Do not become an enemy of the Cross!
Or perhaps put another way, we could say:
Do not be afraid of the Cross!
Right now, fear is gripping our world. So many people are afraid of what sorts of trials and difficulties the future is going to bring us — on the global scale, yes — with so much unrest and evil tearing people, and families, and nations apart — but there are also fears much closer to home. Deeper, much more personal fears:
People are afraid of whether or not they will be able to raise their kids in today’s world. People are afraid of whether or not they’ll be able to stay faithful to God under all of the pressures of today’s culture. People are afraid if they will be able to afford having another kid. Afraid if God is asking them to move, or change jobs. Afraid to share the Gospel with people they love. Afraid of conflict. Afraid of disagreement. Afraid to say “yes” to commitments of every kind, afraid to take risks! — afraid to push through those tough, grueling years of marriage — or priesthood… Afraid to be holy, to look and act different than people around us, to put God first.
I think all of these various fears could be boiled down to one basic thing:
At some level or another, we are afraid of the Cross.
We can even start to look at the Cross as our enemy! Something to be avoided at all costs! Why? Well, I know in my own experience, the times I’ve tried to run away from the Cross, it was because I was afraid that God would ask too much from me. That God’s plan would be too painful. Too heavy. Too costly. Too… exhausting. Perhaps we are afraid of the Cross because deep down, we are afraid we might fail…
But my encouragement to you is this:
Push through that fear…
Push through it!…And LISTEN to Jesus instead!
That’s what our Gospel encouraged us to do, right? At the Transfiguration, the voice of the Father cuts Peter off — He interrupts him right in mid-sentence! — and says from the billowing cloud enveloping them:
“This is my chosen Son: Listen to him.”
Listen to Jesus! Listen to my Son. If you do that, you will have nothing to fear. Not even the pains and the sufferings of the Cross!
What does Jesus say to us anyways? Well, many things. But in the verses immediately preceding this story we just heard of the Transfiguration, he tells his disciples these words that are probably very familiar to us —
“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.”
That’s is so important for all of us! In order to reach the light of the Transfiguration — that blinding, glorious light of the Transfiguration and ultimately of the Resurrection — we have to first enter into the darkness of the Cross with Jesus.
Darkness is scary for us.
Almost every kid is naturally a little bit afraid of the dark! It’s sort of built into us from the outset. Darkness makes us feel alone and vulnerable. We can’t see our surroundings, and there’s so much that is unknown.
But the fact of the matter is this: Darkness is so often the place of encounter with God. CS Lewis in his book “Till We Have Faces” once asked the question: “Why must holy places be dark places?”
It’s a profound question. But it hints at something that I think is very real. Just look at that first reading we heard from the book of Genesis! Abram was first “enveloped” in a “terrifying darkness,” it says, before he then see the mysterious glory of God in the form of a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch.
We might well hear this and wonder: What in the world was going on in this reading!?!?!?
Let’s go ahead and break it down, because it is actually very deeply connected to the Cross.
First of all, God makes Abram an incredible promise, right? — He says “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so, shall your descendants be!” As numerous as the stars!!!
God is telling Abram — Yes, you are childless at the moment, but one day, by my grace, you will have countless children throughout the entire world.
But Abram wondered — “How do I know that this is really going to happen? What can you do, God, to prove that You’re trustworthy?” And I think that as w hear him ask that question, we can almost hear a bit of that fear we were talking about before: “What are you going to ask from me, God? What is this going to cost?”
Then the Lord does something completely unexpected and completely revolutionary: God instructs Abram to bring several animals for sacrifice — A heifer, a she-goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon. Abram then obediently cuts the animals in half and lays them out on the ground.
Now, to our ears, this is very bizarre. It makes no sense. But to the original ancient audience, everyone knew exactly what was going down. Everybody heard this and were like:
God was making an unbreakable oath with Abram. He is literally cutting a covenant. In the Middle-east at that time, unrelated families would form these permanent covenant bonds through blood sacrifice. And they would cut the sacrificial animals in two, and then walk between those halves, as a ceremonial way to say: “If I break my oath with you — If I don’t fulfill my promise, then I will die. I will die like these animals!”
Believe it or not, that’s what God is saying to Abram. God is making a permanent promise, an unbreakable covenant based on His own life: You don’t have anything to fear, Abram — I’m in this all the way for you.
But there’s another, even more amazing layer to all of this.
Because in that terrifying darkness of that trance that we heard about, we notice something else: Only God passes through the sacrificed animals.
Scripture scholars will point out that the text says NOTHING about Abram walking through on his own. So — it’s as if God is taking His own part AND Abram’s part of this covenantal oath.
This… is huge.
Think about it…
What God is essentially saying by doing this is:
“Don’t be afraid of what I’m asking from you, Abram. I want to make of you a great nation and I wanna bless the entire world through you! Have confidence in me — I will NOT let let you down. I am faithful. In fact — Not only will I hold up my end of the deal, but I’ll even take your place as well.”
Does that sound familiar? Because it should — That’s exactly what Jesus did for us on the Cross!
The Son of God took on our human flesh. He became like us in all things but sin. He stood in our place — and then he freely accepted the Cross, offering Himself in our stead, putting our sins to death in His Body.
Because guess what? —— We broke the covenant! We broke the oath!
We all, like sheep, had gone astray. We all sinned against God and failed to hold up the human end of the covenant!
But then God sent His son to freely, and lovingly become the source of our salvation on the Cross. And what does he ask from us?
“Listen. Listen to Him!”
Stop listening to the fear — Listen instead to JESUS who is very eager to taste His Passion for our sake. He’s not afraid of it. He knows it’s the way that we are going to be made whole. Only by His wounds will we be healed!
He speaks freely of His Exodus to Moses and Elijah while he’s transfiguring before Peter James, and John, right? What is that Exodus? Well he’s talking to them about His Death on the Cross, His Passover to the Father — Where he will fulfill God’s will perfectly, where he will deal the Devil a definitive blow, where Paradise will blossom again for us!
This is what He came to do.
And now: He bids us come and die with him.
Are we afraid to follow Him that far? Are we still afraid that He’s asking too much from us?
In the Book of Revelation, Jesus tells the Church point blank: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.” — It’s time for us to listen to Him!
Because if we don’t listen to Him, then we will end up, as St Paul warns us, becoming enemies of the Cross! And our God will be our stomach. And our minds will be occupied with earthly things. And our end will be destruction. St Paul warns us of this with tears in his eyes! It’s not angry. It’s not proud or arrogant — He’s crying! He’s crying out to his beloved!
Think of Saint Paul’s example for just a moment! He was no enemy of the Cross, was he?
No — He loved the Cross! He embraced it wholeheartedly and worked tirelessly, lest the Cross be emptied of any of its power! “We preach Christ crucified!” was his battle cry! His glory! His freedom! Paul never boasted in anything except the Cross! The world was crucified to him, and he to the world! He actually became a living Crucifix!
So let’s make a firm commitment with St. Paul this Lent — to become friends with the Cross!
St. John Vianney once said that “The worst cross is not to have a cross.” And that is very counterintuitive to us, I think? But he takes it even further, saying: “To flee from the cross is to be crushed beneath its weight. We should pray for a love of the cross — Then, it will become sweet.”
Following Jesus IS possible today. Being holy IS possible today! Embracing and loving the Cross IS possible RIGHT NOW!
Because Jesus is with us.
And the Holy Spirit has been given to us for just such a moment as this — for THIS exact time in human history.
So grab hold of the Cross!
Don’t be afraid of it!
It is not your enemy.
Become friends with it.
It is the instrument that will save you.