SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  NUMBERS 21:4-9; PHILIPPIANS 2:6-11; JOHN 3:13-17 ]

Today, on this Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross, we are exhorted to follow Jesus in carrying the cross so that we too can triumph over evil, suffering and sin.  He told His disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”   How, then, should we carry our crosses?  We must carry them in such a way that it becomes life-giving to us and to others.  We must learn from our sufferings so that we can feel with those who are suffering.  Through suffering, we learn compassion and empathy for our brothers and sisters because we are one of them.

Indeed, grumbling and complaining all the time is not going to help to resolve the situation.  Just lamenting will not make us better but only bitter.  This, unfortunately, is the attitude most people take when they undergo suffering in life.  They start blaming others for the situation or mess they are in.  They look for scapegoats.  They blame their loved ones, their colleagues, their bosses.  They cannot forgive and let go of the past. They hold on to their resentments. Finally, they take it out on God, accusing Him of being indifferent to their sufferings and for not caring about them. God becomes the greatest enemy of man instead of His ally.  He is made responsible for everything.

To bring this to the consciousness of the Israelites, the Lord permitted them to be bitten by the serpents in the desert.  We too are not much different from the Israelites.  We come to realization only when we find ourselves hurting even more.  We fall into depression and get involved in things we should not be doing or make wrong decisions.  What we are angry at and those whom we blame only cause us to suffer more.  That is why the only way to get out of our situation is to face our problems squarely in life and not run away from them or find scapegoats to cover up our weaknesses and fears.

Facing our demons is the way to change our situation and not allow circumstances to overwhelm us.  We can make the best use of what we have and turn them into antidotes for our healing.   This is what the Lord did for Moses and His people.  He told Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and put it on a standard. If anyone is bitten and looks at it, he shall live. So Moses fashioned a bronze serpent which he put on a standard, and if anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived.”   Truly, facing our difficulties is the way to overcome our problems.  Consequently, we are called to contemplate on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The cross is our victory over sin and death and suffering.

The first lesson we can learn from the Cross is that we must never suffer alone.  Jesus did not carry the cross alone either.  He went through the passion with His Father.  Whilst it was the Son who suffered the agony in the Garden and the torture at the crucifixion, the Father had to suffer the pain of seeing His beloved Son suffering for us and on His behalf. For God to give up His only Son and to see His beloved being humiliated, tortured and crucified must have been the most painful thing for the Father.  Which one of us can see our own children or our loved ones suffer?  Knowing how much they suffer because of their jobs, studies, relationships or illnesses cause us to feel much with them.  Most of all, there are times when we feel so helpless because we cannot offer any real assistance.  We can only stand by and watch them suffer in silence.  So the Father suffered tremendously when His Son was rejected by man and accused to be a fraud and of a crime He did not commit.  Most of all, it must have broken the Father’s heart to see His Son abandoned by His disciples to suffer and die alone, except for His mother and a couple of relatives who stood by Him till the end.

Of course, Jesus also suffered when He assumed our humanity and carried the cross for our sake.  In Jesus, no one can say that God does not understand us or feel our sufferings.  Jesus had stripped Himself of His riches and became poor for our sake.  He had gone through all that we have gone through in life and much more.  How many of us are so rich that we have become poor for others?  How many understand what it means to be a slave of someone? How many of us have been mocked, humiliated, stripped in public and exhibited naked on the cross?  How many of us have been tortured and nailed to a cross?  Indeed, none of us can say that we have suffered as much as Jesus.  

Our first reflection therefore is that because God Himself suffered, we are not alone in our suffering.  Indeed, the answer to the mystery of evil and suffering is the suffering of God within Himself. Whilst we have no perfect answer to the mystery of evil, we know that the consequences of sin are not only that we are made to suffer, but we have caused God to suffer even more because of His infinite love for us. That God suffers not just with us but for us is sufficient for us to carry our cross cheerfully, believing that something greater for our good will come out of it. In our suffering, if we ever think we are alone or that God is indifferent to our pains, then we can be sure it is not the case.  

But this insight also reminds us that we should never allow others to suffer alone, especially those who are lonely, depressed, dejected and have lost hope in life.  Indeed, people who commit suicide do so because they felt that they were all alone in their depression.  We need to be with those elderly who are alone at home or those who are sick, especially those who are going through terminal illness.  We must never repeat the same mistake of the disciples who abandoned the Lord in His time of need.  They could not keep awake with Him in prayer and they ran away when the soldiers came.  Only the mother of Jesus and two other women and the beloved disciple stood at the cross of Jesus to give Him the final support.   Although we might not be able to do much for those who are suffering, being with them is perhaps the greatest comfort we can give to them, especially when they are lonely or hurting or dying.  By journeying with each other in faith, we grow stronger in our faith and love.

The second lesson we can draw from the Cross is that we do not suffer for nothing.  We must suffer for love. Why did the Father allow His Son to go through such a journey?  It was because of His love for us.  He sees humanity suffering because of sin, especially pride and selfishness.  Sin has always been the cause of division and alienation among men.  When everyone thinks of himself before others, selfishness breeds competition, injustices, wars, quarrels and alienation.   The Father sent us His Son out of love for us all so that no one will doubt His love for us.  So, too, the Son did likewise.  He suffered for us to reveal His Father’s love and mercy for us.  He died for our sins and for our salvation. Through the cross, He revealed the depth and consequences of our sins and the immensity of God’s forgiveness and love. 

So if we are to suffer at all, the question of “why do we have to suffer” is not as important as to suffer for love and for the good of others.  When we suffer in love for our enemies and for our loved ones, that suffering becomes an antidote to heal others of their pains and their sinfulness.  Rather than cause more harm to them, we must use our sufferings, often inflicted by our fellowmen or simply because of natural causes like illnesses, to heal others.  Every suffering and pain that is carried positively for a cause and for love will not destroy us but build us up in the capacity to love more.  When we triumph over sin and selfishness we too will share in Jesus’ glory.

Finally, from the cross, we learn that suffering with others and for others teach us compassion and mercy. Those have gone through such pains in our lives will learn to empathize with those who are suffering.  The greatest sinners make the greatest saints.  The best drug addict counsellor is one who has been a drug addict before, as he understands their struggles more than anyone else.  When we have gone through bereavement ourselves or an accident or survive a terminal illness, we are best placed to help those who are going through similar crises.

For this reason, we can be confident that Jesus who is at the throne of mercy will always hear our prayers.  He who has suffered much will be able to empathize and feel much for us who are suffering.  He knows the pain of illness, the fear of death, anxiety for our loved ones, because He had to leave His mother behind when He was on the cross. He knows what it means to be misunderstood by people you care for and be condemned unjustly.  He knows what it means to be betrayed by one’s closest friends.  He knows what it takes to suffer thirst, physical pain and torture.  He knows what it means to be separated from those whom He loves dearly.

Let the words of the responsorial psalm give us strength to carry on.  “Never forget the deeds of the Lord.”  So when we contemplate on the mercy of our Heavenly Father and the love of our Lord for us, we too can find strength to carry that cross.  Most of all, we must encourage each other and help others to carry their crosses so that they will be strong to endure to the end.  So long as someone stands by us, even if we are dying, we will find the strength and perseverance to go through to the end and find peace and joy and meaning whilst suffering with our Lord for ourselves, our purification and the salvation of the world.

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