Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Holy Cross Day
September 14, 2015, 5:07 pm
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St Francis 2

Back in 1958, just about this week, I started as a Novice in the Franciscan Order. One of the first things we learned was a prayer that we said as a community every time we went into the church: “We adore you, most holy Lord Jesus Christ, here and in all your churches throughout the whole world, because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.” By your holy Cross. Tomorrow is Holy Cross Day, and in 1223 St Francis was keeping a fast in preparation for the feast of St Michael, at the end of September. He prayed that he might feel, even in his body, something of what our Lord suffered. A few days after Holy Cross Day, he was granted a vision of an angel, one of the Seraphim, in the likeness of one crucified. As the vision faded, he found in his own hands and feet and side the marks of the crucifixion.

A twentieth century French writer, whose memoirs have just been published, says that as a young man he became convinced that the Cross of Christ is at the very heart of Christianity. It saves us as a supreme act of solidarity with us. It does not save us, he goes on, by exempting us from suffering, but by making us capable of suffering fruitfully. Humanity suffers, ultimately, because it is estranged from God. This is unavoidable. God has taken human nature in order to share it with us, to show that he is one with us.

There are many ways of understanding how Jesus died because of human sin. One very obvious way is because those with power and influence felt threatened by him, and resolved to destroy him. They wanted him to die the most disgraceful death that there was at that time, so that he would be utterly shamed and no-one would ever want to follow him. St Paul sums it up: Jesus became human, like every other human; and then he became the most despised and rejected human being. Only by doing that could he be raised up again to the highest position of all, the Lord of heaven and earth.

When Jesus invited the first disciples to follow him, he told them that they must take up their cross. This has now become a cliché to us, but the picture it conjured up in Roman Palestine was anything but a cliché. Most people would have seen some poor wretch, branded a terrorist or a brigand by the authorities, even if some might have seen him as a rebel against oppression- they would have seen such a one hanging from a cross in some public place, a warning to others. “Taking up your cross” was what you did when you were condemned and on the way to execution.

St Francis wanted to follow Jesus perfectly, and he is often regarded as one of the most Christ-like persons who have ever lived. But Francis knew that being like Christ was not just a matter of going round making friends with the birds and animals, talking to the flowers and calling every creature “brother” or “sister”. Being like Christ meant being poor and hungry, identifying with the destitute and courting mockery.

“Far be it from me to glory,” St Paul wrote, “except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world… Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear in my body the marks of Jesus.”

We are rightly shocked as we see the sufferings of refugees from Syria and elsewhere; we are shocked when we hear of children being abused, right here in our own country. As Jesus came on earth to show his solidarity with us, we have to imitate him by showing solidarity with those who suffer. This is a challenge to our whole country, it is a challenge to each of us individually.

Of course it is true that we, or governments, must work to eradicate the causes of terror and oppression; but that is a long-term project and it does not excuse us from doing what we can to help the victims of terror and oppression in the short term. Jesus, Mary and Joseph where refugees fleeing their country when our Lord was a baby. As an adult he said that he had no-where to lay his head. In death, he had only a borrowed grave. He made himself dependent on the good-will and kindness of others; and still, whatever we do for the least of our brothers and sisters, we do for him.

St Francis 3


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Thank you for this blog. It’s the first time I’ve visited and there are some interesting articles.

Comment by Portsmouth Mission Blog

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