LITURGY AND LIFE
By Bernadette Gasslein
‘Take up your cross’ an invitation to change the world
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I have a collection of crosses. The oldest is the white cross I received for my baptism, with its glow-in-the-dark corpus hanging on a feminine filigree cross. My parents pointed out to me decades ago the merits of this divine phosphorescence: Jesus, the crucified and risen one, would always be my light, even in the darkness.
The Central American Catholics whom I got to know in Edmonton years later introduced me to the colourful crosses produced in El Salvador. On the one that hangs on my office wall is inscribed La Nueva Creacion — the new creation. The corpus of the risen Christ occupies the foreground of the cross, surrounded by the sun, local mountains, local animals (I love the armadillo and the llama); under the feet of Christ is a village and a Pentecost that includes Mary and the other women who were Christ’s disciples. It is a wise and whimsical portrayal of the effect of Jesus’ death. Jesus breathes forth his Spirit at his death, in an event that echoes the Genesis account of creation. This time, it is about recreation: everything is made new through the dying and rising of Jesus.
At the entrance to our home hangs a cross woven of wheat, attesting to both the religious and artistic heritage of my husband’s Ukrainian ancestors who homesteaded in Northern Alberta. The cross is woven into and of the very stuff of our lives.
From a trip to Spain, a friend brought back a tiny cross whose theology shattered, healed and refashioned my understanding of the cross (image included). Note how the figure of God the Father, who is also on the cross, supports Jesus. The Spirit hovers over both of them. The cross is an act of love of the Trinity. It is not something done to Jesus; it is God’s self-emptying for the life of the world. The God who was on the cross with Jesus will not abandon us when we are on the cross of self-emptying love.
While I was looking for second-hand shops that might want some of my mom’s things when I was cleaning out her house after her death, I discovered a tiny silver cross with a disproportionately large pearl — one of my mother’s favourite jewels — set in the centre. It’s the only cross I ever wear. The cross is the pearl of great price, worth our all.
A souvenir store in the airport in Cancun netted me two other fascinating icon crosses. The first one is composed of icons of the Trinity: at the heart of the cross is an image of Father, Son and Spirit; on the top arm, the Rublev Trinity; the bottom arm shows Jesus supported by the figure of God the Father, similar to the one I described above, and an image of the new Jerusalem. From the heart of the second cross pours the Spirit, bathing a Pentecost image below, and surrounded by other images of the enlivening, recreating Spirit: the Annunciation, the baptism of the Lord, and the Trinity and eucharist. The Spirit who creates and recreates is sent forth from the cross of Christ.
I remember periods of my life when I resisted the command to “Take up your cross.” It felt like the gloomiest invitation imaginable! The artistic portrayals of the cross from various periods and peoples have helped me discover more deeply the mystery into which Jesus invites us this Sunday: “Whoever wants to become my follower, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” From these varied images of the cross I have learned that the cross is not about penance. It’s about a way of life that puts love first. Every parent who loves their child knows that such love requires self-sacrifice. Every spouse knows that loving their partner demands self-sacrifice. Every pastor or pastoral minister who loves their people knows that loving their people requires self-sacrifice.
This is the life into which we were baptized: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Self-giving, self-emptying, self-sacrificing love is the hallmark of all the baptized, for we have been joined to the body and heart of our risen Lord. It beats at the heart of our identity. It continues to bring a new creation to birth. It is the identifier of our community: see how these Christians love one another. Whatever the consequences of loving like this, we will not, ultimately, be disgraced. This is the love that translates into works of love that make our faith real.
Take up your cross: live your baptismal reality. Love as Jesus loved. Empty yourself. Let the cross remind us that we are called to love as a body, Christ’s body, his community; learn to see it powerfully at work in all our everyday loving. Let it illuminate our darkest nights, and teach us that God will never abandon us, but always fill us with the Spirit that is the love of the Trinity. This love is the power of the reign of God. It is worth everything, and even more. With love like that, we can change the world.
Gasslein is the editor of Celebrate!, Canada’s award-winning pastoral magazine published by Novalis. For the past 40 years she has been engaged in various liturgical and catechetical ministries, leading workshops around the country. Gasslein holds a Licence in Sacred Theology with Specialization in Pastoral Catechetics from the Institut catholique de Paris. She and her husband live in Edmonton.