St. Paul tells all of us about the ‘make or break’ nature of love in our lives. He says:” If I do not have love, I am nothing.” (1Cor.13:2) We can have all kinds of wonderful gifts, but if we don’t receive and give love, life becomes meaningless, and we become meaningless and lost.
Here is a little story told by Fr. John Jay Hughes that helps us appreciate the significance of Paul’s words.
Marie is eighty-seven years old and a widow. She has lived for several years in a nursing home. It is hard to grow old, to have to give up your own place and to be dependent on others. Marie has never been able to adjust. She is crabby and disagreeable much of the time. She complains over trifles. She criticizes those who look after her, often for little or no reason. Her loved ones have reproached her for her bitterness, and tried to talk her out of it. They’ve failed.
One day Marie received a letter from her grandson at college. He told her how much the whole family loved her, how she was an inspiration to them. He said how much he admired her. Shortly after she received the letter a priest visited her. He found her clutching the letter, in tears.
“I want you to read that, Father,” Marie said. When he had, she told him she wanted to go to confession. She did so and received the Lord’s forgiveness: that love that will never let us go, which heals us and makes us well again.
Afterwards Marie was transformed. For the first time anyone could remember she was kind to the nurses. Instead of criticizing them, she thanked them for all they did for her. What had changed her was simply a letter which said: “Grandma, we love you.” It is love that breaks through. And the cross is a picture of God’s love for us.
This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of The Exaltation of the Cross. Through the centuries many have been mystified, and even scandalized by the Cross.” Why did Jesus have to die in such a horrific and gory manner,” some ask? Others, look at this Christian symbol, and find it morbid and depressing. “I can’t bear to look at it,” some will say. “Put it where I won’t see it,” they say.
As Hurricane Ike swept through the Gulf of Mexico and into Galviston,Texas this weekend, I imagined the horror and suffering of the people that were living through it. How tragic, how hopeless, how scandalous, it all seemed. Some were probably asking: “Where is God? Why does God allow this? These are the same types of thoughts and questions that Jesus’ disciples had when Jesus was tortured and died on a cross.
With these thoughts in my mind, I found myself remembering the father and son who wandered aimlessly in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina . The father of the little boy had clung to his wife’s hand as long as he had been physically capable of, after which the roaring flood waters pulled her away from him to her death. “I wanted to save her,” he said, “I loved her. I would have changed places with her, if I could have.” (not a truly verbatim account, but my recollection) As, I thought of this event, and the love that this man had for his wife, I was reminded of God’s love for us, and God’s all powerful ability to reach out and hold on to us, even in death.
Not one of us can escape suffering and death for we are all mortal. Most of us will cry out in agony when faced with life’s mysterious tragedies, but if we turn to the ‘Cross of Christ’, we will hear the Savior’s voice: “I love you.” And in that moment, we will truly understand, appreciate, and accept the Cross for what it is – the ultimate sign that God does understand and loves us. Yes, at times, we might feel lost and abandoned in times of suffering, but the love of God will always give us hope and comfort in the midst of our pain, if we allow God’s spirit to dwell in our hearts
As we celebrate Eucharist this Sunday, let us cling to the words from this Sunday’s Gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)
When faced with the mystery of suffering, let us remember and rely on these words for inspiration.Yes, God loves us, and the cross is the ultimate tangible sign of God’s enduring unconditional love. Let us pray that the Cross will always remind us of God’s love, and that we are called to be bearers of God’s love in this world. Let us pray that we never forget in despair that the Love of God, the Love of Christ, is a conquering and saving love.