Triumph of the Holy Cross at Mississippi Abbey
[Scripture Readings: Num 21:4-9; Phil 2:6-11 Jn 3:13-17 ]
What do we treasure? Certainly life and good health; food, shelter and clothing; love of family, friends and community; financial security. Above all we treasure God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, baptism into divine life, forgiveness of sins, the Eucharist, prayer and eternal life! But what about suffering? Is suffering a treasure? One day a woman heard St. John Vianney groaning, half to himself and half out loud. Seeing his distress she asked him what was wrong. He replied, “For three days now I have had no suffering. That's three days lost!”1 Most people would rather say that's three days gained. Why did the Cure of Ars treasure suffering? How can suffering be a treasure? Today's feast is the answer.
We celebrate the Triumph of the Holy Cross. Not the wood itself, but the love with which Christ suffered and died for us on the Cross. “As Christians, we have always shown great reverence for the cross of Christ. We place it on top of our churches, we wear it around our necks, we engrave it on our caskets and tombstones. … But there is another way to view the cross that is diametrically opposed to this. It is to see the cross not as an object of reverence by rather as an object of horror,”2 as it is today for people in Iraq who are being crucified because they are Christians. The cross was an instrument of torture that caused Jesus excruciating agony. So, why are we celebrating? Because Christ saved us by his intercessory suffering. Offered with love, Christ transformed his agony into a treasure. In Romans, chapter eight, St. Paul writes, “For those who love God all things work together for good.” Christ showed us that even suffering is a treasure.
We know that prayer is always valuable, infallibly valuable. It is never wasted, because Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.” God's answer to prayer is always a “Yes,” giving us either what we ask for, or something better. Prayer is always a treasure. And when suffering is offered with love it becomes a prayer, a cause of even greater good throughout the world. So, we call the Friday when Christ was crucified “Good Friday,” because Christ's intercessory suffering offered with so much love saved us. But unlike prayer, sufferings by themselves, if not transformed by love, can be wasted. Like the bitter suffering of the other thief on Calvary who died cursing Jesus and his own fate.
We have so many sufferings every day! Most are very small, little things that bug us: like a fly that won't leave us alone, or the cold of an early frost before the house is heated, or just a feeling of weariness, or being hurt by someone. But all of these can be treasures when offered with a love that intercedes for the world. Every ache and pain can help others who need the graces, the help that comes from our intercessory suffering. This is how the Cross can triumph in our own lives, transforming the bad things, both big and small, into treasures that bring help to others by the grace of God. Today we can save someone from eternal death, and someone else from abortion, and others from torture by offering our little sufferings for them. Then every day can be a good day. What will you do with the troubles that come your way?
We don't have to waste our sufferings like the melancholic woman who went to a psychiatrist saying, “Something is wrong with me. I just feel like a dog all the time.” The doctor asked, “How long have you felt this way?” She replied, “Ever since I was a puppy.” And we don't have to be like the incorrigible Lucy in the comic strip, Peanuts. When she was given a writing assignment for being a nuisance in class, she began writing over and over: “I will not talk in class, I will not talk in class.” Then she wrote, “On the other hand, who knows what I'll do?” What will we do with the troubles that come our way? Will they be wasted, or offered with love for others?