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What does the Cross really mean?

This is a true story:

       A group of soldiers was sitting around the barracks letting off steam. The talk swung around to religion and faith. One soldier, a fallen-away Catholic, claimed he no longer believed in confession. His buddies dared him to go to the Catholic chaplain and make a mockery of the sacrament, to prove he didn’t believe in it anymore. So he went to the confessional, knelt down, and began. I have taken the Lord’s name in vain a hundred times a day, and I couldn’t care less. I haven’t been to Mass in years and I couldn’t care less. He pretty much went through all the commandments the same way. When the guy was through, the priest said: For your penance, put a crucifix on a table and then, looking at the crucifix say, “You died for me, and I couldn’t care less.’ Say that five times.

       When the soldier came out of the chapel, hi buddies were waiting for him. They laughed and jeered asking what had happened. He laughed back and told them all about it. They were enjoying themselves and insisted that he do the “penance”, since that was part of confession, and the dare had been to do a full confession.

       So they pulled up a table and put a crucifix on it, and the soldier sat down and looked at it, surrounded by his buddies. But all he could say was , ‘You died for me…He tried and tried, but he just couldn’t get himself to add, ‘and I couldn’t care less.’

       Tears welled up in his eyes. Finally, he got up and ran back to the chapel to make a real confession.

       On this first Sunday of Advent Jesus goes out into the desert to face the Accuser—that’s what the word Devil means. The desert, because of the conditions one finds in a place like that, is a place where one is forced to make a decision. The desert is a place of utter poverty and therefore, potentially, of heroic trust in God. If we see desert as a metaphor we see how we have to make a decision—give in to the “comforts” the evil spirit is offering (food, power, possessions) or surrender to the mercy of God’s providence. In other words, learn to trust in God and have confidence in what he did to save us, and know how much he loves us!

       As we begin this Season of Lent, take some time to realize what the Cross really means. None of us here today (this evening) could ever image ourselves saying: “You died for me, and I couldn’t care less”. Yet, we could very well be saying it in other ways—by how we’re living our lives, by the decisions that we make, by how we unconsciously hurt other people, by how we allow ourselves to see things from only our own perspective.

       So, perhaps we can gaze in a crucifix, and instead of saying “I couldn’t care less”, maybe we can say something more like “Help me to see that your love for me is more than I can ever imagine.”

       This Lent, we go into the desert, stripped of all the thinks that might be getting in the way of our relationship with Christ. In the desert we see nothing but our own weakness and we decide where we will seek the help we so dearly need. Will it be by focusing on the false hope offered by the “Accuser” which give only momentary comfort, or will we, in the face of our poverty, heroically rely on our trust in God?

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