Sunday's Gospel Reading From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." Matthew 16:21-28
During the time Elizabeth Ann Seton contemplated becoming a Roman Catholic, an Italian friend of her husband taught her to make the sign of the cross. The cross seemed to imprint itself upon her soul. "I was cold with the awful impression my first making it gave me -- the sign of the cross of Christ on me! Deepest thoughts came with it of I know not what earnest desires to be closely united with Him who died on it."
My confirmation cross, my ordination cross, crossing myself in worship, making the sign across my lips when I wake up in the morning (Open my lips O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise) all remind me, when I'm conscious of it, that I belong to the Crucified One. But often I am not conscious. The throne of glory, the crux of Reality drawing together the spheres of heaven and earth, things seen and unseen, the profound and life-giving contradictions of taking up my cross elude me in my daily busy-ness.
But I want the mystery of the cross to shape me into the kind of human being so transfigured by the cross within me, I know how to live, even when I am not consciously awake to its meaning in the moment.
Meditation One (introit) one with the timeless Christ
(on making the sign of the cross for the first time) I was cold with the awful impression my first making it gave me -- the sign of the cross of Christ on me! Deepest thoughts came with it of I know not what earnest desires to be closely united with Him who died on it. Oh, that last day when it is to be borne in triumph! -Elizabeth Ann Seton 1774-1821
The summation of the life of Jesus in the symbol and the sign of the cross is not meant so much as an act of "taking up" the cross, as it is of "taking the cross inside." The direction of the sign of the cross is inward, which suggests embracing and internalizing the life of Jesus. Nevertheless, this inward direction suggests that, starting with the historical events of the life of Jesus, we live these events here and now, appropriating them outside time and space, as we become one with the timeless Christ.
-Andreas Andreopoulos The Sign of the Cross
Never leave your house without making the sign of the cross. It will be to you a staff, a weapon, an impregnable fortress. Neither man nor demon will dare to attack you, seeing you covered with such powerful armor. Let this sign teach you that you are a soldier, ready to combat against the demons, and ready to fight for the cross of justice. Are you ignorant of what the cross has done? It has vanquished death, destroyed sin, emptied hell, dethroned Satan, and restored the universe. Would you then doubt its power?
-John Chrysostom c.347-407
If you were the handsomest and the richest man in the world, and could work wonders and drive out devils, all that would be something extrinsic to you; it would not belong to you and you could not boast of it. But there is one thing of which we can boast; we can boast of our humiliations and in taking up daily the holy cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
-Francis of Assisi 1181/2-1226
I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. -Romans 12.1
What does it mean to take up one's cross? It means bearing whatever is unpleasant—that is following me. Once you begin to follow me by conforming your life to my commandments, you will find many to contradict you, forbid you, or dissuade you, and some of these will be people calling themselves followers of Christ. Therefore if you meet with threats, flattery, or opposition,k let this be your cross; pick it up and carry it—do not collapse under it. These words of our Lord are like an exhortation to endure martyrdom. If you are persecuted you ought, surely, to make light of any suffering for the sake of Christ.
-Augustine of Hippo 354-430Sermon 96,1-4: PL 38, 584-6 quoted from The Fathers on the Sunday GospelsStephen Mark Holmes, ed.
detail, foot of cross, Italian Mosaic Artist, San Clemente, Rome, 1130's
Cross, Unknown Italian Mosaic Artist, San Clemente, Rome, 1130's
Meditation Two (insight) bear your share (a collection of Seton quotes)
Not only willing to take my cross but to kiss it, too.
The bright and glorious cross which we now drag alone through the mud and dirt, how beautiful and lovely it will appear when we shall find that it opens the door of our eternal happiness for us. Follow on with courage!
If you find that there are any obstacles in your way -- and doubtless you find many, as every Christian does, in the fulfillment of duty -- still persevere with yet more earnestness, and rejoice to bear your share in the cross, which is our passport and seal to the kingdom of our Redeemer.
Meet with joy every contradiction.
In the hour of manifestation when all this cross-working will be explained, we will find that in this period of our poor life we are ripe for the business for which we were sent.
-Elizabeth Ann Seton 1774-1821
Meditation Three (integration) radically obedient
The tragedy of Christianity has been that Christians have left it all to Jesus. There have been a few exceptions, of course. In the main, however, Christians have never tired of seeing the spectacle of Christ Himself upon the Cross -- in some mysterious way He is our stand-in or proxy representative in every age. We love to sing about the Cross, to pray about the Cross, to preach about the Cross. As long as we are so fascinated and mesmerised, humanity troops on to its doom.
What will save the world is not Christ's suffering and death but ours. It is not His blood which counts but ours. It is not His broken body which matters but ours. In fact, this is what Christianity is all about. It concerns the followers of Christ no less than it concerned Christ Himself. They must be radically obedient to God, Truth and Humanity.
-Ted Noffs 1926-1995 By What Authority?
The Last Word
The Cross possess such power and strength that, whether they will or not, it attracts, draws, and ravishes those who carry it.
-Henry Suso c.1300-1366
At the foot of the cross
I close my eyes and see the cross in a thousand forms for thousands of days of prayer. I see Mary Magdalene reaching for her beloved's feet, insane with the desire to turn back time to bring the comfort of her hair and tears and kisses. I see John's unnaturally calm anguish. I see Jesus' mother with a countenance tight with resignation, or hysterical with grief, or crumpled inside too heavy clothing, or in a dead faint. Sometimes I hear Dismas, the good thief, say, “remember me.”
Sometimes I see soldiers bored, or maniacal, or sadistic, stripped of their own humanity and immune to torture. I see crowds of grim passers-by cowed by the imposed spectacle, beaten down by these frequent displays of oppression and terror.
Sometimes no people bear witness. The beam stands deep and solid in the ground, running with blood and urine mingling with mud in the rain amongst the skulls and bones. Sometimes a fissure appears in the earth, Calvary the phantom epicenter of an allegorical earthquake opened for the harrowing of hell. Sometimes I hardly make out the shadow of the cross shrouded in cloud or thick night. Waiting in the gloom I gradually discover where I am.
Sometimes the foot of the cross appears luminous with two millennium of desperate prayers mingling with a glow of supernatural energy to which I add my own prayers.
I come to the foot of the cross by contemplating centuries of devotional art, or through the guidance of my teachers, or through my own imagination. Eventually the very liminality of the cross itself melts the boundaries of time and place here upon the threshold of healing and regeneration and transfigured living and loving. Remember me. Remember me. Remember me.
'A lover', said the hoopoe, now their guide, 'Is one in whom all thoughts of self have died; Those who renounce the self deserve that name; Righteous or sinful, they are all the same! Your heart is thwarted by the self's control; Destroy its hold on you and reach your goal. Give up this hindrance, give up mortal sight, For only then can you approach the light. If you are told: "Renounce our Faith," obey! The self and Faith must both be tossed away; Blasphemers call such action blasphemy -- Tell them that love exceeds mere piety. Love has no time for blasphemy or faith, Nor lovers for the self, that feeble wraith.
-Farid ud-Din Attar c. 1120 - c.1220 from The Conference of the Birds English version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis