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Perhaps the single greatest determiner of our happiness on earth is the attitude we have toward the cross. That is why the Church gives us the September 14 feast of the Exaltation of the Cross — to tells us what that attitude should be: Gratitude.
Being grateful for the cross is more important than ever in this time of pandemic.
Two of my children recently posted two very different attitudes toward the cross.
One was a very funny meme from my daughter. Over a picture from the iconic children’s book, it says “Goodnight, moon. Goodnight, Zoom. Goodnight sense of impending doom.” This is how so many of us see sleep right now: A blissful break from the fear and anxiety of pandemic life — if we are lucky enough to be able to sleep.
But my children at home have posted their own “meme” by taping a quote to their bathroom wall: “All our miseries come of our not loving the cross. It is the fear of crosses which gives weight to the cross. — St. John Vianney.” Embracing the cross makes all the difference.
We should be thankful for the cross because the cross changes the story of our lives.
Pope Francis in his 2020 World Communications Day address focused on how the stories we tell “help us understand and communicate who we are.”
It is easy to look at the tragic events of the year 2020 and see the story of helpless humanity as the victims of viruses, hurricanes, and sinful human strife.
But Jesus’ cross gives us a bigger story that all of it fits into. It’s the story of a God who became man, died for us, then left that cross as the place where he unites himself to us in our suffering.
We can be grateful for the cross because it reminds us of our story at a glance.
In the Gospel for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, Jesus compares the cross to the serpent Moses lifted up in the desert. The people suffered from snake bites, but when they gazed upon the cross, they were healed.
In this time of pandemic, we have been poisoned also — poisoned by the virus, but also by the constant anxiety we are living under. To remember the story we are in, all we have to do is look at the cross, the sign God is lifting up to take the poison away.
We can be grateful for the cross because it will bind us more tightly together.
As Bob Dylan put it, “People who suffer together have stronger connections than people who are most content.”
A friend recently told the story of how a couple was in marriage counseling, and it wasn’t going well — until one was diagnosed with cancer. The care they had to have for each other drew them closer together, and their petty differences disappeared.
One day this pandemic, too, shall pass — and we will remember it as an experience that united us to all those who shared the same suffering, then started us on a new chapter together.
We can be thankful for the cross because the original Cross was an utter surprise from God’s love — and he knows we love surprises.
Ultimately, though, the cross gets its power not from our sacrifice, but from God’s.
Not only is the cross a gift, it is the last gift we would expect from God. After all that humanity has done to sin against him and each other, taking the gifts he lavished on us and handing them over to the devil, for him to even have mercy on us is a surprise.
That he would go to the lengths of becoming man and dying for us is shocking.
That’s why people love the line from the Gospel for the day, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
The cross is never pleasant, but if we know what God is up to, it is never simply painful either. Embrace it.