The Purpose of the Cross by Rev. Paul Grankauskas
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Jesus said to his disciples: "As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love.
"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that well remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another."
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul passes on a little catechetical formula, which he himself received from the early Church: “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.” (1 Cor 15:3-4)
The theme of Christ crucified looms large in Paul’s preaching. In fact, he tells the Corinthians: “I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor2 1-2)
Why does the cross of Christ play such a prominent part in Paul’s preaching? Because he understands the cross, not as scandal or curse, but as the testimony of God, the ultimate sign of His love. As he says in his little catechetical formula, Paul knows that the death of the Son of God on the cross has a meaning and purpose: to free us from sin. As Pope Benedict XVI stated in one of his general audiences on St. Paul, “The crucified one is wisdom, for he truly shows who God is, that is, a force of love which went even as far as the cross to save men and women” (St. Paul, Ignatius Press, p. 64).
But Paul does not simply look at the mystery of the cross in a universal sense. He also speaks of a personal dimension: “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20) It is this personal dimension that makes all the difference for Paul: God loves me. His Son died for me. Paul considers all else as loss next to the knowledge of this love, and it is the driving force of his preaching.
Throughout the centuries, saints have spoken and written about the centrality of the cross in salvation history and the spiritual life. Among them is St. Thomas Aquinas, who spoke of the sufferings of Christ as the remedy for sin and an example of how to act.
This brings us to this week’s Gospel reading. Our Lord, gathered with His disciples at the Last Supper, gives them a commandment: “Love one another as I love you.” Earlier in the same chapter of John’s Gospel, Our Lord calls this a “new” commandment. Given that the Old Testament speaks often about caring for the poor, the widow and the orphan, and about the justice and mercy to be rendered to others, the commandment to love one’s neighbors can hardly be called “new.” And yet it is made new because Our Lord says we are to love one another as He has loved us.
We strive to be merciful toward one another because Christ showed mercy even to those who crucified him: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Many have become saints because they followed Jesus’ example (i.e. St. Stephen, St. Maria Goretti). We strive to be humble and patient because the Son of God humbled Himself in becoming Man and accepting the cross, though He Himself was innocent. We strive to be poor in sprit – to be generous with our own talents and goods, to perhaps do without – because Christ himself became poor, stripped of everything when He hung upon the cross.
When we love one another as Christ loved us – a love revealed in the mystery of the cross – we become like mirrors, magnifying the love of God and radiating it outward. The best way to appreciate the power of the cross is to follow in the footsteps of St. Paul, never losing sight of the truth that the Son of God died not just for us, but for me. That is how far the Good Shepherd was willing to go to save our souls – to save my soul.
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