No passage from Paul has been more central for helping me deal with suffering than the early Christian hymn in today’s reading from the Letter to the Phillipians, “He humbled himself becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him.”
The passage evokes the image of Jesus in Gethsemani praying to his father to remove the chalice of the crucifixion looming before him. And as we all know the Father did not remove this chalice; rather the Father sent an angel to comfort and strengthen him. Jesus embraced his suffering with total confidence in his father and “because of this God greatly exalted him.”
Embracing his cross in faith was Jesus’ passageway to the transformation and exaltation of the Resurrection.
This ancient liturgical hymn was also important to Paul and so he included it in his writings. Paul’s ministry, like Jesus’, was filled with suffering. He tells us it included imprisonments, stonings, lashings, beatings, shipwrecks, hunger and thirst. In all these Paul looked to Jesus for an example and for strength. The ancient Christian hymn quoted in today’s epistle provided Paul his key for dealing with suffering.
Paul realized that his own suffering -- and the sufferings of the early Christians being persecuted for their faith -- could become central for opening their hearts to receive Christ’s grace and to deepen their relationship with Christ. But they must embrace their crosses in faith. Then like Jesus they too could be transformed.
Paul dubbed this process “the wisdom of the cross.”
I don’t believe that we reach maturity as Christians until we have embraced our crosses in faith and allowed Christ’s grace to strengthen and transform us through them — like Paul, like Christ.
Today’s Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross invites us to review our sufferings in Christ’s presence. Which of our sufferings — loneliness, loss, failure, illness, anxiety, frustration — have we not yet brought to the Father and Jesus? Which are not yet transforming? Let us today bring them to Christ. We bring them to Christ so Christ can pour out his grace on us and transform us to a deeper relationship with Himself precisely through them.
“We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your Cross you have redeemed the world.”
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