[If I could preach on Sunday, I would say this…]
Take up your cross, and follow Me, says the Lord Jesus. [Spanish]
We all live according to fundamental facts. Like: Where was I born? Where did I grow up? What’s my native language? Who are my parents?
Fundamental facts like these give meaning to our lives. They shape us. Reflecting on these basic facts helps us know who we are.
What about the fundamental facts that we all have in common? Is there a fundamental fact that gives meaning to the existence of the entire human race, considered as a whole? Yes.
Almighty God became one of us. And He suffered unjust condemnation, and died by unjust execution, during the time of the Roman empire, then rose from the dead.
The Romans had special contempt for certain criminals. They executed those particular criminals by hanging them on wooden crosses, in full view of everyone. Almighty God died this way. He died a human death, as the most honest, most gentle, most kind human being ever to walk the earth. Jesus of Nazareth died on a Roman cross as the divine sacrificial Lamb.
The eternal Word, through Whom all things were made, submitted to this for His own sublime reason. Namely, mercy. God’s death on the cross unfolds for us the full reality of who we are, we human beings. Sinners, upon whom God has showered His mercy. Divine Mercy. He died, because none of us has any “right” to go to heaven, but He wills to give us heaven anyway, as a gift.
The fundamental fact of the life of the human race: God died on a Roman cross to atone for all the wrong we have done, and to open the door for us to a good, holy life. God loves me this much, just as I am, right here and now. He did this—died on a cross—for love of me, to give me holiness and heaven.
All I have to do is: believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him back.
To grasp this fundamental fact of human life = to receive the Christian faith. I behold God crucified for us, and my heart moves with God’s divine love.
All my failures to love—all the ways I have wronged the God of truth and mercy, Who loves me, plus all the ways I have wronged my fellow redeemed sinners—all those sins on my part: they pain me and weigh on me, when I see them from the point-of-view of Christ crucified. I long to kneel at His feet, and confess them all, so I can make a fresh start. Then all I want to do is: imitate this crucified rabbi.
So I “take up my cross.” I embrace life as a pure gift given to me by Jesus. I must use it well—use my life just as Jesus used His—in order to follow Him to heaven. I greet every day as an opportunity to do penance for my sins and to serve.
“Take up your cross” has become a cliché among Christians. A nice, little gold cross can serve as a lovely adornment on a necklace.
But a resident of the Roman empire would see such a necklace and gasp. We have to let the Lord bring our minds back to the hard first-century facts, related by the New Testament. A resident of the Roman empire would gasp at the sight of a gold cross on a necklace because: That’s how the Roman army tortured and killed the criminals they hated the most.
And: It’s also the way to heaven.
On His cross, Jesus desired one thing: To rest His soul on the bosom of the Father. The crucified rabbi reigns as King of the Universe precisely by having only this one desire. Namely that the Father’s eternal plan of love would come to fulfillment.
To follow that path, behind Him… How totally must we abandon ourselves? How much trust must we have?
St. Paul put it like this: “Neither death nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth, can separate” us from Him. “Think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.” “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.”