Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lifting High the Cross

One summer my sister and I decided to tour Washington National Cathedral in D.C., a stupendous Episcopal church and, as it happens, dedicated to the honor of Sts. Peter and Paul. We drove around, looking for a parking space. Finally spying one, I offered to stand guard over it while she inched up alongside the car in front, preparing to parallel park.

Good move. As I planted myself possessively over our precious find, a mini-van halted directly behind her and in front of me. The passenger window slid open, and the driver called out, “That’s our space; we got here first!” “I’m sorry,” I pointed out, “we are in front of you.” “But we had our blinker on,” she barked.” We did too. I shook my head and stood my ground. She sputtered, “And you call yourself a Christian!” That was low. I snapped back, “‘Christian’ does not equal ‘doormat’!” She left.

Jesus did not allow himself to be bested when the integrity of his message was at stake. A Temple, moneychangers, and a whip come to mind. There came a time, though, when losing himself out of love was his message. He had already “emptied himself” by becoming human; then he “humbled himself, becoming obedient to death” (Phil. 2:6-7). His faithfulness to the truth of his identity and his mission led him to choose death, on a cross no less, and by doing so, save the world.

I’m afraid to be vulnerable. It leaves me open to possible abuse and exploitation. Even with an infinitely good God, it makes me feel powerless. That’s why I need the cross of Christ. I need a reminder of where vulnerability will surely take me and of the fact that it was a God, my God, who went there before me…and lives to tell the tale. This is where the Good News becomes Great News. He didn’t stop being vulnerable when he rose from the dead (think Eucharist), but his openness became undying life.

As for Christ, so for Christians. If the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us, that Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies, also (See Rom. 8:11). As we celebrated the Exaltation of the Cross a few days ago, we were reminded that the cross is triumphant because of the Resurrection, and it triumphs in those who believe: “This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith” (1Jn. 5:4).

One day journalist James Foley made a decision to pray the Apostles’ Creed “mindfully” every day. “A remarkable thing happened,” he wrote. “I could feel my connection to Christ Jesus and His church strengthening. With my every assent I realized I was connecting with, and conforming to, God’s giant and ongoing “YES,” which formed and sustains all of creation.” This yes gave him wings. Commenting on his Libyan captivity in Tripoli, he wrote in the Marquette Magazine: “If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released….”

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily” (Jn. 10:18). This is said in a unique way about the God-Man, but also in an ordinary sort of way about each of us. Could my sister and I have relinquished that coveted parking spot? Of course. Did the other driver need to hear what Christianity is and is not? Yes. It was unjust for her to demand—and in the name of Christ—what we had a right to. Likewise, for us to give it up out of coercion, even in the name of Christ, would have been dysfunctional. Only freedom makes love possible. Paul wrote that Christ was his law (See 1Cor. 9:21). So, love leads me to imitate Jesus Christ, not just conform to a law. My course of action may be the same. My decision will be made, however, not out of indignation, but in love.


M. Thecla once encouraged the Daughters of St. Paul at the Queen of Apostles Clinic, saying:

M. Thecla with Fr. Alberione & FSP, Albano, 1959
“To love God is to do his will, and to do the will of God and love God is sanctity. In these days, at the end of the Divine Office, this antiphon is always sung: ‘The Lord Jesus was obedient unto death and to death on a cross’ (cf. Phil. 2:8). And for this obedience ‘God…gave him the name which is above all other names… (Phil. 2:9). Behold the obedience of Jesus! Let us follow Jesus!
“May we have this holy ambition of ascending high in heaven, right there where we hope they’ve written our names. We have sought only the Lord. And we continue to seek him, even if we sometimes deviate a little. Let’s go straight ahead, seeking the Lord, his will, sanctity and the love of God” (April 1, 1961).
How do you feel drawn to exalt the cross of Christ in your “ordinary sort of way”?
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Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP, originally from San Francisco, has been a Pauline evangelizer since 1973 and has worked in various phases of the mission of the Daughters of St. Paul. Since attending the nine-month Charism Course in Rome in 2012-2013, she is now based in Boston, where she serves on the provincial Cooperator Team in the area of ongoing formation.

5 comments:

Sarah Schmalenberger said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. Today I am especially thankful for your words about vulnerability, having felt "beat up" by being called out on a molehill of an error that is being made into a mountain. I have accepted and taken a big risk by launching a project, and the vulnerability this creates is difficult to bear on these occasions when I make mistakes. Thank you for reminding me that I'm not alone

Sr. Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP said...

Knowing that we're not alone, that God has us in hand, that ultimately it all makes sense, and that we can grow through it gives us the deepest consolation in the middle of the muck. The pleasures and joys of our lives don't last forever, and neither do its sorrows. Prayers for you, Sarah.

Angela Briest said...

I think there may have been a little survival instinct in you not giving up the space. If they would have politely asked you if they may have it,,, then your freedom,,(tolove),, would have either kindly said yes or no.. I always think it strange when i am grocery shopping and while looking at all the steaks and packaged meat,, someone has to be right next to me as if it was last of the available food... when stuff happens like that i can always see the human being in it and all its
needs.

Bernadette said...

Great piece!!!

Sr. Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP said...

You're right about the survival instinct, Angela. You're also probably right in saying that if the driver had been more polite, we would have been more kindly disposed toward her. In a perfect world, that's what would have happened. It's precisely in an imperfect and fractured world, however, that Christianity sparkles, as through shattered glass. My free response doesn't depend on her courtesy. That's why the martyrs never cease to inspire: In the face of hatred and selfish, illogical obstinacy, they don't cave in (though that would be the far easier path) but still choose to forgive and love--and some of them have choice words for their persecutors. Jesus said they would. They're faithful to Christ and so, are true to who they are.