Our Contemporary Cross: A Reflection on 1Cor 1:18-25 [NAB]

On Friday, March 2nd, after the Stations of the Cross, Fr. Matthew H. Phelan, O. de M. gave a stirring reflection on the meaning of the cross to our contemporary culture:

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,

Those who reject the cross are really rejecting Christ. Unfortunately, there are many who call themselves Xian that say of Catholics: “Why do you put Christ on the cross. He was raised from the dead.” Perhaps to those Christians who lived in the Roman Empire, the image of a cross was enough of a reminder. Crucifixion as torture and execution was present reality to them. To us it is a religious symbol, so we need to be reminded what the cross signifies: torture, ugliness, and death. Many want to clean up the Christian message and make it look nice and easy. Jesus did the work. We are off the hook. We have it made. All is warm and fuzzy! This, of course, is an attitude for disaster. There is no resurrection for us without the cross. Not all who say Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven. We have to do the will of the Father—not our own will.

…but to us who are being saved [the cross] is the power of God.

To take up our cross means to embrace a life of self-sacrifice—daily. It means dying to self and putting on Christ. The cross is ugly. This self-emptying with Christ will get ugly. It is never easy, but God will give us the strength we need.

For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside.”

There is nothing new under the sun. The evil one is intelligent and persistent but not very creative. It’s the same thing over and over again. This is why those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. Evil is cyclical, because people do not pay attention. The pride of the tempter rears its head in every age. Socrates held that “wisest was he who knew nothing.” In other words, those declare themselves wise will perish. Those puffed with intellectual pride will be humbled. It is the truth that Mary proclaims in her Magnificat, he has scattered the proud in their conceit, he cast down the mighty from their thrones. This is why Mary is the seat of Wisdom. Through her humility, she bears the very source of true Wisdom.

Where is the wise one?

The spirit of the anti-Christ thinks itself too wise to need God, or his body the Church. The so-called intellectuals tell us the Church is an irrelevant relic of the past. We are too sophisticated to need her. Well, we will find more true wisdom from the soldier in the foxhole than from the self-proclaimed intellectual. Those who point out the arrogance are labeled as out of touch and too extreme to matter.

Where is the scribe?

Apparently, in our country the scribes are in the seats of government, looking for ways to write policies, edicts, and laws that stomp on religious freedom. They declare that one person’s so-called man-made rights trample the God-given rights of another. My right to comfort trumps your right to life—put it in writing. My right to not feel bad about myself trumps your right to practice your religion in the public square—write it down. My right to believe in relativism is more important that your right to believe in objective truth—remove any reference to universals.

Where is the debater of this age?

Apparently the debates of this age are brought before Congress to tell us that not only do we have a right to choose sin—which no one denied—but, others should pay to enable my sin! We should be able to chose sin, and have someone else pay for the consequences. Of course, where will this stop? The clever debaters—and, frankly, even the least talented debaters—will be able to ride this tyrannical slippery slope to chaos!

Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish?

Yes, He has. We don’t know if we should laugh or cry because the foolish are too foolish to even recognize it. As it says in the Book of Proverbs, As dogs return to their vomit, so fools repeat their folly. We all struggle with this, but as Catholics, hopefully we humbly place ourselves before God’s mercy. Better to say what a fool I was than what a fool I am.

For since in the wisdom of God the world did not come to know God through wisdom,

If we were to come to know God through our own effort, we would soon declare ourselves God. Hence, we must be humbled. We only know God through the action of His Grace.

it was the will of God through the foolishness of the proclamation to save those who have faith.

It is through emptying ourselves—as did Christ—that we are filled with Grace. Our faith is a paradox—an apparent contradiction, but not actually so. Our faith is filled with paradox—with statements, propositions, and situations that seems to be absurd or contradictory, but in fact they are true:

· Three Persons, One God.

· One Divine Person, two Natures, human and Divine.

· The Body and Blood of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine.

· A virgin Mother.

· We die to self in order to live.

This all seems in the eyes of the world to be foolishness—but these are salvific truths!

For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

The more we are broken down, the stronger we become. The more Christian blood is spilled, the more Christian life is increased. The more the world tries to sterilize or shun the Cross—the more the world tries to rid itself of suffering apart from the Gospel—the greater the horror, atrocities, and injustices will be. The more irrelevant they think that we Christians are, the greater our vitality will be. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.