“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Mark 8:27-35.
For the past three weeks, as we begin the school year here at Santa Catalina, I’ve been identifying features of our Rosary Chapel, the centerpiece of our campus.
You will recall, I explained the presence of the Blessed Sacrament on reserve here, as a place of prayer for you. Last week I mentioned how the holy water fonts at the front of the chapel remind us of our baptism when we bless ourselves as we enter into this sacred place.
Today, take special note of how Sophia, our altar server, led us into the altar area with the processional cross and accompanied by four acolytes holding candles. This procession reminds us that we follow Christ to his central work of redemption by his cross and in the light of his resurrection. The cross is the most potent symbol for Christians.
So we “lift high the cross” as we listen to our Lord’s conversation with Peter in today’s gospel. For the past three days, the liturgy has focused on the cross with the feast days of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross celebrated on Friday, and yesterday’s feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, commemorating Mary at the foot of her son’s cross.
Notice that we walk behind the processional cross, and how the body or corpus always faces outward, so the Lord leads us into this holy presence on our journey of faith.
So we “lift high the cross,” as we do when we celebrate a big victory. Recently, I read a commentary by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, who placed this in a very familiar context. He writes:
“This ritual is well known. At the end of a football game, but not before victory is assured, the team pours a vat of Gatorade over the head of the winning coach. Then the coach is lifted up. So too, at the end of college basketball game’s March Madness, the hero of the final team, after the game-ending buzzer, is lifted up to cut down the net.”
So the action of lifting high the victor, tells us about the victory over death and new life in Jesus at his cross and resurrection.
As you look around our chapel, you see the Stations of the Cross, whereby we can journey with Christ on his way to Calvary. Often we recite this prayer when walking from station to station: “We adore Thee, O Christ and we praise Thee, for, by Thy holy cross, Thou have redeemed the world.”
In our reading of Mark’s gospel, there is an irony in following the cross. This particular quotation is found in all three of the narrative gospels – Matthew, Luke, and Mark: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”
For Peter and the followers of Christ, this is a pivotal moment, after all, “Take up your cross” may be the least attractive aspect of Jesus’s challenging message because it’s tough to do.
There is no easy grace, or quick solution, or fast thinking. When faced with the heavy burdens of a child’s illness, or the effects of bombing in war-torn places such as the Middle East, or the displacement of families because of a hurricane — these are tests of faith.
Such crosses challenge us profoundly, and we come to Christ at these moments, knowing that he is with us on this journey of life.
We have a choice. Do I carry the cross? Or do we take this cross in the fellowship of cross-bearers with Christ – sisters and brothers, all following the only one who knows the way.
“Come, follow me,” he says.
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.
Prayer of Saint Francis Before the Crucifix
Most high, glorious God cast your light into the darkness of my heart. Give me, Lord, right faith, firm hope, perfect charity and profound humility, with wisdom and perception, so that I may carry out what is your holy will.