We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you for by your holy cross you have redeemed the world! This ancient prayer is particularly appropriate today when we celebrate a feast which has been variously called the Triumph of the Holy Cross, the Finding of the Holy Cross, and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. They amount to the same thing: Our Divine Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, having become a human being to atone for human sin, showed his immense love for us by accepting death — even death ON A CROSS, as Saint Paul points out — in reparation for our sins. Saint Paul was familiar with the horrible death suffered by those who were crucified, since it was a common occurrence throughout the merciless Roman system of punishments. And for God to take that upon himself was well-night incredible for Saint Paul and for us. Especially since he was not guilty of any sin or wrong-doing at all.
During his public life, Jesus said as recorded in the gospel: If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross DAILY, and follow me. Jesus knows that every human being has his and her share of suffering in this world; no one can totally escape it. But in a sense, he does give us a way to escape the pain of the cross by making it clear that suffering is an opportunity to conform ourselves to the suffering, crucified Christ. When you really want something, then it is no longer terrible or an unmitigated evil. Jesus wanted to undergo his passion and death: “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and how eager I am that it be accomplished!” he says in the gospel. And when Saint Peter tried to dissuade him from going to Jerusalem where he had foretold that death awaited him, Jesus told Saint Peter to get out of his way, since he was thinking as man thinks, and not as God does. Saint John of the Cross once said that if he were to spend a single day without suffering, he would consider it a day wasted. Thus do Christian mystics thirst to be conformed with the suffering Christ.
We do not have to go looking for suffering. It will find us without any effort on our part. But we must try to accept it without complaining against God who could, if he wished, save us from it. It is a means that we have to make reparation for our sins, and also for those of others. We are all members of that body which we call the Mystical Body of Christ — the community of all those united with Christ by faith, love, and baptism. Just as in the human body, the mouth eats but the feet benefit from the food, and the lungs breathe but the blood benefits from the fresh air taken in, so in the Mystical Body of Christ, some suffer uncomplainingly and even happily, and others benefit by that redemptive suffering. So when suffering comes our way, as it has, it does, and it will continue to do, we must not complain: “Why me?” Rather, let us remember that a wise and loving God is allowing us to suffer, and he is doing so for our own good and that of others. Saint Paul says, “We preach Christ, and him crucified.” We can paraphrase that statement: “We wish to be conformed to Christ, and him crucified.” Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God Bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.