YEAR C: HOMILY/REFLECTION FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
TOPIC: THE CROSS: SYMBOL OF GOD’S LOVE AND MERCY
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Gospel: Lk 15:1-32 – Lost and Found
Message # 551: “Jesus Crucified is Your Salvation”
(TO THE PRIESTS, Our Lady’s Beloved Sons, Marian Movement of Priests)
- The Marian Message
a) The Blessed Mother reminds us that we should preach only the true Jesus, and it is the crucified Jesus: “It is only Jesus Crucified who must today be preached and exalted by you on every part of the world” (letter c).
b) Jesus Crucified is the salvation for the whole mankind (letter d). The world is living in hatred and division, of violence and wars. It is headed to self destruction. This is because the world is living away from God and even against His moral principles. It is precisely for the salvation of the world that Jesus offered his life on the cross as ransom so that mankind can be reconciled to God.
c) Jesus crucified is the salvation for the Church (letter g). It is his Mystical Body “which is now living the very events of his passion and his immolation.” It is in the Church that Jesus accomplishes his act of redemption of mankind in three ways: 1) by renewing his sacrifice of redemption, especially the Eucharist; 2) by giving abundant graces through the sacraments; and 3) by taking away the sins and evil in the world through his pardon. All these acts take place within the Church.
d) “Jesus Crucified is the salvation for you all, my children” (letter h). Living in this world is dangerous. We are always in danger of being lost. But the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is what gives us salvation: just reparation to the Father, abundance of heavenly graces, and renewal of hearts and souls of all.
e) In these final times, the Blessed Mother invites us all to look at Jesus crucified. He is our salvation as he draws all people to himself. He is coming soon to establish his final glory and victory. The sign will be the big cross in the sky: “His bright Cross, which will stretch itself out in the heavens from the east to the west, will indicate to you all the return of Jesus in glory” (letter i). The triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary will coincide with the final coming of the Lord Jesus in glory.
- The Sunday Readings
a) The first reading from the Book of Exodus is about the great sin of idolatry by the Israelites. While Moses was in Mount Sinai receiving the Law from God, the people made a molten calf and worshipped it. God was very angry. But Moses pleaded with Him. “So the Lord relented in the punishment He had threatened to inflict on His people.” This episode clearly exhibits God’s overflowing mercy for sinners, no matter how grave their sins are.
b) The Psalm is David’s song of Repentance, imploring God’s mercy and forgiveness. The response is the Prodigal Son’s resolution: “I will rise and go to my father.”
c) The second reading is St. Paul humble admission of his own unworthiness: “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant…” He praises God for showing kindness and mercy to him: “Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” This gives him more resolve to persevere in his mission of spreading this Good News: “I was mercifully treated, so the in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.”
d) The Gospel reading contains three parables that have similar message. They all talk about being lost and being found: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. These parables illustrate God’s infinite mercy and His desire to seek, find and save the lost. He wants all men to be saved. He waits patiently for our return to His loving arms.
e) In summary, all the readings bring up one important message: We are sinners, and we were lost in sin. But God looks for us patiently and diligently. He never wants any one of His children lost forever. He is willing to go out of His way and even to suffer and die so that we can be saved. That is why the Cross is the most perfect symbol of God’s self-sacrificing love for us sinners. We, in turn, must embrace the cross with love and fidelity.
- Some Basic Information on the Cross
a) Last Saturday, September 14 was the Feast of the Exaltation or Triumph of the Cross. The liturgical color is red, symbolizing the blood of Jesus that was shed for us. This feast celebrates the finding of the True Cross of Christ under a Roman landfill by the Emperor Constantine’s mother, St. Helena, around the year 320 AD, and the subsequent dedication of a basilica built by Constantine on the site of the Holy Sepulchre and Calvary on September 14, 335. It is also known as “Holy Cross Day”. This feast is rather universal. It is not only celebrated by the Roman (Latin or Western) Catholic Church, but also by the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches (they are the Oriental or Eastern Catholic Churches), and by the Church of England, the Episcopal Church in the United States, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, for whom it is known as Holy Cross Day.
b) A famous event took place in history. The Roman general, Constantine, was about to do battle with Emperor Constantius at the Melvian Bridge. Defeat was very imminent because they were highly outnumbered by the emperor’s army. But on that bright day, he saw in the sky a big cross, and then he heard a voice: “In this sign you will conquer!” Although not yet a Christian, he believed those words as divine. So he ordered his soldiers to paint the cross on their shields. As history tells us, Constantine won the battle, and took control of the Roman Empire. He became the first Christian emperor, and made Christianity the official religion of the Empire when he issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD. His mother, the Empress Helena, was believed to be the one responsible for finding the true cross of Christ in Jerusalem where the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre which she built now stands. Inside this basilica is the crucifixion site, Calvary, and deep down beside it is the excavation where the true cross was found.
- Points for Reflection
a) Lost and Found. The three parables are about the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. They were lost but there was great rejoicing when they are found. One particular point that we have to consider is the fact that it is always God who takes the initiative of salvation. When we are lost because of sin, we have no capacity whatsoever to find God or to go back to God. We are rendered paralyzed, immobile and spiritually dead. It is not we who find God; it is God who finds us. This is the common mistake of many Christians, especially in the renewal movements. We would often hear in the personal testimony being shared the statement: “Now I am so thankful that I have found God!” That is so presumptuous! It is God who found us when we were lost. We are the lost sheep and the lost coin. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father runs out to meet him. God always takes the initiative in saving us. We only respond “yes” to Him.
b) Value of the individual person. Jesus purposely mentioned only one specific sheep, one particular coin, and one prodigal son. This is to highlight the point that in the eyes of God, each one is valuable. The individual person is of equal value to the whole. This is shown in the fact that the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine out in the field and looks for the one lost sheep. In this world nowadays, societies are run by the principle of “majority rules”. One person is of less value compared to the multitude. Even if the person is absolutely correct because he acts in accordance with God’s teachings, he is considered of no value and his principle is not respected if he does not have the majority. The question nowadays is not whether an action is right or wrong, but whether it is the will of the majority. That is why even grievous sins such as abortion, divorce and acts of sexual perversions are legalized in many countries because of the rule of majority in Congress. It is now the majority, and not God, that decides what is right or wrong, what is moral or immoral. Sadly, the value of the human person is reduced to mere numbers. All around us, human persons are treated as numbers: ID number, PIN number, account number, address and telephone number, SS number, customer number, and so on. Practically, each person is treated like a commodity in the grocery with bar codes. These parables remind us that the blood of Jesus was shed on the cross for each and every one of us. God loves each one us, not as a member of a big group, but as a unique, individual person, created in the image and likeness of God. Every human person is precious in the eyes of God.
c) The two trees in the History of Salvation. The story of our salvation begins with the narrative about our first parents Adam and Eve in paradise. They encountered a tree: the tree of knowledge in Paradise. It became the tree of death when Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptation of the ancient Serpent. Our salvation had to be worked out through another tree: the tree of the cross, which gives us salvation. The first Adam brought death to the world through a tree; the New Adam, Jesus Christ, brought salvation through another tree: the tree of the cross.
In the Philippines, starting this month of September, we already hear Christmas carols being sung over the radio and in shopping malls. And then we see the enormously oversized Christmas trees. They are attractive, inviting, colorfully lighted and full of gifts and sparkling things. What kind of tree is the Christmas tree? Definitely, the Christmas tree cannot be the tree of the cross that gives life. Then it must be the tree in paradise that lured Adam and Eve to sin. Think about it.
d) The feast of the Triumph of the Cross is a clear warning against Prosperity Gospel. We now see and hear on television a lot of preachers. But the Church warns us: they are false prophets! Why? Because they do not preach the true Christ. As the Blessed mother said in her message, “It is only Jesus Crucified who must today be preached and exalted by you on every part of the world” (cf. Marian Message, item a). The true Christ has always the cross. The main intention of these false preachers is to draw more members (and donors). And the best come-on to such worldly people is money. So the oft-repeated refrain of their preaching is: come and join us in worshipping Jesus, and you will surely have your reward, mostly material rewards (the famous and frequently used “siksik, liglig, umaapaw” dialogue). Rarely do they preach about spiritual rewards. They never mention Mama Mary. And they never preach about the cross or about the crucified Lord. They do not preach what Jesus wants the people to hear. Rather they preach what the people want to hear: money, luxury, health, success, comfort and worldly power. They even let the people raise their wallets, passports, handbags, inverted open umbrellas, etc. to receive material blessings from God. They encourage people to give so that they receive more from God (similar to a business proposition). Everything is material; hence preaching the about the cross can spoil the fun and the preachers’ gain. We must be careful not to be misled and deceived by these false prophets.
e) This feast also reminds us of the great value of the sign of the cross. It is our mark as Christians. But how do we make the sign of the cross on ourselves? How do we wear the symbol of the cross? We see people making the sign of the cross hurriedly and just out of habit; many others use the cross as a piece of ornament, which they wear such as an earring, necklace, tattoo, and many others. The following exhortation comes from Saint Symeon the New Theologian (+1022), a spiritual master and a monk in Constantinople:
“Christians who believe in Christ sign themselves with the sign of the cross not simply, not just as it happens, not carelessly, but with all heedfulness, with fear and with trembling, and with extreme reverence. For the image of the cross shows the reconciliation and friendship into which man has entered with God.
“Therefore the demons also fear the image of the cross, and they do not endure to see the sign of the cross depicted even in the air, but they flee from this immediately, knowing that the cross is the sign of the friendship of men with God…
Those who have understood this mystery and in very fact have known in experience the authority and power which the cross has over demons, have likewise understood that the cross gives the soul strength, power, meaning, and divine wisdom… To the degree of the reverence which one has toward the cross, he receives corresponding power and help from God. To him may there be glory and dominion for ever. Amen.”
f) Addendum: September 15 is the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. This feast celebrates the spiritual martyrdom of the Blessed Virgin Mary, particularly in the passion and death of her Son Jesus. By the 14th century, her sorrows were fixed at seven: the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the flight into Egypt, Jesus’ being lost in Jerusalem, the encounter with Jesus on the way to Calvary, the Crucifixion, the taking of the body of Jesus down from the cross, and Jesus’ burial.
Although Mary did not die as martyr, she is still called the Queen of Martyrs due to her spiritual martyrdom – she shared in the sufferings of Christ. The most vivid image of Mary as the Mother of Sorrows is shown in the crucifixion of Jesus as she stood beneath the cross. It is just proper that this feast be celebrated the day after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.
Say the Act of Contrition. Then sing together the song “I Love You, Lord!”
GUIDE QUESTIONS FOR SHARING IN THE B.E.C.
1. Sino ang ating dapat sundin: ang tinig ng nakararaming tao, o ang tinig ng Diyos? Dapat bang lagi tayo susunod sa nauusong gawi ng mga tao?
2. Ang krus ang tatak ni Kristo, at siya na ring tatak nating mga Kristiyano. Bakit kakaunti na lang ang mga Kristiyanong may suot na krus sa leeg?
3. Magbahagi ng sariling kasaysayan kung paano ka naligaw at muling natagpuan ng Panginoon (personal testimony). O kaya magsalaysay ng buhay ng isang santo kaugnay dito.