One summer my sister and I decided to tour Washington National Cathedral in D.C., a stupendous Episcopal church and, as it happens, dedicated to the honor of Sts. Peter and Paul. We drove around, looking for a parking space. Finally spying one, I offered to stand guard over it while she inched up alongside the car in front, preparing to parallel park.
Good move. As I planted myself possessively over our precious find, a mini-van halted directly behind her and in front of me. The passenger window slid open, and the driver called out, “That’s our space; we got here first!” “I’m sorry,” I pointed out, “we are in front of you.” “But we had our blinker on,” she barked.” We did too. I shook my head and stood my ground. She sputtered, “And you call yourself a Christian!” That was low. I snapped back, “‘Christian’ does not equal ‘doormat’!” She left.
Jesus did not allow himself to be bested when the integrity of his message was at stake. A Temple, moneychangers, and a whip come to mind. There came a time, though, when losing himself out of love was his message. He had already “emptied himself” by becoming human; then he “humbled himself, becoming obedient to death” (Phil. 2:6-7). His faithfulness to the truth of his identity and his mission led him to choose death, on a cross no less, and by doing so, save the world.
I’m afraid to be vulnerable. It leaves me open to possible abuse and exploitation. Even with an infinitely good God, it makes me feel powerless. That’s why I need the cross of Christ. I need a reminder of where vulnerability will surely take me and of the fact that it was a God, my God, who went there before me…and lives to tell the tale. This is where the Good News becomes Great News. He didn’t stop being vulnerable when he rose from the dead (think Eucharist), but his openness became undying life.
As for Christ, so for Christians. If the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us, that Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies, also (See Rom. 8:11). The cross is triumphant because of the Resurrection and it triumphs in those who believe: “This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith” (1Jn. 5:4).
One day journalist James Foley made a decision to pray the Apostles’ Creed “mindfully” every day. “A remarkable thing happened,” he wrote. “I could feel my connection to Christ Jesus and His church strengthening. With my every assent I realized I was connecting with, and conforming to, God’s giant and ongoing “YES,” which formed and sustains all of creation.” This yes gave him wings. Commenting on his Libyan captivity in Tripoli, he wrote in the Marquette Magazine: “If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released….”
“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily” (Jn. 10:18). This is said in a unique way about the God-Man, but also in an ordinary sort of way about each of us. Could my sister and I have relinquished that coveted parking spot? Of course. Did the other driver need to hear what Christianity is and is not? Yes. It was unjust for her to demand—and in the name of Christ—what we had a right to. Likewise, for us to give it up out of coercion, even in the name of Christ, would have been dysfunctional. Only freedom makes love possible. Paul wrote that Christ was his law (1Cor. 9:21). So, love leads me to imitate Jesus Christ, not just conform to a law. My course of action may be the same. My decision will be made, however, not out of indignation, but in love.
Margaret J. Obrovac, FSP
How do you feel drawn to exalt the cross of Christ in your “ordinary sort of way’?