Looking at What Scares You – Pastor’s Reflection (September 11, 2016)
9/14 offers a way to look at 9/11.
This Week we celebrate the Triumph of the Cross. Historically, the feast commemorates the finding of the True Cross by St. Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, who legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire. But at a deeper level the day celebrates God’s great work of reversal. The cross began life as an
instrument of execution, with the same claim to exaltation, as say a guillotine or an electric chair. Yet Christ has left us the Cross as an emblem of redemption and mercy. Now we wear it around our necks, gold leaf it and mount it on our churches, and lovingly trace it upon ourselves at life’s most crucial moments. How does this reorientation come about?
The answer appears in the very Passion of the Lord. Alone in the Garden, Jesus reveals that He in His
humanity, does not want the Cross. Further, the authorities lay it on his shoulders as a burden unmanageable even for one whose humanity is faultless. After carrying it to Golgotha, the Cross becomes an instrument of degradation, pain, and death. But from Jesus Crucified flee his friends and followers, and by its earthly power it seems to evaporate the effectiveness of his ministry.
In short, the cross brings down upon Jesus what we fear most, falling alone to the bottom of life. The Cross invites us to recognize that we are all at risk of losing health, wealth, companions, and even reputation. Of course, in death, we all fall to the bottom. Moreover, the exalted Cross of Christ does not promise Christians that this will not happen to us, but it does signify that God is more powerful than falling to the bottom of life and so the Resurrection shines out from the Death of Christ as the Father’s testimony to this.
The mystery of the Cross makes it powerful for us to look straight at the things we fear. First, we admit the truth of our fears, grounded in a realization of the fragility of human life and circumstance. Then, in faith we recognize that God is more powerful than what we fear, even if what we fear transpires.
As a daily challenge, I try to look directly at the homeless in our streets, and to see in them my own
economic, even emotional vulnerability. The cliché, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” captures this. But my gaze must also draw upon my faith to recognize that even if I were to lose my human moorings, I would not lose God. Resurrection faith is not magical, it takes clear account of the vicissitudes of human life, but also of a vastly more potent divine life.
For people of faith a commemoration such as 9/11 demands contemplation on several levels. First we gaze upon the terrible loss of life, and the gratuitous violence that wrought it. But then we also allow the attacks to show us the fragility of our civilization, even in this technological age. Subsequent terrorist attacks, and the rise of ISIS have continued to impress this message upon our minds and imaginations. Hopefully a deep
consideration of our social vulnerability does not shut us down, but enables us to grasp the preciousness of the common life we share. Further, an anniversary such as this draws the roots of our faith further down into the soil of God to find the water of reassurance that no terrorism is more powerful than God, even if it appears to succeed.
I invite you to celebrate with our parish community the great feast of the Holy Cross, this coming
Wednesday, September 14, and its companion Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on the following day, Thursday, September 15. These days offer a singular chance to behold God’s presence to the suffering and through the suffering. He does not take away the bottom of human life, but makes it the way to His life.