The Beauty of the Cross
A reflection on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross
+JMJ+ Last night, my amazing and dear friend, Witlee (Live Each Day with Purpose Podcast), and I were talking about two martyrs from the Cristero War in Mexico. One was a young boy I had never heard of until last night named St. Jose Sanchez del Rio and he was just 14 years of age when we was murdered. He was tortured and yet the brave boy refused to renounce his faith which he held so dear. His parents even witnessed his torture and murder. Another example is Blessed Miguel Pro. He, too, died a martyr and stretched his arms out in the shape of a cross - the ultimate sign of love - as he stood before the firing squad and forgave his persecutors. “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King) he said.
We have so many beautiful examples of people to look to - men, women, and children - who have embraced the cross of martyrdom rather than turn against Christ. Consider their tremendous courage! This physical (red) martyrdom continues even today - we just aren’t hearing about it from the mainstream media. Most of us have also been subjected to a spiritual martyrdom as well (called white martyrdom). We may not be called to physically suffer and die as the martyrs did, but we suffer in different ways.
The martyrs are bold. While it certainly exists, we certainly don’t generally see this kind of boldness encouraged in our society. Everywhere we look, we see fear and division. Our country has fallen away from the principles and virtues upon which it was founded and we have seen a drastic turn away from God. Instead of putting our faith in God, we are told to put all our faith in leaders and other people.
Those alive today who are boldly encouraging holiness know (just as the martyrs knew) that it is only by the cross that we can have peace and only by the cross that we have hope for eternal salvation. People striving for sainthood know that sticking with Jesus even when things get tough is a part of showing our love to Him.
Whenever I reflect on in this, I ask myself what happens when the going gets tough in my own life. This is an important question for us to ask ourselves! What happens when suffering befalls us (as it does to all of us in one way or another)? Do we draw closer to Christ or do we pull away from Him?
I think that for many of us our inclination is to turn away. When we don’t feel God’s presence surrounding us, we feel alone and abandoned. Loving God and proclaiming His goodness seems easy when things in our lives are going well, right? When we suddenly find ourselves carrying a heavy cross, sometimes the last thing we want to do is praise God in the suffering. During those times it becomes exceedingly difficult to recognize His presence and His gifts, His glimmers of grace. We start to question God’s love for us. We become angry at Him and perhaps question His very existence. These are normal human reactions to be sure but what do we do about it? How do we change our mindset?
I love this quote from St. Mother Teresa because it sums things up so simply and beautifully:
“Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus - a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”
On September 14th, Catholics celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This feast day commemorates the finding of the True Cross by St. Helen but it also goes deeper than that.
Today we recall that, by way of the cross (an instrument of death) Jesus was victorious over death.
Consider for a moment that Our Lord was willing to die for you, for me, and for every single soul to ever come into existence. He willingly and lovingly stretched His arms out for us and embraced the suffering.
This goes against pretty much everything our culture throws at us.
“Do what feels good!”
“Do whatever you want!”
“Do whatever is popular at the moment! Just go with the flow!”
Now please hear me out. I am not for a moment suggesting that we purposely seek out suffering or that we try to stay in pain when it comes. No! It’s okay to find solutions to problems. It’s okay to get help. It’s okay to heal.
What we need to remember is that, despite the pain, there is beauty. The cross reminds us that God CAN and DOES bring life and beauty even from the most horrible of circumstances. After the ugliness and horror of Good Friday, the glory and beauty of the Resurrection remain. We are all members of the Body of Christ and we are all called to share in the gift of the cross. Yes, the cross is a gift!
The truth is that we are never alone in our suffering. Rather, we are being lovingly embraced by Our Lord. We are joined together with Him on the cross through suffering. The martyrs and all the Saints knew this well!
Our salvation comes through the suffering of Jesus on the cross. Yes, there is beauty in suffering. Yes, good things can and do come from suffering.
Is it easy to embrace suffering as it comes? No. Is it always easy to see the beauty in our pain? No. But it is possible!
The cross, the tree of life, brings hope to us all.