Life and the Cross

Tony Pueyo
Passion Sunday (March 20, 2005)
Notre Dame of Tacurong College
Tacurong City, Philippines
Reproduced with Permission

This Sunday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. The Catholic faithful will be bringing palm fronds to be blessed in church. In some cultures of the Asia-Pacific region, given their indigenous artistic abilities, these palm leaves become artful creations as they are woven into assorted shapes of birds, crosses, cubes, circles, fans, etc.

In my country, the people are not satisfied with the general blessing of the palm leaves. The leaves must be wet with holy water. The wetter, the better. I remember one Palm Sunday in my first parish. The blessing of the palms was held outside of the church before the mass. I was standing on a little stage above the crowd. To make the blessing orderly and to avoid the merry chaos that often happens at these celebrations, I gave instructions that a single line must be formed to pass by the stage. I then blessed the palms and their owners as they marched by. The blessing that was supposed to take place for fifteen minutes extended into a half-hour and still the line was endless. I looked for the end of the line and I saw what was wrong. The line became a circle and I was blessing the same palms over and over. As I said, the wetter the better.

This week the Catholic faithful will be participants in many liturgical events, as we remember the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord. It is for this reason that the week is called holy. At the Chrism mass, the holy oils that are used for baptism and the anointing of the sick will be blessed by the bishop. On Holy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord's Supper and Washing of the Feet will be celebrated, to be followed by the exposition of the blessed sacrament. Good Friday will be solemnly celebrated with the Stations of the Cross, Confessions, the Good Friday Liturgy, and the veneration of the Cross that caps the day. Holy Saturday will be a quiet day, as we remember Jesus laying in the tomb. The Easter Vigil Mass on Saturday evening will be a joyful event as the new fire is blessed and lit, the history of salvation is recalled in the readings, the Resurrection is proclaimed, the Gloria is sung, the new water is blessed, and the baptismal promises are renewed. Easter Sunday will be celebrated with joy. In the Philippines, the dawn mass will be preceded by the joyful meeting of the Risen Lord and the Blessed Mother, the men following the image of the Risen Lord and the women following the image of the Blessed Mother. In other cultures, there will be Easter egg hunting for the children.

Such will be the celebration of Holy Week as far as the official liturgy and the traditional practices are concerned. They are meant to inspire the faithful towards reflection, devotion, and repentance. These days bring us to thoughts and experiences of dying and living, falling and rising, suffering and glory, defeat and victory. Holy Week is about life. The laws of life have been extracted from human experience and condensed into sayings and dictums that are familiar to us. For every tear, a victory. Behind the cloud is a silver lining. No pain, no gain. He who sows in tears will reap with joy. These life lessons affirm the spiritual truth that passion, death, and resurrection are intertwined.

Christian life cannot be separated from the cross. There are many kinds of crosses. The more common cross is the cross of inconvenience. Our contemporary culture seeks the convenient way through the use of technology. Life is more convenient when we are riding a car instead of walking, or we are using a washing machine instead of doing the laundry manually. Even with technology however, the farmer still has to plant in order to harvest. The student has to study so he will pass his examinations. An employee has to be diligent in order to be promoted. The businessman has to invest so he will have profit. An athlete has to practice if he wants to be a champion. Some inconveniences are necessary and good for the soul.

Another kind of cross is the cross of relationships and loneliness. Living with others has a price. We have to adjust to people as they adjust to us. Even the best of friendships sour. Husbands and wives have their quarrels and neighbors have misunderstandings. A Christian has to live with his neighbor. He is called to be a leaven of reconciliation and bring harmony to relationships. One way to avoid this kind of cross is to harden one's heart and to close the door to relationships. But is that life? Life without friends and loved ones, present or in memory, is a lonely life.

A more difficult cross is the cross of sickness and physical suffering. Many illnesses can be cured or at least relieved by medicines. Others are so chronic and painful that they try the sufferer's soul. They can lead to bitter rage or to quiet endurance. The Christian attitude towards such sickness is to unite one's pains with the pains of the Lord on the cross. The pain can even be offered up for the conversion of sinners and the good of souls.

A more sublime cross is the cross of solidarity. When one is so connected with others he becomes compassionate. He feels the pain of those who suffer. He is touched by the hunger of abandoned children, the insecurity and fear of those who are affected by war, and the suffering of those who are sick and lonely. Such cross can be the powerhouse that generates the energy for social involvement..

Finally, there is the cross of persecution. When one is reviled, ostracized, and even harmed because of one's faith in Christ, then indeed that person has become a true disciple. Living the Christian faith in a secular world is not easy. There is the constant temptation to be swallowed up by a prevailing culture that may run contrary to the Gospel. When one takes an unpopular stand such as the protection of the life of the unborn or living a simple lifestyle, then he may become the object of jokes, scorn, avoidance, or even outright persecution.

In line with these reflections on the meaning of the cross we may better understand the saying of Jesus, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mk 8:34). Let us not throw away the cross. The cross is life-giving.