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Christ’s cross is our hope

September 11, 2015
Father Joseph Previtali

This Sunday Jesus gives us the doctrine of the fruitfulness of His Cross – a beautiful preparation for the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on Sept. 14 and Our Lady of Sorrows on Sept. 15.

In the prophecy of the Suffering Servant, which the Church proclaims every year on Palm Sunday, Jesus is revealed by the Prophet Isaiah as the One Who is willing and obedient in His suffering, setting His face like flint unto Jerusalem. Because He gives His back to those who beat Him and His cheeks to those who pluck His beard, because He does not shield His holy face from buffeting and spitting, His suffering is made fruitful by Almighty God.

In the Gospel from St. Mark, St. Peter confesses the true faith about Jesus: “You are the Christ.” St. Matthew tells us that Peter also added to his confession, “the Son of the Living God.” This confession of Jesus’s Divinity – that He is true God, as well as true man – teaches us that Jesus Himself is the Almighty God Who, as in the prophecy from Isaiah, makes the Suffering Servant fruitful unto salvation for the whole world.

Right after Peter confesses the true faith, Jesus teaches the Apostles that He must suffer greatly, being mistreated as the Suffering Servant, and die, before rising from the dead. We can’t miss what is happening here: Jesus is insisting on connecting His identity with His Passion and Death, with the mystery of His Cross. Here we have the great mystery of our September devotions!

Indeed, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that Jesus so identifies with His Cross that the Cross has become inseparable from Him. This leads to the astonishing conclusion, following the ancient tradition of the Church, that the Cross is worthy of the adoration of worship (“latria”). We experience this worship every Good Friday when we genuflect before and adore the Cross! We do this, Thomas tells us, because the Cross is so one with Jesus that it is like an image of Him. The latria that we give to the image of the Cross passes to Jesus, Whom the Cross represents.

Thus, the Church, full of hope in the Cross, sings in the Divine Office on September 14: “Dear Cross, best hope o’er all beside/That cheers the solemn passion-tide:/Give to the just increase of grace,/Give to each contrite sinner peace.” Furthermore, this inseparable union of Jesus with His Cross means that the True Cross – the wood on which He actually died – is worthy of latria not only as an image of Jesus, but even in itself, “from its contact with the limbs of Christ, and from its being saturated with His blood.”

Peter gets scared of this unbreakable identity of Jesus with His Cross. Jesus responds to Peter and to us by commanding us to follow Him on the path of the Cross: “Get behind me…” Jesus goes on to make this commandment explicit, teaching us that, if we are to be saved, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. This means dying to our old sinful ways and rising to the life of the New Man in Christ. “For we deny ourselves, when we avoid what we were of old, and strive to reach that point, whither we are newly called,” says St. Bede on this passage. “And the cross is taken up by us, when either our body is pained by abstinence, or our soul afflicted by fellow-feeling for our neighbor.”

Our Sorrowful Mother is the one who most perfectly follows Jesus, taking up His Cross as her cross, living always according to the New Man. She is our example and our help and our comfort on the road of self-denial, which is the only way of salvation. In her Seven Sorrows and in every detail of her life, Our Mother and Our Queen followed humbly and perseveringly the royal road of the Cross.

Father Previtali is a parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Pillar Church in Half Moon Bay.

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