13th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Carrying the Cross
Bishop Matthew Hassan KUKAH
The birth of a child is supposed to naturally elicit immeasurable joy and excitement. But it depends on the culture. Not all cultures receive the news of the birth of a child with equal joy. Sometimes, even some mothers go into panic mode at the sight of a baby girl. They are worried how their husbands will react. The birth of a boy on the other hand elicitsfar more joy, a feeling of fulfilment and accomplishment in a man. For the mother who has carried the pregnancy through nine months, for some women, depending on the timing, the birth of a boy elicits the feeling that she has found favour with her husband and that her marriage is now secure.
A joyful father is likely to announce the birth of a son with a louder voice than that of a girl. Today, on the phone, he might say quite loudly and almost beating his chest;My wife has given me a boy. If it is a girl, the telephone call might come late and the announcement might be; It is a baby girl. Or, my wife has delivered a baby girl. The sense of possession and ownership is fractured. Many of us as priests might recall a typical call from a Parishioner requesting the baptism of a baby. If it is a boy, the father is likely to say, Father, I will like to have my son baptised next week. If it is a girl, he is likely to say, Fr. We are thinking of bringing our baby for baptism next week. The sense of possession is in inverse proportion to the gender of the child.
Within patriarchal societies such as ours, privilege and honour come to a man, a boy, naturally by virtue of gender. Men rejoice at the birth of a boy because they say they have someone who will ensure the future of the family name or inheritance. Mother Theresa’s name is more important to Albania than that of their President. We know Malala, but do not know her parent’s names. We know Chimamanda Adichie or Ngozi Iweala. How many of us know that they are children of distinguished Professors? Sadly, Chimamanda’s father, James Nwoye Adichie died only last week. However, to give it prominence, some media houses announced; Chimamanda loses father, or Professor Adiche, father of Chimamanda, is dead! Today, these and many other girls are the custodians of the family jewels not their fathers or their male siblings. That is the way God packaged his gifts and why we must receive them with care. Every gift of God is a treasure.
Today’s reading echoes this theme and it is significant to note that our African culture is no different from the Jewish culture and its patriarchal roots. In appreciation, when the man of God, Elijah, the prophet decided to return the favour of the rich widow, he turns to Gehazi his servant to seek advice. Gehazi is quite sensitive and he knows that the family is already rich in material wealth, what they do not have is a child, but not just any child. So, when Gehazi pleads with Elijah to pray that they have a child, the Prophet is emphatic and dramatic: By this time next year, you will embrace a son!
The Old testament has a patriarchal culture embedded in it. Among the Jewish people, if a rich man’s wife was close to child birth, usually, drummers and dancers would gather around the house. For as long as it takes to wait, since times of birth were uncertain, the eating and drinking will persist until the child is born. Usually, the drummers and dancers would receive a message from inside the house to announce that the woman has gone into labour. There would be silence and everything else will depend on what happens when the cry of a new born child is heard. If it is a boy, the drummers would break into drumming and dancing with intensity. If, on the other hand, it is a girl, the news will filter only quietly until it gets to the drummers and dancers.They would then quietly and stealthily move away with their drums in total silence to their homes. Boys were a blessing, but girls were, well….
For the last one month, the world has stood still over the tragic murder of George Floyd. Soon, the public revulsion will end and life will go on. However, we must pay attention to those victims who daily cannot breathe. And for today, let us pay attention to those who cannot breathe because they are women. These include victims of; forced marriages, forced abortions, forced pregnancies in baby factories, forced slavery, rape, domestic violence, human trafficking, illiteracy, poverty etc. We cannot call ourselves Christians if we do not honour our blessed Mother and we cannot honour her without honouring motherhood.
Today, we take so much for granted in the world. The struggle for the emancipation of women is still very much a hard sell whether it is in our cultures or even in our churches. Girl education is still a challenge, forced marriages, rape, trafficking, prostitution are the lot of the young woman today. My friend Archbishop Anthony Obinna, the Catholic Archbishop of Owerri told me a story of how one of the leaders of the Catholic Women in his Diocese took him to a pastor to pray against him because the Archbishop dared to say that he would officiate at the wedding of her daughter with an Osu! The young man’s education, being a Catholic, his social status, being perhaps from the same town did not matter.
In his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, Redeemer of Man in 1979 barely one year after his papacy, St. John Paul stated that: We are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil, death and life, the “culture of death” and the “culture of life. Gender constitutes a theatre for the drama between culture of death today and we are actors not spectators.
The Gospel challenges us to carry our crosses in other to follow Christ. Living the Christian life today revolves around the choice between the flesh of unredeemed person and the spirit of the redeemed person. Both are marked by the promise of the Resurrection and the gift of the holy spirit of Christ. Living out the challenges of the redeemed person revolve around whether or not we are prepared or able to carry our crosses. What exactly does carrying the cross mean today? It can mean any or more of the following:
- Doing a job you are not happy with
- Living in a difficult and abusive relationship
- Living with a situation of powerlessness
- Losing a loved one
- Caring for a terminally sick person
- Living with a terminal illness
- Living with a misfortune/tragedy, loss of a job
There is no one, not least myself who wishes to carry a cross. We do not go out looking for a cross. However, every cross is a gift. Life itself is a cross: those who cannot carry it commit suicide midway. We have to keep carrying it because, in faith, we know that every valley has a hill. Every night has a day. Wealth is a cross: if we do not use it well, it can make us miserable. The story of Lazarus and Dives (Lk. 16).
One day, the story goes, people gathered in prayer. Afterwards, the Priest told them that they would have to set out on a journey but each will have to carry a cross. The crosses were in the parish hall and each should carry a cross of their choice. They all entered the hall and examined the crosses. Some looked lighter than others, but in the end, each picked what they wanted. In obedience, people picked their crosses and set out. There was this gentleman who came out last because he stayed back to prayfor a lighter cross. He took his own cross, but it was a bit heavy. He came up with an idea. He stopped by the carpenter’s shed, reduced the size of the cross and set out to join the others. At the end of the road, there was a river and each had to use his cross as a personal bridge. Our man got to the river and discovered his cross was too short to reach the end of the river!
Many of us are interested in fashion. Fashion designers have their trademark names. You know, there are watches and there are watches. There are perfumes and there are perfumes. There are shoes and there are shoes. There are sun glasses and there are sun glasses. There are suits an there are suits. The most important thing for the trained eye is the original maker’s trademark.
In the same way, it is not the size or the look of the cross that matters. It is the assurance that it is a gift from God. How many of us would sell a precious family treasure given to us by our parents, such as a ring or a watch without pausing to think of the implications for the family legacy?Our faithfulness to the cross is a measure of our belief in the supremacy of the will of God who has assured us that even if the world sees our cross as being heavy, with Him, it is light and if we trust in Him, He will give us to strength to carry it to the end (Mt. 11:28). His living water is free and we can drink it without payment and never be thirsty again(Is. 55: 1, Jn. 4:14). Along with your cross, stand by God because; If you do not stand in faith, you will not stand at all (Is. 7: 9). Recall that God has no favourites (Acts 10:34, Rom. 2:11). Therefore, I encourage you to hold your cross as a precious gift from God. You will need it at the heavenly stock exchange. Remember George Bennard’s priceless song in 1912:
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross
The emblem of suffering and shame
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain
So, I'll cherish the old rugged cross
Till my trophies at last I lay down
And I will cling to the old rugged cross
And exchange it some day for a crown