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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Homily: Exaltation of the Holy Cross (End of 8-day retreat)

So much of our faith is paradoxical. We have now been together for a week and for two reasons, this is the point in which the retreat really begins. Reason 1 - we are made for the world and we are returning to it so that what God did with us here can gracefully unfold; we are to engage in it as fully as we can. Reason 2 – the Cross of Jesus is where our life begins, even though we too often hesitate to go to it.

We need our places of refuge, like Eastern Point, but we are to go back to the home or community to which Christ calls us. If Gloucester is merely a place of escape, we risk losing the meaning of its ministry. This place can be our sanctuary that gives us courage to persevere. Life is not easy; life is not fair and we will find many evils with terrifyingly destructive qualities to life, but we are to search for that which helps us find life and hold onto it. Life very naturally has a way of helping us build walls around us, especially in those areas where we feel anger, disappointment, hurt, and shame. These are areas where we need healing.

When we are here, we discern the forces for good and evil in our life which helps us to be conscious of the walls we are building up or taking down. Many times we are not even aware that we build a fortress around ourselves, and we lose control of just how high it can grow. Many times we do not even comprehend the amount of baggage we carry – or hide – or deceive ourselves about. This is why we need a community of faith – friends in the Lord and we need the Cross.

Through each other’s caring concern, we learn to open our hearts and attitudes to ourselves, our friends and loved ones, and most importantly to Jesus Christ. Christ is the only one who can feel our deepest hurts and joys. He is the one who gives much needed courage in our special sanctuary because we were made for the world, not for isolation. Christ helps us step forth into this journey of life and tear down the walls that we create before they get too high and too foreboding. It takes great courage to hammer that which has protected us and served us well – knowing we have created it through our own free responses to life. We have to take down the walls the debilitate us and keep us from being the most authentic person we can be. This is why we are here; this is the reason we go to the Cross of Jesus.

We cannot escape the cross, though we try. A week ago we came here with so many prayers; what has happened to them? Did Christ give us enough courage to bring our concerns to him and place them at the foot of his Cross? As we listened to each other’s hopes during our first gathering, we heard about so much heaviness, much turmoil, the tip of the iceberg of chaos that we keep buried deep inside ourselves. No doubt, our crosses are heavy, and the cross of Jesus is frightening at times.

When we were young, we would look at the crucifixion of Jesus as a horrible, brutal injustice done to him – an innocent man. It was so reprehensibly violent. In our middle years, we see the Cross as curiously necessary for life and a remarkable act of mysterious mercy on the part of God and Jesus. As we mature, we know that we need the Cross. We need, and desire, maybe sometimes even demand, that Jesus die for us so that he can make sense of all the chaos in our lives. We each need Jesus to die for us – personally, unmistakably – so that we may participate more fully in his life – so our life can have the fullness of meaning that we seek. Isn’t it paradoxical how this instrument of the vile torture is that which saves us – that which we embrace and cherish? We need this cross; we come to want this cross and we learn that we cannot have life without it. We are compelled to go to it – to place our chaos on his shoulders or let him take it from us. Wow! Jesus did this for us because of his great yearning to be with us. Jesus is doing it for us each day and he promises to do it so we can know just how much he wants to be alive in our hearts.

Somehow, over time, we personally exalt the Cross. It becomes a great symbol of God’s steadfastness to us and Gods’ love for us – so much so that he sent his only Son into our chaos because he wants to be with us – in our joy and hope, in our grief and despair. And because of it he lives, he lives on in our hearts in a way in which there are no walls any longer. He not only claims victory over sin and death, he frees us from all those things that shackle us and keep us bollixed up. He is our liberator. With the risen Jesus who once hung on that Cross, we no longer feel any limits; or see any boundaries. We possess his fire in our hearts that make us love the world, the world in which we soon return, the way that God loves the world. What a gift.

As we approach the table of the Lord, let’s remember the words we hear from Fr. Murray at the start of the retreat. Be gentle with yourselves. Be gentle. Let God be good to you as you re-enter the world beyond Eastern Point. Watch in amazement how your retreat lives on and continues to unfold upon your return. Cherish these memories. And go often to the Cross of Jesus, sit at its foot, and watch how it exalts you as it once exalted him.


  1. I haven't been on your retreat but I find this post wonderful. thank you and bless you.I am a Catholic from the UK and today we await the arrival of Pope Benedict for a 4 day state visit. I have had mixed feelings about his visit for a good while leading up to it butyour passage helps me understand that my faith and God's love trump all those doubts.
    Thank you and Bless you and please join us in the UK in our prayers for the safety and success of his visit.

  2. Thank you, Philomena. Thank you for your good words. Yes, I am praying for the people of Britain, especially the Catholics during the Pope's visit. The church has put itself through some difficult times, but Christ's Spirit is alive and is doing some rather awesome things. It is good for us to keep the spirit and thoughts of Vatican II alive. I'm very interested in the ways the people of Britain are thinking and feeling about the visit. I do enjoy the good writing of the Tablet.