CROSS

This is the holiest week of the year for Christians. From this past
Sunday known as Palm Sunday to this coming Sunday Easter, most
Christians will celebrate the journey from jubilation then death
followed by the greatest victory of all, the victory over death. But
this journey with Jesus takes us through the cross. Indeed for the
earliest Christians the cross was a shameful reminder of execution of
the worse crimes.

The cross can still divide Christians from those who depict only the
empty cross emphasizing the resurrection we celebrate at Easter. For
others the cross is a crucifix: body nailed to cross. This emphasizing
the price paid for our sins and a source of strength to those
believers who suffer in this life. One can find the crucifix more
often in cultures and societies bedeviled with poverty.

I must confess the majority of my youth I avoided the crucifix. I
thought it was too great an emphasis on the negative in Christian
life. But it didn’t take long in ordained ministry to discover just
how much suffering there is in the world.

The crucifix made sense in the hospital or an impoverished home. I had
much to learn from the faith of people I served. The most dramatic was
in Haiti when out of desperate poverty and disease I was greeted with
joyful faith that broke out in dance. The cross challenged me. The
suffering some people endure challenged my comfort and generally
positive upbeat faith. But the more I questioned God in the midst of
suffering I was confronted with incredible faith. I had much to learn.

I’ll never forget one the first Good Friday celebrations when I was
first ordained. I became familiar with a number of parishioners who I
had admired for their faith in circumstances that would have crushed
me. I had considered the Catholic liturgy for this day of people
kissing the cross as a masochistic ritual. But when I witnessed the
devotion and emotion of these saints who came forward in single file
to embrace the large single cross we had that year, I was deeply moved
and forever changed.

But still my own devotion and prayer life was to avoid at any cost the
cross. Who wants to suffer? I came to understand as a result of
having traveled throughout the world and throughout this country. I
also have come to understand the knowledge gained simply by living
many years.

When Jesus says we must take up our cross each day and follow Him, I
came to understand the power of acceptance and surrender as the key to
peace and serenity. Rather than cursing the difficulties and struggles
of life, the way of the cross brought strength for any new challenge.

There was a breakthrough experience that led me to preach the shortest
homily of my life: “If you want to learn how to live life to the
fullest, learn how to die.” This is gospel truth. But it was the
witness of those I served who lived this truth daily who not only
opened my eyes but gave me understanding. Now this is my mantra.

Serving the dying as a hospice chaplain gives me the opportunity to
reflect deeply on this truth. The difference between those who have
learned the way of the cross versus those who curse their bad luck is
remarkable. It is the difference between those who suck the life out
of a room and those who fill a room with peace and even joy. Easter is
no cheap joy. It’s great to celebrate Christmas but the price paid for
Easter is more precious than gold and silver.

So this is my prayer for anyone who reads this. May your journey along
the way of the cross, whatever that may be, bring you the blessed
fruit of love, peace and joy. For those who find this too improbable,
may you discover through the gift of another’s faith the inestimable
power in the way of the cross. May you all have life to the fullest.

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