13 Apr Power of the Cross (Transcribed talk – Fr Antony Parankimalil VC)
Read all about the meaning, purpose, joy, love and glory of the Cross to find out how the shame in the passion, suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ provides us just like it did the saints with hope and power to transform ourselves and to overcome sin.
The Cross is a sign and symbol of shame. However, a curse has become a sign of salvation, blessing and redemption just because Jesus embraced the Cross. Today, the Lord is telling you that anything you are carrying in your life, like that of shame, pain or suffering, sorrow and problems, and all unanswered questions—all of it has meaning when you surrender it at the foot of the Cross, as Jesus is the answer for all your sufferings.
In Numbers 21:8-9, there is a prefiguration of what is going to happen. We have to know that the greatest tragedy is neither sickness nor suffering, but the greatest tragedy in the history of the world is ‘Sin’. Sin separates us from God. It casts us to hell and makes us enemies of God. Hence, Jesus came to break this wall of sin. And how to overcome sin? If we have broken our relationship with God, the only way to break the wall of sin is for someone to die. To die on the Cross takes on a symbolic meaning. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live. So, Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.” Remember and believe that this is a prefiguration of what is going to happen in the life of Jesus when He comes to earth, but not to kill or make a statue of a serpent.
We read a similar scripture passage that Jesus repeated. In John 3:13-14, “No one has ascended into heaven, except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” It means that just as those who are bitten by snakes were healed and saved, as they were looking at the snake that was killed and lifted on a pole, all those who died through sin (as sin causes death, shame and breaks our relationship with God) will be saved. In order to build our relationship with God, what do we need to do?
We need to look to the Lord and listen, “That whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:16). We need to claim what Jesus has achieved through the Cross. Jesus died on the Cross, which means that He has broken the wall of sin.
Meaning of the Cross
“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the Cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.” (Ephesians 2:14-16)
Whenever we look at the Cross, it is a sign that He brought salvation and has broken the wall of sin, and we have direct accessibility to God through the Cross and through Christ’s passion.
We read a similar message in Colossians 1:19-20. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his Cross.” This means Abba Father has already reconciled us back to himself by the death of Jesus on the Cross. This is why the Cross is a symbol at which the devil trembles and is afraid of anyone carrying, wearing or doing anything with the Crucifix. The Cross is the enemy of Satan, because it has already defeated the trick and deception of Satan.
Saint Paul tells us in Colossians 2:13-15 that the Cross symbolises our salvation and redemption. “And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the Cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.” Jesus has already saved us from sin, shame, curses and from anything and everything that is a bondage; this has a deep spiritual meaning.
Have you heard the testimonies of the saints and how they were transformed?
Saint Teresa of Ávila was a prayerful woman. She prayed and she joined the convent at the age of 39. If you read her story, she had no experience and she used to doubt the existence of God. But she did not stop praying. She has written in her book The Interior Castle and in her autobiography The Life of Teresa of Jesus that she was feeling very dry when she used to pray, but she continued her vocal prayer. After 39 years, she had a vision of the crucified Jesus, and with that vision, she realised that her faith is real. Jesus suffered for her, He is still alive and He is there for her. She found meaning for her dryness, for her suffering, and her life changed. She surrendered her life in totality to God.
Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska had a feeling of vocation when she was seven years old, but she had no courage to accept this vocation because her parents and siblings would not accept her as a nun. Hence, she avoided this call until she was 19 years old. It was when she went to a pub and was dancing with her friends that she saw the vision of the crucified, bleeding Jesus Christ. His body was wounded and blood was oozing out. When she had this vision of Christ—dying, bleeding, his whole body covered with blood, she left everything and went to Kraków, 67 miles away. For the first time, Faustina made such a long journey, as she had found meaning and purpose to her life through the crucified Christ. Even one of the powerful prayers that Faustina composed, what is it all about? “For the sake of his sorrowful passion (on the Cross), have mercy on us and on the whole world.” To know the power of the Cross and the power of the passion of Jesus Christ on the Cross, we have to just know the power of this prayer of the Divine Mercy Chaplet. When something goes wrong, when your husband is a drunkard, when your wife is unfaithful, when our children are in a wrong relationship, when someone is struggling to stop gambling, drug or alcohol abuse or any kind of wrong philosophyentering the mind and questioning God, can we just plead unto the Lord? For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. Have mercy on my daughter and on the whole world. Have mercy on my children and on the whole world. Have mercy on my husband and on the whole world. We will have an answer because Jesus already paid the price. What is the meaning of this prayer? Basically, we are praying Abba Father, we surrender to you the passion, the suffering, the agony that Jesus has already endured. For the sake of Jesus’ sorrowful passion, Abba Father will have mercy on us and it will instantly happen. Prayers will be answered because the Cross has already reconciled us with Abba Father. There is no more condemnation, and no longer is anybody condemned.
Purpose of the Cross
In Romans 8:1, St Paul says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” There is no condemnation, and this is the will of God for those who are in Christ Jesus, when you accept any suffering for the sake of the Lord.
Father Antony knows of a family with two children and both children have autism. The couple had no children, and they prayed to the Lord. The Lord revealed a message that He would bless them with children. They had their first son with great expectations, but the child had autism from birth. They did not give up, since it was God’s message. They didn’t get the meaning, how can God give them a child who has many problems, of being autistic and not normal. Then they prayed again and God said, “I will bless you again.” They had a second child who also had autism. It was very heart breaking for ordinary human beings to accept. How can God bless a family with such children? They were prayerful people, attending mass, dedicated their lives to God and serving God. They did everything; even for their marriage, they prayed and got into the marital relationship. Now having these children was a question mark for them.
When they started praying, God gave them the following verse from 1 Corinthians 1:22-23: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” Our small brain cannot comprehend the great wisdom of the Lord. When we see some children who are physically or mentally handicapped, vulnerableor abnormal, we question the existence of God, but the scripture clearly says that they are the glory of God. This couple went on a pilgrimage and they are the happiest couple even with their autistic children. They now feel that it is God’s profound blessing and they can consoleother people having similar problems and who are questioning God. They agree that God has blessed them. They are providing for their children, they love their children, and in spite of difficulties, they all pray together as a family. They have accepted their children as God’s gift.
When they opened the Bible to pray, God gave them this message from John 13:32, because they were taking care of the children. “If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.” This couple made a pilgrimage, and they are preaching and travelling to different parts of the world; they accepted their children with autism. Now what did God say, ‘If God has been glorified in Him’, if the Lord is glorified in us, it is a clear sign that Lord is glorified through our life, through our children and through the way we set good examples for our children. Because when we glorify God, God will also glorify us. That’s the reason they are a great blessing. We have to know that this scripture verse comes immediately after Jesus was betrayed by Judas.
In John 13:30, we read, “So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.” Immediately after Judas betrayed Jesus, Jesus gives glory to God. Let’s not take the Cross as a piece of wood. It is a symbol of salvation, a symbol of our suffering. It is not an object. It is the suffering that we have, and it has meaning. Look at the Cross; there is meaning to our suffering. When we are heartbroken, have a lot of pain and shame, maybe a husband has abandoned you and you have no where to turn to, look to the Cross. There is the meaning to our life.
Joy of the Cross
“Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the Cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Keep this word of God inside us and let it become a part of our life. Repeat this word of God, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before Him endured an alcoholic husband. Who or what is this Cross? It is not an object or an idea. It is our life. It is our husband whom we carry; it is our wife whom we carry; it is our child whom we carry, a child who may have a vulnerable nature, who may have a drawback or may be physically handicapped. What do we have to do? Look at Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross. Remember, if Jesus carried the Cross, the Cross is not the end of Jesus’ life. He has risen, has ascended, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and He will come again in glory. Remember, the Cross goes beyond. So, what Jesus endured on the Cross was for the sake of the joy that was set before Him. Remember, when we carry a suffering today, as the family with children with autism, just because they accepted these children from the hand of the Lord, the Lord is glorifying them. There is glory coming to us, when we accept the cross that we have in our life. Anyone can divorce, but can you hold on to your marriage? We have a lot of difficulties, hardships, a cheating partner, others making fun of us, having apparently no value, but looking at Jesus who has already endured the shame, can you carry this cross? There is meaning. Look at the saints: how they are being honoured and glorified today because there was a time they carried the cross. Remember again, the cross is not just an object; it is our life, it is our husband, it symbolises our suffering, the pain that we carry in our life.
Father Antony knows of another family. After the couple married, their firstborn was a special child. They were heartbroken, could not believe and had many questions. They checked the genes in their family tree, investigated and made all kinds of scientific studies of how this could happen. Was it from the line of the husband, the wife, the grandparents? They could not understand. It was only until they looked at Jesus that they found this special child as a special gift from the Lord. This was a profound joy that God set before them.
Father Antony visited a family in which three children had autism. He has never entered into a house which was so full of joy and was shocked on how to communicate with them. He knew this was a special family, but when he entered the home, the family was so unique. They were all joyful, prayerful and the wife, their mother, was extraordinarily happy. When he asked her the reason, she said that since the three angels (she calls her autistic children angels) were born, they (husband and wife) have not been committing sins. If they get angry, the youngest boy makes a special kind of noise. He is sensitive to sin, and they thus cannot fight. Although the children cannot speak, each child has different characters. But they told father that ‘if there is heaven on earth, then it is their family’. They know the children are a gift from God and that He believed in them. They are prayerful people and are united to God, so they knew God had prepared them for this.
Glory of the Cross
In 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 we read, “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measures. Because we look at not what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” When you look at a child, when you just look at the external or physical figure or nature of a child, remember, we are mistaken. There is something beyond; there is something that is hidden within a child with autism or a child with a physical problem or a special need. Remember, God is behind it, because ‘the Cross is a sign of foolishness for this world’. But it is a sign of wisdom, a sign that has set us free. And once we endure the passion, the Cross, the suffering and accept it, everything will change.
Testimony of Sister Claret
We have the powerful testimony of Sister Claret (Sister Clare) Crockett, an Irish nun. When she was a teenager, her greatest dream was to become a famous actress. She used to drink, smoke, make fun of boys and take advantage of them. She had many boyfriends. During Passion Week, her parish priest announced a pilgrimage to Spain. Clare thought this is the time she can go and have fun. When she asked who all were going, she was told that many young boys were going. She heard ‘boys’, and since she wanted to have fun, she said she would also go. We can check YouTube to know about her life (All or Nothing). She reached Spain as part of the pilgrimage, but she was not interested in anything other than smoking and drinking. It was a time when people gathered in the chapel, and the priest entered carrying the Crucifix. The priest held up the Cross for veneration as that day was Good Friday. He asked the people, if they wanted, to come forward and kiss the foot of the Cross. When the priest held the Crucifix, one by one people came and kissed the feet of Jesus on the Cross. When it was Clare’s turn, she considered it as a fun event. However, when she kissed the feet of Jesus on the Cross, she experienced the smell of real blood. She felt she was kissing flesh—the real feet of Jesus, and she heard a voice “It’s your sin I carried. Why are you hurting me?” She cried because she could not imagine that it was for real. She thought that the Crucifix was a story, a myth, unreal, an old tale, not a reality. That day, she found something different. It’s real! She cried and wanted to give her life to Jesus. She told her parents, but they didn’t believe her. Her mother knew her nature and that she wouldn’t stay in the convent. She wanted to become a nun, but they all opposed. She tried to convince them that she had a real experience when she kissed the Crucifix. Leaving Ireland, she then went all the way to Spain. She learnt Spanish, but after joining the convent, she couldn’t stop the habit of drinking beer and smoking. So, she thought it best that she should leave. She was struggling—on one hand, to follow Jesus, and on the other, she couldn’t leave her bad habits. One day, as she drank and smoked, she entered a dark toilet, as she wanted to hide from the others. She saw a bright light inside the toilet and she again heard, “Why are you hurting me?” She realised that Jesus had not left her, and she again decided to give her life totally to God. Clare professed as a Sister. Her Superior wanted her to go to Ecuador. She obeyed and went. She spent her time teaching children and youth as well as in singing. But one day, an earthquake struck Ecuador and she died in that earthquake. When you look at her life, you will understand that her life changed after she discovered the purpose and meaning of Jesus on the Cross.
When we come to know that our life has a different meaning at the foot of the Cross, everything changes. Whatever may be our pain—we may have piercing pain in our heart, of being cheated and betrayed, but every and any kind of pain a human experiences has also come upon Jesus.
Here is an explanation of Isaiah 53:10, in which every pain is a sign of the Cross:
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him with pain. Every pain was on Jesus.
When you make His life an offering for sin. Every sin comes upon Jesus.
He shall see His offspring and shall prolong His days. We were there on the Cross; ‘us’ is a symbol of the Cross that Jesus carried. It’s not an idea; we are that Cross that Jesus carried.
Through Him, the will of the Lord shall prosper.
Jesus is called ‘Saviour’, and He can save us from any sin we have committed—murder, abortion, rape or any kind of sin, it came upon Jesus. When we surrender our life to Him, He will set us free. He is going to do something new.
We read in 2 Corinthians 13:4, “For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.” When we surrender all our sins, weakness, pain, sorrow at the foot of the Cross, we will have a new life in Christ Jesus. We don’t need to be ashamed or afraid of the suffering or the pain and humiliation. It has meaning because Jesus died on the Cross for us.
Suffering and shame
The life story of Saint Josephine Bakhita isreally and truly touching. What changed her life? She was a pagan, and she didn’t know about Jesus or about God. Being a gentile, she had never heard about Jesus. She was born in Darfur, Sudan, where she only worshipped nature. Death on the cross was the death penalty given to slaves. She was a slave, and she knew slaves were crucified. She came to Italy as a slave girl. Here, for the first time in her life, she found a Crucifix. She asked the priest, “Who is this?” She was told that it is God. She was so upset. She thought that even in Italy slaves are hung on the cross. She asked whether He was God or slave, and the priest explained that He was also a slave. This is when she came to know God.
This is what we read in Philippians 2:7-9: “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a Cross. Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name.”
Remember, He originally had human likeness, but He became like a slave, below a human. He was lower than Josephine Bakhita. She came to know that Jesus came as a slave, like one of her, to save her, and He was crucified. This is what changed Bakhita.
Why are people so upset? During counselling, people say, “You don’t know me. I am a person with the most suffering in this world. Wherever I go, I think I am born to suffer.” People make themselves a victim. “The way I suffer, no one suffers” is what we say several times in our life—that we are the ones suffering the worst as a wife, as a father, as a dad, as a child, because of our parents, our relatives or those at the workplace. We are repeatedly saying, “No one suffers like me.” This clearly means that we don’t know Jesus. He suffered for usand is still suffering for us. He has carried our suffering on His Cross, so we need not be ashamed of our suffering. The worst suffering of a human person He carried on the Cross and brought it to glory. Our suffering is our treasure and not a matter of humiliation. If we think that we are the ones suffering the most, then it is the best opportunity to be united and one with Christ. We are the most credible person before Christ when we are the person with the most suffering. This is what Jesus proved through the Cross. If we say we are suffering the most, then we are the most blessed. If we have the most suffering, it is a great opportunity to be linked with Christ.
Suffering as a privilege
In Phillipians 1:29, St Paul writes, “For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.” St Paul performed many miracles, healings and wonders, but he has never mentioned any of the healings that he performed. But he wrote about the sufferings he had. He was beaten thirty-nine times, was floated in water, was stoned, was betrayed by his brother and was imprisoned. He repeatedly boasts about his sufferings. What does Paul say? My Jesus, if you consider me as your apostle and disciple, look at my sufferings. Because he knew that the only way he can be qualified as a disciple is through his suffering. How can we say that we are Christian? How can we say that we love Jesus? By the silent suffering that we endure. How can we say that we truly love Jesus? By identifying with the Cross of Christ.
In In the Imitation of Christ, Thomas A. Kempis wrote that those who love Jesus must carry their cross. If we really love Jesus, the cross which we have is not an idea or symbol. It is our suffering, a symbol of our suffering, and it has meaning. In no other religion or faith do we have such a profound symbol, and remember, that this Cross is a symbol of shame. When we take care of our dad, who may be mentally sick, has dementia, or doing all kinds of nasty things, we still take care of him. With humility, we are carrying that Cross which Jesus carried. We will have great glory. When we take care of our children who are mentally and physically challenged and handicapped, we don’t send our children to a special school where we don’t associate with them. This is not the cross we want to carry, but we still take care of them by carrying the cross Jesus gave us. This too will be a matter of glory in heaven.
Why is Saint Mother Teresa of Kolkata still remembered? She carried the cross of the suffering people. She carried lepers, cancer patients, the abandoned, the elderly and the sick. She carried the cross and she has been lifted and glorified. If we look at any suffering we have, it has meaning. Jesus gave meaning to suffering, and this is what we celebrate on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. It is not just an idea, it is a reality. Remember that every suffering we have has meaning.
St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:2 that he cannot boast or think of anything. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” A learned, educated, intelligent man says that he has decided to know nothing other than the crucified Christ. This means that he knew that the meaning of human life is found on the Cross.
In Galatians 5:14, he echoes the words of Jesus, “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’.” And this is what Christ brought through His suffering and through His passion.
Love of the Cross
“May I never boast of anything except the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)
Do we really love the Cross God has permitted for us? We all have a cross. Once we carry it, we are bringing real glory to the Lord. There is no other way. We can bring glory to God by carrying the cross. When we have real suffering or pain, look at the Lord.
Repeat Hebrews 12:2. Claim the word of God to find meaning for our suffering. Repeat it and understand the meaning of this passage. Look to Jesus when you have pain, suffering, rejection, humiliation, or when something is shocking, when you fail an exam, meet an accident, are diagnosed with COVID-19, or experience a tragedy or calamity in life. What do we need to do? Run to the foot of the Cross and look to Jesus—the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. This particular suffering that we have and this particular humiliation that we feel, Jesus has already carried it on the Cross. So, look at Jesus. Don’t look at your friends, life partner, husband, wife, grandparents or mother-in-law, as they will humiliate you more. Look at Jesus—the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross. He endured that shame, suffering, humiliation, persecution and agony disregarding its shame. It was a shameful experience, but He has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus proved there is meaning for our suffering; it’s not the end, there is great glory. This is the glory the saints achieved. This is the glory that St Teresa of Ávila, St Faustina and St Mother Teresa had. All the saints who endured great suffering had this glory. Even St Rita, St Margaret of Cortona and Sister Clare Crockett achieved this glory when they surrendered their shame and looked at the Cross of the Lord.