Saturday, March 22, 2014

Finding Joy in the Cross - Reflection on current world conflicts

As we have been journeying these last three weeks in the Great Fast, my mind and heart have been lost in a sea of misunderstanding, grasping for a reason for the recent violence that has been splashing the news headlines – and all that has been missed by the media as well. It seems as if the oldest sins are being replayed in the newest ways, in places where the consciences of people are still stained with the blood, sweat, and tears of the struggle for freedom that was only obtained half a generation ago. As I write, I hear echoed in my mind a passage from Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s book, Characters of the Passion, where he speaks of the beginning of this not-so-distant past:
A human organism can adapt itself to the torrid heat of the equator or to the glacial cold of the North, but it cannot live without air. In the like manner, the Church can adapt itself to every form of politics, but it cannot live without the air of freedom. Never before in history has the spiritual been so unprotected against the political. Never before has the political so usurped the spiritual. It was Jesus Christ Who suffered under Pontius Pilate; it was not Pontius Pilate who suffered under Jesus Christ.
Living in a country where freedom of speech and religion has been long protected but is beginning to be chipped away, I watch these global scenes unfold with much trepidation, fearing soon in the U.S. we may face such political persecution.  Where are we to turn?  What are we to do?

As we approach this coming Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross, we receive our answer, which we sing every Sunday in the Hymn of the Resurrection: “through the cross, joy has come to all the world.”  But it is only in accepting our cross, the one Christ gives us, not the one we try to fashion on our own, that this true joy through suffering may be found.

In a physical way, we recognize this reality on the Third Sunday of Lent.  The priest will process out from the sanctuary and place the cross before us, marking the halfway point of the fast and showing us the end goal, the sign of victory – the Cross of Christ.  We will sing, “We bow to Your cross, O Christ, and we glorify Your Holy Resurrection!”  Then we will all process forward and venerate the cross – but what does this veneration signify in our life?  As the author of The Year of Grace of the Lord puts it so eloquently, “Am I ready to accept all the trials or sufferings which may come to me as sharing in the Cross of the Savior? When, in due course, it is my turn to come and place a kiss on the cross which is displayed in the middle of the church, will my kiss be that of an unrepentant sinner, the kiss of Judas, or will it be a gesture which is respectful and superficial but changes nothing in my life, or will it be a sign of adoration, of faith, and of tenderness which will be binding on my whole life?”

In embracing the Cross this Sunday and holding it up as a sign of hope and victory, let us allow the Cross to change our view of suffering, both in our lives and in the world.  Again, from the Characters of the Passion:
Even though Christ Himself would not deliver us from the power of the totalitarian state, as He did not deliver Himself, we must see His purpose in it all.  Maybe His children are being persecuted by the world in order that they might withdraw themselves from the world…. Maybe the very secularism from which we suffer is a reaction against our own spiritual infirmity.  Maybe the growth of atheism and totalitarianism is the measure of our want of zeal and piety and the proof of our unfulfilled Christian duties…. Maybe it is our loss of supernatural standards, our decline of the family, our want of reverence for others, our growing selfishness, that have made this state of affairs possible…. 
But whatever be the reason for these trying days, of this we may be certain:  The Christ Who suffered under Pontius Pilate signed Pilate’s death warrant; it was not Pilate who signed Christ’s.  Christ’s Church will be attacked, scorned, and ridiculed, but it will never be destroyed.  The enemies of God will never be able to dethrone the heavens of God, nor to empty the tabernacles of their Eucharistic Lord, nor to cut off all absolving hands, but they may devastate the earth.  
Let us rejoice in the Cross of Christ this Sunday, so we may rightly sing, “Save your people, O Lord, and bless your inheritance.  Grant victory to your Church over evil, and protect your people by your cross” (Troparion of the Cross).

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