As the Nazis imposed their terror across Europe, particularly directing it against the Jewish people, Edith Stein wrote of a cross being laid upon the Jewish people. Her request to her superiors to be allowed to offer her life in Carmel as a particular offering on the behalf of a people who she still considered as her own arose as she sensed that it was those who knew of the mystery of the cross who had a responsibility to bear it on the behalf of others.
In our own times, events in Iraq and Syria (and other parts of the world, too, Nigeria and Ukraine coming most readily to mind) demonstrate the existence of an evil that it is difficult to comprehend in the comfort of homes in the developed nations of Europe and the Americas. Indeed, a cross is placed upon many peoples, Christians and non-Christians, in our own times. In a very different way, the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa also represents a cross laid particularly upon the poorer peoples of the region.
That cross is first of all a sign of witness - and the stories of those who, threatened with death if they did not abandon their Christian faith in favour of Islam, inspire in a way that is a very particular grace for those of us who are able to live our Christian lives in relative comfort. It was striking last Sunday to join a demonstration on Whitehall calling for a UN protected safe haven for the peoples of the Nineveh plains and to see, among the placards of a more political nature, a number of demonstrators holding up crosses. I think there is an interesting reflection to be made upon the meaning of the cross held up on such an occasion. I am also reminded of a passage from Pope John Paul II's encyclical Ut Unum Sint, where he suggests that the fullness of Christian unity is already achieved at that moment when witness to the point of death, martyrdom, is exacted of the Christian believer. There is a profound unity lived out among the different Christian denominations who share a common experience of terror in Syria and Iraq.
The cross is also a sign in favour of the dignity of the human person. It is a sign that says that suffering is not without meaning and that, whilst suffering remains in a true sense an evil that is to be overcome, it can be turned to good. It is also a sign that says that God made man in Jesus Christ, and the Church that is his mystical body on earth, stand with those who are the subjects of the mystery of evil, the mysterium iniquitatis to which I think both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI referred. In this sense, it is a sign that is offered to all peoples, whether or not they are Christians.
In his homily at Mass this morning, Father spoke of the cross as a key that opens three doors, the doors of love, of faith and of hope. In a way that was rich in a spirit of the new movements, Father suggested that the cross is the key that opens to us a door through which we can perceive God's love for us, and come to recognise just how much we are loved by Him. He then suggested that the cross is a door through which we can see what the future promises us in eternity; as we encounter the cross we are brought into touch with eternity. And finally, Father suggested that the cross enables us to see that the difficulties and pain that we meet in life have a reason and a meaning. The cross offers us love, faith and hope.
The celebration of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on a Sunday is perhaps particularly fortuitous in 2014, offering an opportunity for all of us to recognise our call to take up the cross and to carry it on the behalf of, and in solidarity with, those upon whom, through the workings of the mysterium iniquitatis, it is laid involuntarily in our own time.