In my early days of working at the cathedral, we had a lay colleague who was observant, brilliant, and armed with an unerring moral compass and wicked sense of humor. He was indispensable but mortal like the rest of us. He never took himself too seriously. From time to time, someone would have a harebrained Idea, and he would exclaim: “There’s a cross on that building,” as if to say, “of course not!” And at other times, someone would be unnecessarily tentative about a missional issue, and he would exclaim: “There’s a cross on that building” as if to say, “it must be.”
Friends, there’s a cross on the building, not to mention a few inside it. There’s a cross traced on our foreheads in baptism, smudged on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. It is a source of our identity, a reminder of our mortality in this fleeting life, and above all, a standard of practice and behavior. Cathedral Deacon, the Rev. Miguel Bustos, preached an excellent sermon at Evensong last night about Jesus’ call to service and self-giving. Miguel noted that in the gospel passage, when Jesus told his disciples that he would die on a cross, his disciples changed the subject. We don’t get it. We’re too scared—anything but that cross.
I suspect the cross has endured as a symbol of Christian belief and practice — more than a fish, for example — precisely because we can’t possibly get it, and if we did come to grasp its power, we’d be terrified. But we also know that the cross bears a mysterious truth for us and holds us before it, even when we are ambivalent. Of course not! It must be!
Apart from Jesus himself, few in history were exemplars of the way of the cross quite like Francis of Assisi, whose feast we observe throughout the day on October 2. We romanticize his exaltation of God in the creation and bless pets in his memory. But once Francis committed to the way of the cross, there was little about his life that was furry or romantic. It was voluntary poverty and deep identification with the sufferings of Christ and the sufferings of the world. There was a cross on the building of his life, and he learned to say, “it must be!”
In addition to Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures, he also bequeathed many other prayers and canticles, including the Praises of the Virtues. If we have not found ourselves in the embrace of the hard angles of the cross, we can join the praises of those who have:
Hail, Queen Wisdom!
The Lord save you, with your sister,
pure, holy Simplicity.
Lady holy Poverty, God keep you,
with your sister, holy Humility.
Lady holy Love, God keep you,
with your sister, holy Obedience.
All holy virtues, God keep you,
God, from whom you proceed and come.
In all the world, there is no one
who can possess any one of you
without first dying to self.
The Rev. Canon Anna E. Rossi
Director of Interfaith Engagement