The following is a translation of a sermon delivered in Spanish yesterday by the Rev. Jaime Hernandez at the Shrine of St. Jude Catholic Church in Rockville.
How can the cross, which is a sign of suffering and sorrows, be a triumph? It seems that when we bear the cross it means only suffering and failure. The paradox is that if we accept what seems to be a failure, our distress, sorrows and trials that God sends upon us, then we truly triumph through the victory our Lord Jesus Christ won on the cross for us. However, we must be careful not to deceive ourselves while discerning what the cross is that God has sent upon us.
We know that our human suffering is also a share in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whenever human suffering comes upon us, we cannot just say I accept this human suffering as God wills it for me, and I will not do anything about it.
God does not want us to be careless with our health. If I suffer from any illness, then I must search for the appropriate means necessary to relieve my suffering. I must exhaust all possible means to find healing through medicine. In fact, many doctors tell their patients, “We have done all that we could possibly do. Now only God can help you.” Then we say this is the cross that God has sent upon us. It is God’s way of inviting us to share in the redemptive work of Christ.
God allows many things to happen to us for a reason that is known to Him alone. There are many trials that do not have any solution, no matter what we do to solve them. He gives us different crosses to bear along the way. When Augustine was asked why God allowed evil things to happen, he responded that God allows evil to happen because he knows how to bring good out of evil. God can bring good out of evil when we are willing to embrace the cross. God can bring something good even out of the most difficult tragedy in one’s life.
In 1985, I had an accident in which I lost one of my legs. My accident led me to despair. Suddenly, my whole world was turned upside down, and I was caught with the anguish of the tomb, as Psalm 116 says. For a while I doubted that God loved me, but then I realized that God had given me that cross that I may experience His love and presence in a very profound way. I realized that while I had lost my leg, I had not lost God. On the contrary, I felt closer to Him.
My accident was the way in which God prepared me for my priestly ministry. That was the way in which he prepared me to go out in a world that is so broken and wounded by sin, a world in which everyone has to bear a cross. There is no person who does not have some sort of trial.
I learned to embrace with the help of God’s grace the cross that God had prepared for me. I realized that it was only through God’s grace that my cross would become light. Many people in our day try to run away from their crosses, but those who run away from their crosses are running away from their victory.
We must walk the way that is marked out for us. The chosen people had to walk through the desert in order to get to the Promised Land. Their pilgrimage through the desert was so difficult that, as they said, they were better off in the land of Egypt. Many complained because they had to endure hardship.
The reason why they had to endure the hardship of the desert was that they could enjoy their victory of entering the Promised Land. In their shortsightedness, they could not see what God had prepared for them. In the same way we cannot see the victory that God has prepared for us unless we embrace the cross.
What is our cross? What is the desert that we have to walk through in order to get to the Promised Land? Everyone in this life has a cross to bear. Perhaps one’s cross is an illness that does not seem to get any better. Perhaps it is a difficult person you have to care for. Or perhaps a hardship one is undergoing at this moment.
It is not easy to embrace the cross. I say that from personal experience. There has been more than one occasion in which I have been like the people of Israel saying to the Lord, “Lord why do you send me this trial?” But in the midst of my despair, I have come to realize that I cannot run away from the cross, because if I run away from the cross then I am running away from God, and, even more sadly, I am running away from my salvation.
Let us not run away from God. Let us not refuse God’s plan for us because I believe God’s plan for us is better than our own plan. Remember that for those who embrace God and the cross they have to bear, the triumph of the cross awaits them.