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A spirituality of the cross

The 14th of September is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. According to legend, after he was crucified, Jesus’ cross and those of the two thieves who were crucified next to him were thrown into a dry well.

The three crosses were re-discovered by St. Helena, the mother of the Roman emperor, Constantine the Great, on 14 September 320AD. Miracles, which cured the sick and resurrected the dead are said to confirm that one of them was the cross of Jesus.

In the tradition of the Church the date of the feast was designated as the day history says it was discovered. It is a feast when we are asked to reflect on the sacrifice of the crucified Jesus.

While reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice is an indispensable part of Christian spirituality, suffering and sacrifice are the problems people have always grappled with.

No one escapes suffering. Many bear inexplicable and excruciating suffering. Sometimes it comes out of the blue and sometimes brings endless grievances.

Recently, in Shanxi province, a boy’s eyes were gouged out in a gruesome attack. Numerous people have lost their lives and homes in unexpected earthquakes, typhoons or tsunamis, while others have died in the crossfire of conflicting parties that pay no regard to human life.

No wonder over 2,000 years ago the Chinese philosopher, Laozi, looked up to heaven and lamented with a heavy sigh, “Heaven and earth are impartial; they see 10,000 things as straw dogs.”

Some feel helpless in the face of suffering and respond with constant groans, cursing their fate. However, it is fair to ask if this is an appropriate response from a Christian who believes in God.

In his book, Rosary: The Chain of Hope, Father Benedict Joseph Groeschel points out, “Christianity is very much the religion of the God who suffers.” Indeed, our saviour, the Son of God, fled persecution and escaped to a foreign land shortly after his birth.

During his three years of public ministry, he experienced much suffering, both physical and psychological, and finally was tortured and crucified.

As Christianity is the religion of the God who suffers, the god in whom we believe is the God who suffered to save us. So the moment we encounter helplessness and inexplicable earthly suffering is the moment which tests our faith.

Jesus once told his followers, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

For many people, their first encounter with religion comes when they face difficulties. Although baptism does not take them away, their mentality in addressing suffering often changes radically.

Being a Christian does not simply mean praying for our own wellbeing in this world. Rather, through baptism, we come to understand the mystery of the cross and our personal suffering as an encounter with the suffering saviour.

Shouldering our own cross, we follow the Lord towards our own Calvary. Paul, the apostle, also urges us not to boast about anything, except the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, because he is our salvation, life and resurrection.

 

Through him, we enjoy liberation and freedom. SE