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22 February. The People of the Cross
They contemptuously called them the people of the cross. I refer of course to the twenty-one Egyptian Coptic Christians brutally beheaded last week in Libya. I have placed, on your behalf, a bouquet of flowers outside the Coptic Church with the message: With the sympathy and prayers of your Catholic brothers and sisters in Llandudno on the sad occasion of the brutal massacre in Libya of your fellow Coptic Christians. May they rest in peace. So, please keep that promise and remember them in your prayers.
They called them, with deepest contempt, the people of the cross. I call them, with highest honour, the People of the Cross. We do not need to change the words, only to give capital letters to the words people and cross, for the Jihadists have got it absolutely right (for once). These Egyptian Christians were indeed the People of the Cross, and so must we be.
It was with similar contempt that the word Christian first came into existence. It was a term of abuse used by the pagans in the early decades of Christianity, and it meant that rabble of lunatic dissidents who follow and believe in that crucified man who called himself the Christ. The disciples seized on the word and carried it henceforward as a badge of honour. And so it is, or should be, to this very day. Christian, said St Leo the Great, recognise your dignity.
The People of the Cross. We got just a glimpse of them, those poverty-stricken Egyptian Christians, who had left family and homeland to work in Libya for the support of their loved-ones. We saw them paraded on a foreign beach in orange jumpsuits accompanied each one of them by his own personal executioner. The same television coverage showed their distraught wives and families at home against a background of abject poverty. The People of the Cross at home and abroad.
We are all People of the Cross, and the beginning of Lent is an opportune time to remind ourselves of it. I wear a crucifix around my neck and wish every one of you did too. There is no richer decoration. Be it of base alloy or gold , the cross outmatches any other adornment of whatever kind or value. The costliest pearls or top-grade gem diamonds are outshone by it entirely. Wearing this Sign around our necks, we let the Cross go before us wherever we turn, as it constantly reminds both ourselves and those who see us that our basic identity is our belonging to the People of the Cross.
It is not just a badge of honour, it is our status symbol too. It is not the car that stands outside our home nor our house itself; not our achievements or the attainments of our children; not our IQ or education or job or income or prospects or health. Our ultimate status symbol is the Cross, a symbol speaking to us of the love of God, of the truth of God, of the providence of God, of our secured eternal future, of the realities that time cannot destroy or deprive us of. We are the People of the Cross.
Nothing else remotely compares in significance or value. No wonder St Paul said. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14) He recognises that every single set-back, his or ours, whether in our life’s work or our relationships or our health or strength, all of them work together to configure us more and more to the likeness of the Crucified Christ. Paul’s attitude is the archetypical attitude of those who are truly People of the Cross.
On Ash Wednesday we willingly and proudly wear a cross of ashes on our foreheads. A sign of our frailty, a sign of Christ’s frailty; a sign of our mortality, a sign of Christ’s death and descent into the grave. But the Cross of Ashes is superimposed on the Cross of Chrism which was solemnly marked on our forehead at the time of our Baptism. Chrism is the sign of royal splendour, of sacred anointing; of the royal priesthood of Christ, a sign of the height to which we have been raised by the grace of Christ. We are equally the People of the Resurrection. The Cross of Chrism and the Cross of Ashes together say it all.
These latest Christian Martyrs have another lesson for us. Theirs has been the unique privilege of dying for Christ, of giving up their lives for Him; for us, the mini martyrdom of putting Christ first in our daily lives is the best we can do. To put Christ first when we really want to do something else is indeed a minor martyrdom, a dying to our self-will and a rising to the will of God. If we cannot put Christ first in the little things of life, how, in changed circumstances, could we ever expect to choose Christ over life itself? For us martyr means someone whose death has witnessed to the truth of Christ. In our mini martyrdom it must be our life, the choices we make, that witnesses to the truth of Christ and to the fact that He is more valuable to us than anything or anyone, even than life itself.
Those twenty-one decent, poor, hard working men form the rearguard of a procession of martyrs which reaches in an unbroken march right back to that first Good Friday afternoon. They were put to death precisely because they were Christians. If they had abandoned Christ, maybe they would have been spared. But they died and in dying showed that they put Christ absolutely first, that they were indeed the People of the Cross. May their prayers help us this Lent to grasp more firmly the great mystery and power of the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us ask ourselves to what extent is Christ first in our lives? Let us check to see whether and to what extent we and our children are putting Christ in the back seat while other activities take precedence. Let us try to discover honestly this Lent to what degree we are really and truly the People of the Cross?
As from today (Sunday) the World Service will resume at 4pm (we can restore it to 3pm in future if you prefer). You will remember that we introduced this when we decided to discontinue the period of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament on Fridays. You will remember too that its name reflects the fact that it focuses our prayers on a particular world problem.
Also resuming this week, for the duration of Lent, are the Stations of the Cross on Wednesdays at 7pm. This time suits the SVP who meet after it. The Wednesday Holy Hour will get underway as soon as the Stations are finished.
And finally, if your child or grandchild is looking for something to do for Lent, then I heartily suggest you bring them to the Young People’s Adoration on Saturday mornings. Could they possibly do anything better? Being here on a Saturday morning would probably mean their giving up some cherished activity. But isn’t that what it is all about, teaching them to put Christ first, teaching them from their earliest years to boast and be proud of their belonging to the People of the Cross?
God bless, Fr Antony
CALLING ALL PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS
The Preparation for Confirmation Classes begin on Tuesday 11 November. They are held at 4pm every Tuesday at Stella Maris for Years 7 and 8.
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