The Triumph of the Cross

Of all the prayers we have ever prayed, one of the most common is the sign of the Cross. It may be so familiar that we don’t even think of it as a prayer. But it is. It’s the prayer we use to begin and end all other prayers, the first prayer a priest will pray at the beginning of the Holy Mass; it’s a prayer so significant that a gesture, a sign, accompanies it.

Pope Benedict XVI explains the significance of the sign of the cross in this way, “By signing ourselves with the cross, we place ourselves under the protection of the cross, hold it in front of us like a shield that will guard us in all the distress of daily life and give us the courage to go on.” He goes on to say, “The cross shows us the road of life—the imitation of Christ…whenever we make the sign of the cross we accept our Baptism anew. Christ from the cross draws us, so to speak, to Himself.”

Every time we make the sign of the cross we seal ourselves, we unite ourselves, to Jesus’ outpouring of love on the Cross. Our Lord’s crucifixion can never be seen isolated from the selfless gift of love that it is. This is my body which will be given up for you…this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. It is in imitation of Christ, in entering into His Paschal Mystery, that we are able to be transformed by the Divine Love of the Lamb. It is in imitating His total gift of self that our lives find purpose.

Pope John Paul II would often echo a truth given to us by the Second Vatican Council Fathers –“man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere gift of himself” (GS #24). The late Holy Father never tired of exhorting us to dive into the depths and truest meaning of life by allowing our lives to become a selfless gift of love for others. And his message resonated in our hearts – it still does.

How often have you felt that tug to do more, really, to be more? I’m sure you’ve recognized in the depths of your heart the desire to plunge deeper, to live daily the purpose you know your life has at root. Whether it be going on a mission trip, volunteering for a year after graduation, or sincerely seeking – with total surrender to Jesus – the definitive vocation of love He desires for you, that tug to be more, to go deeper, is all about the call to make a total gift of ourselves.

This gift of self – and the fulfillment of the tug we all know so well – includes (necessitates) a real participation in the Cross of Christ. This is especially so for those called to religious life, but it is true for every Christian. By uniting ourselves with the Crucified One we enter into the sacred intimacy the Lord desires to share with each of us, an intimacy only possible on the Cross. This intimacy is LIFE, the life we all desire and which, without the Cross, remains illusive.

While at World Youth Day, Pope Benedict celebrated the Holy Mass at the Cathedral in Sydney for seminarians and young religious. In his homily he told us: “We know that in the end – as Saint Ignatius of Loyola saw so clearly – the only real “standard” against which all human reality can be measured is the Cross and its message of an unmerited love which triumphs over evil, sin and death, creating new life and unfading joy. The Cross reveals that we find ourselves only by giving our lives away, receiving God’s love as an unmerited gift and working to draw all men and women into the beauty of that love and the light of the truth which alone brings salvation to the world.”

Religious consecration allows this intimacy to be sealed in the forever of a vow, sealed in exclusivity of heart, mind and body. It is the response of God’s first gift of love, His invitation, but this response is made in freedom. A freedom which proclaims with St. Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 3:8)

The consecrated life (and even the first timid steps into discernment) demands a spirit of sacrifice and renunciation – demands a yes to the Cross – but for the sake of a far superior good than anything sacrificed. And the union with Jesus that results is one filled with the Holy Spirit, and fruitful beyond measure. The only way to taste the Triumph of the Cross is to embrace it with trust, courageously waiting for Jesus to reveal His glory. If Jesus is offering you the Cross these days, be not afraid to come closer – reach out for Him, cling to Him, keep your eyes fixed on His gaze of Love. You will find that, even in the shadow of suffering, there is nothing more beautiful on this earth than a life lived as a Yes for God.