By Jacqui-Theresa Leiba
The cross is the symbol of pain, suffering and death. It is also the symbol of resurrection and new life. It symbolises the horizontal plane of temporary life (Earth) and the vertical plane of eternal life (Heaven). The cross is where Heaven and Earth meet and reflects a universal pattern of “becoming” if we care to look deeply.
“Pick up your cross and come follow Me” (Matt 16:24). Jesus here is not simply referring to the problems, challenges, and confusion of this life. In picking up the cross, we consent to the participation in the very life of Christ and the transformative process of becoming more fully human.
We participate in the pattern of Christ’s life, death and resurrection that leads to not just conversion, but transformation. The cross becomes a living reality in the hearts and minds of the followers of Christ Jesus. New windows of faith open, the mind learns to see and the heart listens as death becomes new life.
This same message is echoed in Eucharist. The grain of wheat is plucked from its life in the field, dies, is ground to a powder (conversion), then made into the loaf-body (transformation) to be consumed.
We need many grains of dead, ground-up wheat to make a loaf of bread—something that is healthy and nutritious. That loaf of bread becomes a new something: unrecognisable from its original state.
The pattern in a single grain of wheat mirrors the pattern of the Christ. Christ Jesus is the one grain of wheat capable of making a whole ‘bread’, because Jesus is God. Humanity and all of creation form One Body in Christ, but first we must see that we are all grains, and desire to die so as to participate in the new bread being formed.
The solitary grape cannot make any wine by itself. As the grape is plucked from the vine, it begins to lose the life it knew. Like Jesus’ broken flesh, the flesh of the grape must also be broken open to allow the juice (blood life) to be released.
Millions of grapes are needed to make bottles of grape juice (first step, conversion) but quality wine (transformation), the best wine, the wine that betters with age, must undergo a further process from that original, tiny grape.
As grains of wheat and individual grapes in the human family, how do we die before we die? How do we say ‘yes’ to the process of transformation so that the substance of who we are is so changed that we know that transubstantiation is not just for the bread and wine?
How do we come to know the truth of St Paul’s words “In him we live and move and have our being; ……we are His offspring” (Acts 17:28)?
We must consent to die to our individual and collective egos, our well-laid plans, our structures of recognition, the recipes we have made and collected for a wonderful life of Earth-based values for power and control.
We must ensure that our homes, churches, and faith does not become the 21st century tower of babel that divides Christ up into who belongs and who does not and results in all of us not being able to sit at the one table.
The first part of Matthew 16:24, Jesus reminds us, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself.” Ecumenism speaks to the denying of self. Pope Francis on ecumenism stated, “Our ecumenical journey is preceded and accompanied by an ecumenism of blood that urges us to go forward on the path of full Christian unity.”
Fr Thomas Keating, founder of Contemplative Outreach Colorado and author of Invitation to Love teaches about the denial of the “false self”. He says that we must confront our “emotional programs for happiness based on power and control, esteem and affection, safety and security.” An overdependence on these “false programs for happiness” makes us drug addicts in everyday life as we become hooked and build attachments to our own ideas and opinions about what true happiness really is.
These programmes are in direct contradiction of the happiness programme taught by Jesus in the Beatitudes. To participate in the Life of Christ is to participate in a life far beyond the one that we have meticulously planned for ourselves based on achieving and accomplishing. It is to surrender our very lives into the Hands of the One who can do far greater things with it than we can ever plan or hope to.
The bread and wine consecrated at the altar and further transformed is an invitation. “Become what you eat.”
Jacqui-Theresa Leiba is a parishioner of St Patrick’s RC Church, Newtown, and a founding member of Prayer Rhythms for Change – a prayer and social action group at St Dominic’s RC Church, Morvant.