Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Posted with Permission

Homily from Sunday, September 14 at Christ the King Priory (Schuyler, NE)
The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Fr. Thomas Leitner
We are called to follow Jesus on his way of humiliation and exaltation, of obedience and of forgiveness.
Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord, most of us know the story of the Polish priest, Fr. Maximilian Kolbe who died in the concentration camp of Auschwitz, on August 14, 1941, after he had offered his life for another prisoner who had been selected to die, together with nine others, in reprisal for one prisoner’s escape from the camp. The one whose place Kolbe took, Franciszek Gajowniczek, was a young husband and father.
The ten who were taken to the death bunker went through terrible days. From their underground cell, however, there continually arose the echo of prayers and canticles. Father Kolbe prayed and sung with the others, and he encouraged them saying that the fugitive might be found and then they would all be freed. After two weeks, only four were alive. Since the cell was needed for more victims, the camp executioner came in and injected a lethal dose of carbolic acid into the arms of the dying men. Fr. Kolbe, the only one who was still conscious, died, according to one witness, with a face that was calm and radiant.
Fr. Kolbe had followed St. Paul’s admonition to the Christians in Philippi: “Have among yourselves the same attitude that also Christ Jesus had” (Phil 2:5): This is the sentence that precedes today’s second reading, the Christ hymn of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, in which Paul, or possibly an even earlier Christian author, describes the central mystery of our salvation.
Christ Jesus, who was in the form of God, whose condition was divine, left behind his divinity. He came in human likeness.
The Godlike and hence Immortal One took on a fully human, mortal existence.
Then the hymn goes on to say: He humbled himself, lowered himself, becoming obedient to the point of death. Throughout his whole life, Jesus attuned himself in his human life totally to the will of God. His violent death was the unavoidable consequence of being both fully human and fully obedient—in a world alienated from God.
Obedient—even to death on the cross: Crucifixion was the form of execution reserved for slaves and for criminals who had totally forfeited all civic rights. Thus this death shows that Jesus descended into the deepest depth of humanity, to the lowest point where a human being can be.
What follows after this self-emptying, this self-denying of Jesus, though, is an active response of God. God vindicated and justified the one who had put himself totally at God’s disposition. God greatly exalted him. Jesus was lifted high beyond all creatures and given the status of Lordship over the whole universe. One theologian put is this way: “The selflessness of Christ has given scope to God’s victorious grace, which has full play where the human will is not grasping” (JBC 795).The name that is given Jesus is ‘Lord,’ Greek ‘kyrios.’ This is the name of God in the Old Testament. We only have to think of Isaiah 45 (23-24), where God says: “To me every knee shall bend; by me every tongue shall swear, saying, ‘Only in the Lord are just deeds and power.’” This reverence now is due Jesus Christ. To us, as to the Christians in Philippi, the call is being directed, to follow Jesus on his way of humiliation and exaltation, which is also a way of obedience and of forgiveness.
Today’s feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross celebrates a double anniversary: the discovery of the Lord’s cross by the empress, St. Helena in 320, and the dedication of the basilicas built by the Emperor Constantine at the sites of the Holy Sepulcher and of Calvary in 335. It invites us to reflect on our crosses that we cannot shake off: illness, difficult or broken relationships, problematic life choices of adult children, financial difficulties … you name it. Only on hindsight can we perhaps recognize that they also, in a mysterious way, had a positive, even salvific function in our lives. Beethoven once said, “The crosses in the lives of humans are like the crosses in music: They raise up!” On the other hand, there are crosses, which we are not supposed to carry and to endure silently, but where deeds are necessary in order to eliminate them: violence, poverty, illness, persecution.
Fr. Maximilian Kolbe took upon himself the unavoidable suffering of living in the camp, alleviated the suffering of his fellow prisoners, and gave his life as a martyr of charity in substitution for another. His heroic example is not easy to follow. We can stand in awe, however, of the strength and the inner peace which only God can give as the fruit of prayer. And we can gratefully recall some experiences of this kind in our own lives.

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