Take up your cross, and follow me
Rex Lago Paras
The cross is a salient feature of the Catholic faith. At Baptism, we are sealed with the Sign of the Cross, a most appropriate gesture to welcome us to Christianity and to proclaim that we belong to Christ. We make the Sign of the Cross to begin and end our prayers, including the greatest worship of all, the Holy Mass.
Then, there are the illustrations of the cultural. A common practice among many Filipino Catholics is making the Sign of the Cross whenever we are about to start an activity or a journey. We see athletes, such as basketball players, make the Sign of the Cross before entering the court to play a game. Before heading for the road, drivers, whether of a private vehicle or a public utility, sign themselves with the Cross to seek protection from harm or to be delivered from the dangers of travelling. And while on the road, many of us, whether as passengers on a jeepney and other forms of public transport or as users of private vehicles, pause for a short while to make this important sign of faith each time we find a church in our path.
It is interesting that the same symbol which stood for suffering and death becomes our source of strength and protection. The Cross is not just a symbol of pain; it is a symbol of glory. When we see the Cross, We behold the Lord’s victory over sin and death. Thus, when we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross annually on September 14, we do not only remember the recovery of the wooden beam on which our Savior was crucified, we also celebrate the dawning of salvation. It is befitting that the feast is also known as the Triumph of the Cross because through the Cross, Jesus redeemed us from our sinfulness and gave us the gift of eternal life. One version of the memorial acclamation at Mass captures it succinctly: “…for by your Cross and Resurrection, you have set us free.”
Aside from being the instrument of our redemption, the cross is also essential in defining discipleship. In the Scriptures, Jesus himself declares, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) The message of the Lord is delivered to us loud and clear. One who desires to be a follower of Christ cannot dissociate himself/herself from the cross. The cross is and will always be an integral part of being a Christian.
Our very own St. Lorenzo Ruiz wholeheartedly responded to Christ’s call to this kind of discipleship. The first Filipino saint gladly took up his cross and followed Jesus. He was arrested for being a Christian and was ordered to renounce his faith. He refused to recant and was tortured. In the end, he chose to give up his life for the faith. According to the record of his death, his last words were, “I am a Catholic and wholeheartedly do accept death for God. Had I a thousand lives, all these to Him I shall offer.”
We commemorate the martyrdom of St. Lorenzo Ruiz on September 28, a couple of weeks after the celebration of the Feast of the Exaltation or Triumph of the Holy Cross. During the Memorial of St. Lorenzo Ruiz, we pray to God, for the same perseverance shown by the saint in denying himself, taking up his cross, and following Christ even to the point of death. We pray for the gift to remain steadfast in our faith and to endure the persecution that may come our way.
We may not be martyred for the faith but each one of us has a cross to carry as part of following Christ. These may be the problems in our family, the struggles of daily living or the mission to bring light to a world in darkness. When our crosses seem too heavy to bear, may we draw inspiration from the life and sacrifice of St. Lorenzo Ruiz who did not waver in his resolve to be a follower of Christ. Like St. Lorenzo Ruiz, let us embrace our crosses and realize that by doing so, we follow in the footsteps of Christ—we become Christians in the real sense of the word, and give our entire self to God.
Rex Lago Paras is the Chair of the Lectors and Commentators Group of the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice.
Juxtapose photos of Exaltation of the Cross and St. Lorenzo Ruiz.