14th September 2008

Triumph of the Cross – A Vision of Hope "
(John 3:13-17)

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of Holy Cross and Parish of St Ignatius – Singapore

Today is the Feast of the “Triumph of the Cross – our Vision of Hope!” Let us imagine Jesus standing in front of all of us here and He is saying to each of us,

“My Father loves each and every one of you very much. He wants all of you to go to heaven. Two thousand years ago, I preached this Good News to the Israelites, and today, I proclaiming the same message to you. Do you remember that I even died on the Cross so that all of you can go to heaven?” “Do you believe this?”

I am sure all of us would be so excited to see Jesus and would immediately answer, “Yes, Lord we believe that You are our Saviour and Lord.”

Jesus, would then reply, “Good, I am very happy to hear this and I promise you that when you die, My Father and I will be waiting for you, at the gates of heaven, to welcome you into eternal life.”

Would we all be so excited and would we be jumping for joy.

Jesus then asks us, “Do you want to follow me?” Yes Lord, we will all immediately reply! “Then,” Jesus would add, “you have to take up your crosses daily and follow me as I did while I was on earth.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, the moment we hear of the phrase, “take up your crosses of life” we no longer feel as excited and joyful.

Why? Deep within each of us, we do not want pain and suffering. We prefer to hear about a “painless Good News of Salvation.” We prefer a Good News of Salvation that preaches only about the joys of eternal life and heaven; without the pains and crosses of our daily life. We prefer to hear about the Resurrection without the Cross of Christ. We prefer to hear about Jesus “wiping” away all our sins and winning for us eternal salvation when we die.

We prefer to hear of a “painless Salvation” where we quote today’s Gospel of John, 3:16 out of context, and say “whoever believes in Jesus, will gain eternal life.” This Gospel text is one of the most misquoted texts of the Gospel where we are made to believe that as long as we “believe” in Jesus we will all be saved.

This is like saying that even if we have done wrong, it’s okay because Jesus has already gone to jail for us and have been executed on our behalf. So, we will all go to heaven regardless of how we live our lives on earth. All we need to do is to believe is that Jesus will save us and offer us eternal life when we die. Is this really the message of the Good News that the Bible and the Church teaches or is this really the “painless Good News” that we want to hear?

My sisters and brothers in Christ, if we want to avoid carrying our daily crosses, then we are distorting the Good News of Salvation of Jesus who died on the Cross before His Resurrection. There is no Resurrection without the Cross. The Cross of Christ is meaningless and in vain without the Resurrection. They both belong to one another and cannot be separated.

Thus, if we want to gain eternal life, then let us face the full Truth of our faith; the full truth of the Paschal Mystery of both the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ. If we believe that Jesus is our Saviour, then we must also live in His Ways and thus carry the daily crosses that we need, that come from living and loving like Christ.

Let us look at the crucifix (in this Church) for a moment. What do we see? If we see only Jesus’ sufferings, then we have missed the main point. The Crucifix is about Jesus’ sufferings, but more importantly it is about Jesus’ love for us; a love that is so selfless and unconditional that He was willing to die for the sake of our salvation and eternal life. So, if we are able to embrace our daily crosses of loving and living like Christ, then we are not only experiencing sufferings, but more importantly, we are living a more perfect love; a more unconditional love for God, Our Lord.

Recently, someone shared with me about her cousin who touched her by her strong faith and love for the Lord. Let us call her cousin, Christina. Christina is physically handicapped from birth; she has to walk with crutches and move around on a wheelchair. According to her doctors, Christina’s condition can only get worse. Most people in such a condition would become angry with life, but Christina even at a very young age decided not to waste her life and live her life to the full.

So, even as a young girl she would take her studies seriously and tried to be cheerful even though it was never easy for her to suffer the pain and humiliation of her illness. When her friends could enjoy so much sports and go for many outings, Christina drew strength from the love of her parents and more importantly, from the Lord. She became a very brilliant student and eventually a professional lawyer. In her mid twenties, she got married to Michael who holds a double degree; one in law and the other in medicine. Michael is young, very brilliant and handsome, successful and a very loving husband.

Christina faced her weakening physical condition bravely even as it was getting worse daily. Over the past many years of her life, Christina chose to “embrace the cross” of her illness positively and through that she brought much hope to the handicap. She has been running classes for the handicap and their parents who are trying so hard to cope with life. Together with Michael, they set up a law practice that gives free legal services to the poor and needy.

Many people were deeply touched by their examples; lawyers and doctors have joined their services, and the handicap and their parents have in turned themselves set up a community to help each other and others who are in great need. Christina’s embrace of her cross of illness has turned into a victory of the cross of Christ.

When my friend remarked, “Christina, you are really so edifying and doing so much good for others.” Christiana who is now only in her forties replied, “I want to give God something when I still have something to give to Him. I don’t want to give God something when I am too old and have nothing to give Him.”

My sisters and brothers in Christ, many of us may have very good reasons to be upset with many things that are not going right in our lives. Some of us may not like our present job or many of us are anxious about our children’s examinations as some of them are failing, others may be having health problems, and still others may be having difficult relationships in their families and the like. Our Lord knows very well that life is not so easy and can be very confusing and painful, but like Christina, He also wants us to find the strength and hope in our pains in life. How do we do this?

Like Christina, we first need to believe that God is always fully involved in what ever we do in our daily living. A mother who loves her child very much will always be caring for her child. Where ever she is and in what ever she does, her heart will always be thinking of her child in caring and loving ways.

God loves us a million times more than how much our loved ones or any person can love us. Our Lord willingly died on the Cross out of love for us, so that we can all enjoy eternal life when we die. If we can learn to face and accept the pains and if we can find God’s presence in our pains, then our “crosses” in life will become our real hopes in life.

We are never alone; God is always there for us. A mother who loves her child will be feeling so much pain when her child is sick or is suffering. Likewise, when our hearts are aching, God is within our hearts and when we are crying, God is in our tears. . this is real hope . . . this is the victory of our “daily crosses.”

But, if we try to ignore the “crosses” and pains of our lives as though God is only present in our happy and good times of our lives, then this will make God into a superficial God; this is to distorted God of the Gospels who suffered and died for us, out of love for us.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, before I conclude my homily, let us take a moment now to ponder on this Truth of our faith to allow it to enter more deeply into our hearts . . . there is no Resurrection without the Cross . . . the Cross of Christ is meaningless without the Resurrection. Both the Cross and the Resurrection cannot be separated.

So, today’s Feast of the Victory of the Cross is challenging all of us to embrace our “daily crosses.” But, we can all be sure that we don’t have to carry our “crosses” alone because Jesus is carrying our crosses with us . . . If we are able to do this faithfully, like Christina, then ultimately, Our Lord will free us from our “crosses” and give us eternal life. This then, is the Victory, the Exaltation and the Triumph of the Cross.

As we leave this Mass, let these words of the well known hymn ring in our hearts, on this Feast of the Triumph of the Cross . . . “To the old rugged Cross I will ever be true, its shame and reproach gladly bear. Then He’ll call me some day to my home far away, where His glory for ever I will share . . . . I will cling to the old rugged Cross and exchange it some day for a Crown.”

Fr Philip Heng, S.J.


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