My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,
We are never far from tragedy. Nor are we ever far from triumph.
The convergence of two occasions brings this dichotomy of tragedy and triumph to mind. The first of these occasions, as you might have suspected, is the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. The images of a smoldering wing of the Pentagon and the hellish explosions that engulfed the Twin Towers in flames are seared indelibly in my memory, as they are I many of yours.
The second occasion this month is an ancient feast in both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, known alternately as the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and the Triumph of the Cross. This year, we will celebrate the Triumph of the Cross on September 14.
What do the Triumph of the Cross and the anniversary of 9/11have in common? The short answer is tragedy and triumph. Let me try to explain by means of a personal story.
Exactly one year after the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, the Soldiers of Christ of Lafayette, Louisiana contacted Chaminade, because they wanted to do something for the folks up North who had lost a loved one in the attack on the World Trade Center. The Soldiers of Christ were total strangers. We had never met them before. But we were not strangers for long; we soon became brothers and sisters in Christ, united by the power of the Cross, a bond stronger than blood.
And so, in November of 2002, a group of us traveled to Lafayette, Louisiana. I was privileged to accompany four young men – Greg, John, Kevin, and Charlie – on the trip.
Shortly after our plane touched down in Lafayette, at about 10:30 at night, we were greeted at the gate by about two dozen Soldiers of Christ – young men and young women in high school and college, their parents, and their adult leaders – with balloons and posters and banners and hugs and the repeated recitation of the sound “chau,” apparently a Louisiana expression of compassion and solidarity.
And for the next four days, we were showered with good old Southern hospitality – all because these Soldiers of Christ wanted to reach out halfway across the country with the healing power of the Cross. We toured the Louisiana Bayou on one of those flatbed speedboats powered by an enormous fan. We attended prayer services and high-school rallies and Masses. The boys were interviewed on Lafayette’s own television morning news show. And every meal was a banquet of savory Cajun cooking: scrambled eggs, bacon, and grits; corn dogs and soda pop; jambalaya, rice, and red beans; shrimp étouffée and buttery biscuits; pralines and pecan pie.
You see, John and Kevin had lost their uncles in 9/11; Greg and Charlie their dads. But thanks to the good people of Lafayette, Louisiana, they gained a family of brothers and sisters in Christ.
I remember our return to New York so vividly, as if it were yesterday. Again – somehow, I don’t know quite how – all the Soldiers of Christ had gained access to our departure gate to see us off. We formed a large circle and held hands, and those newfound brothers and sisters of ours prayed over us, sang songs, embraced us – yes, in a big group hug – and uttered their final “chaus.”
And, all of a sudden, Charlie, a sophomore at the time, burst into tears, a torrent of tears – not tears of bitterness or anger; not quite tears of joy; but tears of release, of liberation, of knowing that his life had indeed been forever changed by the loss of his father on 9/11; but that it was ok, that he was going to be alright, that he was loved, loved very deeply, not only by the Soldiers of Christ, but by Christ Himself and by his two fathers in heaven – by his earthly father . . . and his heavenly Father.
That, my friends, is the power of the Cross. The healing power of the Cross. The saving power of the Cross. It is but one example of the Triumph of the Cross.
My dear friends, consider the Cross. Behold its horizontal beam – and, nailed to that beam, Christ’s arms – stretched open wide, as if to say, “I love you, I embrace you, I stand beside you in every difficulty – every cross – you bear.” And this is what I want to leave you with today – this guarantee, this promise: Whatever cross you bear – if a family member or friend is very sick; if your parents are fighting – a lot; if you are battling depression, or struggling with what is beginning to look like an addiction to alcohol or drugs or pornography; if the loss of a loved one, perhaps a parent, grieves your heart – know that Christ stands beside you, that the healing power of the Cross will bear you up. Know that Mary, Our Blessed Mother, who stood at the foot of the Cross – her heart broken – stands beside you, taking your cares and concerns into her immaculate, maternal heart.
This is the power of the Cross. This is the promise of the Christ. Turn to Jesus in prayer when your cross seems too heavy to bear. Turn to Jesus’ adopted brothers and sisters – to all of us, to the Church. It is the power of the Cross that empowers us to help one another in our time of need, just as those Soldiers of Christ in Lafayette, Louisiana consoled Greg and John, Kevin and Charlie.
I promise you this; I guarantee you this: If you turn to Jesus and His Blessed Mother in your time of need, if you turn to one of us for advice and counsel, help and hope, you will experience the power of the Cross. I know I speak for every one of my Marianist Brothers and every one of my lay colleagues – in fact, for the entire Marianist Family – when I make this bold guarantee.
My friends, consider your lives. Consider the stories of heroism and healing that have emerged from September 11th, 2001. And consider the two wooden crossbeams we find in our homes, in our classrooms, atop every one of our Churches, and at every one of our altars. Then you will experience the power of the Cross. Then – then – you will truly know the Triumph of the Cross.
On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,