HOMILY TRANSCRIPT | Manila Archbishop Jose F. Cardinal Advincula, Fiesta Mass, Santuario de Santo Cristo Parish San Juan City, May 3, 2024

Rev. Fr. Matthias Nga Reh, OP, our parish priest; brother priests and assisting deacons; men and women religious; civil and lay leaders of the parish; dearest brothers and sisters in Christ: Happy fiesta to all of us!

As one community of faith, the Santo Cristo gathers us today around his altar to gaze at him, to learn from him, and to imitate his ways. In our predominantly Catholic country, we are so used to see crosses and crucifixes around. With this proliferation of crosses, we may have already trivialized and taken for granted the intense power andrevolutionary message of the crucified Christ. On this special occasion, I invite you to a reflection on this central symbol of our faith.

The cross and the two greatest commandments. We have often heard how the vertical and horizontal beams of the cross represent the two greatest commandments. The vertical beam reminds us to love of God with all our heart, soul, and mind; while the horizontal beam calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. The cross is the core of a Christian’s vocation, not only because it summarizes the ten commandments, but also because it was the pattern of our Lord Jesus Christ’s life.

According to bible scholars, each gospel paints a unique portrait of Jesus. This unique portrait is influenced by the evangelist’s personal theology, the Jesus tradition they have received, and the context and concerns of the community they were addressing. The gospels therefore offer us multiple Christologies. Luke Timothy Johnson however holds that what binds them together is the pattern of Jesus’ existence that all of the gospel writers portray, that is, “radical obedience toward God and self-disposing service toward others”. He contends that this should also be the life-template of all Christians, and all of humanity.

Therefore, gazing upon the cross should remind us of the two greatest commandments that Jesus not only issued, but also lived to the very end. Christ crucifiedurges us to movefrom the barrenness of self-centeredness toward the meaningfulness of being God- and other-centered.

The cross and returning good for every evil received. Another theologian, Bernard Lonergan, talks about the just and mysterious law of the cross. What is the logic of this law? To return good for every evil received. This is what we see in the story of Jesus’ life and passion: to the rejection and persecution of the scribes and Pharisees, he offered stern but fraternal correction; to the abuse and murderous clamor of the people, he prayed for the Father to forgive them; to the betrayal and abandonment of his apostles, he offered them peace during his resurrection appearances, etc. Truly, Jesus incarnated his difficult teaching about loving enemies and praying for those who persecute you.

When we follow the law of the old dictum “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, when we seek revenge and return evil for every evil received, there will be no end to the downward spiral of violence. If you malign me, I will malign you. If you hurt me, I will hurt you. And so on and so forth,ad infinitum. However, when we return good for every evil received, the old cycle is impeded, and a new cycle is initiated – the cycle of forgiveness and love. In returning good for every evil received, the expected response is good, ad infinitum. Without allowing oneself to be abused, and by responding with active and constructive non-violence, the reign of God’s love can be realized in our interpersonal relationships.

Therefore, gazing upon the cross should remind us of the just and mysterious law of the cross, and the new heavens and the new earth made possiblebysubscribing to it. Christ crucified invites us to the dynamic of kenotic and self-emptying love, not only for our friends but also for our foes,that is the key to returning good for every evil received.

The cross and the eternal offer of embrace.Taking up the cross of the two greatest commandments and its just and mysterious law is not an easy task. Along the way, we may receive the rejection of the selfish and the self-preoccupied, the lashes of the proponents of violence and abuse, and the crown of thorns and crucifixion of the structures of sin around us. We may also fall to the ground numerous times due to sin and succumb to despair due to this seemingly impossible task.

To this uphill climb to calvary, we find consolation in the outstretched arms of the crucified One, that is his eternal offer of embrace. His wounds, that he continues to bear at the right hand of the Father, give us confidence that he understands what we are going through. The blood and water flowing from his side bring to mind his life-giving and nourishing sacraments. His crown communicates that, despite appearances, his reign will ultimately triumph. Thus, whenever we feelcrucified by his side, we can always whisper: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”.

Therefore, as we experience this warm, consoling, and ever available embrace of Christ crucified, we are encouraged and strengthened to replicate and share his loving embrace to others.

And so, as we continue this celebration, like the Israelites in our first reading, we ask for the grace to look upon him lifted upon the cross to find healing and salvation from our sinful and selfish ways. Following his kenotic example, as described in our second reading, we hope to discover the profound meaning and fulfillment in returning good for every evil received. All these we bear and do, so that, in accord with the gospel, we may incarnate his embrace and make others feel that, indeed, God so loves the world. Amen.

(Photo by Kyler Bernardo/RCAM-AOC | Photogallery)


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