The cross is the substance of Christian life

Father John A. Kiley

Catherine of Aragon, Ferdinand and Isabella’s ill-fated daughter and Henry VIII’s ill-used wife, was actually quite a competent queen for England. During Henry’s several ventures overseas, Catherine was his regent, one time even defeating the Scots at Flodden Field while her husband had lesser luck in his French expeditions.

Catherine likewise fought fearlessly and extendedly for the perseveration of her marriage. Some even think that the break with Rome might never have occurred had Catherine not been so determined to insist that her union with Henry was truly sacramental and valid. Unlike her husband’s other loves, Catherine died piously and naturally in 1536 at the age of 51, and was buried in Peterborough Abbey.

Queen Catherine left behind much good advice for her zealously Catholic daughter Mary. A Spanish friend related these regal words: “I remember your mother, a most wise woman, said to me that she preferred a moderate and steady fortune to great ups and downs of rough and smooth. But if she had to choose one or the other, she stated that she would elect the saddest of lots rather than the most flattering fortune, because in the midst of unhappiness consolation can be sought, whilst sound judgment often disappears from those who have the greatest prosperity.”

The queen’s words are confirmed by daily life as well as by history. “It’s three generations from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves,” our parents often mused as they saw the hard earned fortunes of an older generation squandered by their ungrateful children and grandchildren. Celebrity families, so favored financially, seem to spawn a sad number of offspring who follow the drug and alcohol path to rehab, overdose or suicide. As the queen observed, great prosperity is no guarantee of sound judgment. On the other hand, poverty is no pledge of moral integrity. As the British novelist, Somerset Maugham, reflected, “There is nothing particularly blessed about poverty. It is the surest road to bitterness and resentment.” Again, an unhappy spate of news articles confirms his conclusions. The 15 (so far) murders in the city of Providence this year were not perpetrated by the well-to-do. Clearly it is struggling neighborhoods that experience violence more than the more comfortable districts.

The conclusion is that all persons, and especially all believers, whether rich or poor, should be prepared to experience distress, to deal with grief, and endure suffering. The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross occurs this week and the Sunday that follows highlight Christ’s sober admonition to the somewhat naive Peter: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it." People who are riding high can easily forget that sacrifice, discipline and restraint are the inevitable guideposts to personal fulfillment. Self-indulgence is self-destruction. Persons who are feeling any sort of pinch must understand their particular challenges to be true crosses that, like Christ, should lead them to find all their hope, strength and consolation in God’s ineffable fatherhood.

It is often easy for the rich to be insensitive and for the poor to be cynical. These are merely human responses to the “great ups and downs of rough and smooth,” which Queen Catherine noted. A Christ-like faith in God’s benevolent fatherhood is demanded from all believers – the rich and poor alike. The accursed Christ on the cross trusting solely in God’s providence is the same Christ triumphant over the grave radiant with God’s favor. The rich must understand their blessings to be opportunities to do good generously for others and wisely for their children. The poor must not lose heart but recognize that God has a plan for them as well, a plan that respects their own potential and requires great perseverance. The cross is not an arbitrary Christian symbol; the cross is the very substance of the Christian life, evoking both humanity’s challenges and God’s assurance.