A Cross, not a cushion – Some argue that religion, faith, is a man made fiction, meant to soothe our difficult life with stories about ultimate victory in a heaven somewhere. I believe is was Karl Marx who thought of religion as an opiate of the masses in that it blunted the difficult reality of life in the same way that opium dulled the minds of drug users. But a charge like this cannot apply to the true Christian and Catholic Faith. There are consolations, to be sure, from faith. Yet at the center of the true faith is a cross, not a cushion and this is an important corrective to those who think of religion merely as something to soothe us.
The cross also goes a long way to speak to the Divine origin of our Holy Faith. If the faith were an invention of man what is the cross doing there? I don’t just mean Jesus’ cross, I mean ours. Jesus did not just carry his own cross, he told us we’d have to carry ours. And this teaching on the cross is not just an incidental sidebar, the cross is absolutely central. Now it seems to me that if our Holy Faith were man-made, there would not be a cross as the central tenant, but rather a pillow, a giant fluffy pillow.
Man made religion would exult pleasure, prosperity, consolation, affirmation and so forth. But true religion, God’s Holy Faith, holds up the cross, the cross of repentance, self-denial, self-discipline, sacrifice, living for others, and so on. This hardly seems to be something that we human beings would devise, given as we are to selfishness. And what’s even more amazing, and surely something no human being would think up on his own, is that the cross truly brings life. It is in losing our life that we find it and gain it (cf Matt 6:25). No human wisdom is this….it must be from God!
The Cross is like a tuning fork – It’s what you use to be sure that the preacher is “in tune” with the true faith of God or to discover that he is just preaching a false version of the faith, one not of God. There are false preachers out there today and one way to tell that they are false is that they seldom or never mention the cross. They talk about prosperity and blessings, rewards and gain. Nothing intrinsically wrong with those to be sure. But do they mention the cross? Do they mention self-denial, self-discipline, repentance and the fact that we are all called to share in the sufferings of Christ? If they do not, they are not of God. Beware the preachers of the “prosperity gospel.” Beware of a cross-less Christianity. There is joy in faith to be sure, but there must also be the cross. God does not only affirm, He also disciplines, matures and quickens the Christian, always with love.
St. Augustine rebuked the false shepherds of his day in these words:
“The Apostle says, ‘All who desire to live a holy life in Christ will suffer persecution.’ But you say instead…’All things will be yours in abundance!’ Is this the way you build up the believer? Take note of what you are doing and where you are placing him. You have built him on sand. [But] The rains will come….! [Rather,] put him on the rock. Let him be in Christ. Let him consider Scripture which says to him: God chastises every son who he acknowledges. Let him prepare to be chastised or else not seek to be acknowledged as a son. (sermo 46:10-11)
The video below from a very strange little comedy called “Dogma.” The scene here depicts a mixed up bishop who wants to refashion the Catholic Faith and make it a more “pleasant affair.” It’s a pretty silly scene but there is a serious point: The cross is like a tuning fork. Without the “A 440” of the Cross the whole symphony is out of tune. With that in mind, watch this video of a false teacher (comically portrayed) who wants to substitute a pillow for the cross, a false Jesus for the real one a false teacher who exults affirmation in the place of transformation.