Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Triumph of the Cross (Gospel: 3:13-17) ‘…so that we may have eternal life’

There is a story told of some missionaries who went to a very remote part of the jungle in South America. There they set up a few small huts for living in and also a small chapel.  The local tribesmen were cautiously watching the new settlers from a distance. After a few days one of them got the courage to make his way into the chapel to see what was inside. After a few moments he ran out screaming because of what he saw: on the wall of the chapel there was the image of a man crucified.  What kind of horrible people were these settlers?

The image of the cross is a really horrible one.  It is the image of a man being tortured to death, but we have gotten used to it. We don’t see the gruesomeness of it any more. It is also the greatest symbol of God’s love for us, because it is the symbol of the ultimate sacrifice that God has made for us, so that we might have eternal life with God when we die.  The last line of today’s Gospel sums up what the Christian faith is about: ‘God loved the world so much that He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life’ (John 3:17). …so that we might have eternal life.

I always think it is very sad when I hear of someone who believes that there is nothing after death.  Trying to face sickness and death must be very difficult if you believe there is nothing afterwards.  For me it would beg the question, ‘Then what is the purpose of our life?’ In one of his letters St. Paul puts it this way, ‘If our faith in Christ is for this life only, then of all people we are the most to be pitied’ (1 Cor 15:19). In other words, if we think our faith is about this life only, then we have completely missed the point. The core message of our faith is that Jesus died for us, so that our sins may be forgiven.  We say this in every mass at the end of the consecration: ‘This is the chalice of my Blood…which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.’  That means that we don’t have to live in fear of our sins, so long as we keep coming back to the Lord and asking him to forgive us: so that sins may be forgiven.  If we really believe this, it brings with it a great freedom, because we realize that our getting to heaven when we die does not depend on us being ‘good enough’, but rather our being open to what God has done for us.  Of course we continually repent and ask the Lord to forgive us our sins, but it is God himself who makes it possible for us to get to heaven through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  That is why the symbol of the cross is so powerful.  The demons are terrified of it because they know what it means.

Ever notice in movies when they show an exorcism, what does the priest always hold up? He holds up the crucifix and the person possessed squirms in front of it.  That is one thing that Hollywood got right. That is what happens, although that is generally in extreme cases, but it is real. Isn’t it interesting that this dreadful extremist group ISIS have crucified many Christians in an attempt to mock the Christian faith?  It goes to show you what evil is behind it.

If you don’t have a crucifix in your home, get one, get a priest to bless it and put it in a prominent place, so that whoever enters your home will see that you are a follower of Jesus and that you believe that eternal life has been won for you through the death and resurrection of Jesus on the cross.  When we die—and this goes for those who are not Christians too—we will immediately be aware of what Christ has done for us and then we will have the choice to accept or reject God.  That is what the second reading says.
At the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

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