What is the cross? And why is it so important?
10 days ago, in the Gospel on Sunday 4th September, we heard:
Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
– Luke 14:26-27
Such a proclamation could leave a lot of us quite puzzled, for a few reasons:
- Why does Jesus call on us to hate those who are closest to us, and our own selves, surely hate is wrong?
- Is it His own cross that Christ keeps talking about? How can I carry it now?
- Considering the fate of most of the disciples, is that really something I want to be?
Sitting in the pew, I was asking myself similar questions, more out of habit than confusion because it often helps me remember the following:
- To hate ourselves and to hate those closest to us, in this respect, is to love God above all. Like the first commandment “You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” we are called to love God, and live our lives for him, even at the cost of affection, or even through suffering. It is to reject the things that pull us away from God.
- The cross he is speaking of here is our own cross. The cross of our sufferings, the things that drive us closer to Christ, closer to being like him, and being with him. The cross that shows us how to really love, unequivocally and unconditionally.
- To be Christ’s disciple is to be a “worshipper, a servant, and a witness”. To be a disciple is to encapsulate everything in the two above points and put it into practise. Who wouldn’t want to be a disciple of Christ!
What does this have to do with the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross?
As Scott Richert says, “[The Feast of the Triumph of the Cross] recalls three historical events: the finding of the True Cross by Saint Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine; the dedication of churches built by Constantine on the site of the Holy Sepulchre and Mount Calvary; and the restoration of the True Cross to Jerusalem by the Emperor Heraclius II.
But in a deeper sense, the feast also celebrates the Holy Cross as the instrument of our salvation. This instrument of torture, designed to degrade the worst of criminals, became the life-giving tree that reversed Adam’s Original Sin when he ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden.”
Christ saved us through his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, but does that make the cross relevant for us, today?
As Christ says throughout the Gospels, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23).
Christ carried his cross for us, and accepted it willingly in order to save us. In this, the triumph of the cross is important to us as it reminds us that Christ died on the cross in order to ensure our salvation.
By taking up our own cross in our lives, we “unite ourselves to the sacrifice of Christ on His Cross”, and in doing so we try to fulfil, in part, the words of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil “May all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism rise also with him to newness of life.”
As Christians, our baptism absolves us of original sin, and it is the first step towards this newness of life in Christ.
The Feast of the Triumph of the Cross is a reminder of what we continue to wait for every Easter; the Coming of Christ, and the salvation promised to us through his death and resurrection. All we need do is take up our cross and follow him, as the first disciples did within unfailing trust and love of God.