Monday, March 26, 2012

Embrace your cross

Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish neurologist and psychologist, was invited to emigrate from Vienna to the US in 1941.  His parents were overjoyed but Viktor hesitated.  He wondered if he could leave his parents in Vienna where they would likely be sent to a concentration camp.  Should he work on his research and write his books?  Or should he concentrate on his duties as a child, and do whatever he could to protect his parents?

Then, Victor found a piece of marble lying on a table at his house.  This marble was from the site where the National Socialists had burned down the largest Viennese synagogue.  His father had taken the piece home because it was a part of the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed.  One gilded Hebrew letter was inscribed on this broken piece of marble.  The letter stood for the commandment “Honor your father and your mother.”  Then, Viktor knew that he must stay with his parents in Vienna.

Jesus knew perfectly well what was awaiting him.  As the Son of God, he knew of his upcoming suffering and death.  As a man who is like us in every way except sin, Jesus was troubled.  He realized that this painful death was his destiny.  The cross was awaiting him.  He was about to give glory to his Father through a humiliating and excruciating death.  And, knowing what was coming made his task even more difficult.  Jesus had to choose the cross.  He needed to be obedient to the will of his Father even unto death.  Jesus told his disciples the kind of death that he would die.  He told them that he would be lifted up and would draw everyone to him.  His disciples could feel his anguish and pain but they didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.  Jesus would go into this difficult time without the support of his closest friends.  They would betray him, deny him, and most would just abandon him.  Jesus knew all of this and yet he chose the cross.

Because he honored his parents and stayed in Vienna, Viktor Frankl spent over two and a half years in Nazi concentration camps. While he was interred, his wife, his mother, and his father all died in concentration camps.  He suffered unbelievable cruelty and stared death in the face many times.  Viktor found out first-hand what suffering was all about.   Viktor tells us:  “The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life.  He may remain brave, dignified and unselfish.  Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation, he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal.”

As the Son of God, Jesus was not spared from suffering.  St Paul tells us that Jesus found obedience through suffering.   There is a Greek proverb:  “Sufferings are lessons.”  Jesus, in his human nature, learned from his experiences.  He chose to obey, even unto death, atoning for Adam and Eve’s sin of disobedience.  Jesus knew what obedience was, but he learned obedience in practice through his passion and death.

Probably none of us will ever experience suffering which can approach that of Jesus or Viktor Frankl.  But, during our lives, all of us have the opportunity, and the need, on many occasions, to carry our cross.  It may be the cross of raising children, dealing with the loss of a job, financial problems, elderly parents,  sickness, marital difficulties, or something else.  Whatever our cross is, we can either run from it or embrace it.  When we embrace our cross, we find obedience to the Father’s will through our suffering.  And, mysteriously, we find hope.   Through the cross, we follow Jesus and serve others.  Through the cross, we die to ourselves and gain everlasting life.  Through the cross, we turn away from our secular culture and we embrace our loving God and our neighbor.

I have been a member of this parish for forty years.  I have come to know many of you.  I am aware of some of your crosses as some of you are aware of mine.  When I look out at all of you on Sunday, I don’t see pain and suffering as a result of these crosses.  Instead, I see hope, faith, love, and even joy.  I see many who lean on the cross of Christ and on each other as they persevere in carrying their cross.  I see a community of faith coming to mass and to the Eucharist for the grace of God which carries them through their tough times.    

As we approach Good Friday, we remember and give thanks for the cross of Jesus.  And we also give thanks for the cross which we carry.  Embrace that cross! Share it with others!  Help others with their cross!  Let our cross lead us to our resurrection.