The Place of the Cross in Our Lives
Homily, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Fr. Charlie Fox, Spiritual Director, St. Paul Street Evangelization (www.streetevangelization.com)
Several years ago, there was a family whose home I visited for dinner. This home was beautifully decorated, with nicely painted walls, well-chosen furniture, nicely framed pictures and the general look and feel of something out of a home magazine. And I noticed a decorative cross, mounted on the wall near the corner of their dining room. But something struck me about the cross, which was one of perhaps only a couple of religious images placed where visitors might see them. The cross was highly stylized and painted a rather muted color, and so it blended in very well with the rest of the home’s décor. And something troubled me about that.
Now, I should say right away that this was a great family, a strong Catholic family. What I noticed during that visit, I’ve seen in a number of Catholic homes since then. Where a couple of generations ago a Catholic home would have contained very clear religious artwork and symbols–a crucifix, pictures of the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart, etc.–now it seems that such symbols are fading into the background or disappearing altogether. I do not mean to point the finger at anyone in particular, but rather to point out a trend that serves as a good reminder that we all have a tendency to let the Cross of Jesus fade into the background, perhaps not of our homes, but rather into the background of our lives. Perhaps we forget—or would rather forget—the horror of the Cross.
For many of us, despite the troubles we all have from time-to-time, life can be pretty nice. Many of us enjoy the love of family and friends, certain creature comforts, a regular schedule of work, activities, vacations, and holidays, and there is something that can seem counterintuitive, or even unnatural, about turning our attention away from those people and things to look at the Cross.
Of course, we love Jesus, and we would happily join the people in today’s first Gospel reading who greeted Jesus as He rode into Jerusalem. When Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem, the people are drawn into the experience. Everyone loves a winner, and they want to be connected to a winner. And these people surely had some real devotion as well. They even recognize Jesus as a kind of king, Who comes in the name of the Lord, and they shout in praise, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”
We don’t know what happened to those particular people in the days that followed, but we do know that no one was shouting in praise of Jesus on Good Friday. Instead, He was met with the chilling shouts of the crowd, “Crucify him!” Jesus’ closest followers had already abandoned Him: Judas betrayed Him; His apostles had fled at His arrest in the Garden, and Peter denied Him three times.
They were content enough to follow the King of the Jews, until they saw what this King was about to go through. The Cross of Jesus—His throne of wood and nails—was simply too much for them to take. And we are kidding ourselves if we fail to admit that we face our own temptation regarding the Cross: the temptation to love Jesus as long as He fits neatly into our lives, off in a corner, faded into the background, and to turn away when we see the road heading to Calvary.
In this Holy Week, we are called to see what so many in the Gospel missed, and what we are sometimes tempted to miss: that the Cross is not where Jesus loses His kingship, but where He shows most fully that He is our King. We are called, like the Good Thief, St. Dismas, to see in the dying of Jesus the dying of the King of heaven and earth for our salvation.
We have an opportunity this week to celebrate the events of the Gospel: to witness the institution of the Holy Eucharist on Holy Thursday, to stand at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday, and to pray in the mysterious silence of Holy Saturday, all of which leads to our rejoicing together in the victory of Christ on Easter Sunday. We have an opportunity this week, if we choose to take it, to make sure the Cross of Jesus does not fade into the background of our lives, and to place it more clearly and decisively at the center where it belongs.
[Pictured: Crucifixion by Jan Lievens, 1631]