Once upon a time, the teacher helped one of her kindergarten students put on his boots. He asked for help and she could see why. With her pulling and him pushing, the boots still didn’t want to go on. When the second boot was on, she had worked up a sweat. She almost whimpered when the little boy said, “Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet.” She looked and sure enough, they were. It wasn’t any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on. She managed to keep her cool as together they worked to get the boots back on, this time on the right feet. He then announced, “These aren’t my boots.” She bit her tongue rather than get right in his face and scream, ”Why didn’t you say so?” like she wanted to. Once again she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off. He then said, “They’re my brother’s boots. My Mom made me wear them.” She didn’t know if she should laugh or cry. She mustered up the grace and courage she had left to wrestle the boots on his feet again. She said, “Now, where are your mittens?” He said, “I stuffed them in the toes of my boots…”
Brothers and sisters- this little story is a parable of the Christian life.
The teacher is Christ. Patient and kind, Christ is the quintessential teacher. We are the kindergarten kid who appears helpless and cranky. And the boots, what do they stand for in our lives? They stand for the cross.
Jesus says, “If you want to accompany me; if you want to walk side by side with me, lose your self-interests. Then bend down and pick up your cross.”
Tomorrow we will celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. In my homily I talk about the two types of crosses. We carry the cross with a lower case letter “c.” This is older age, our infirmities. It is a physical challenge. It is the death of a spouse, a parent, a family member and a friend. It is an addiction or a chronic physical condition. It is a disease that ravages a body. My main task as a Christian is to carry this cross well. And, I must be very careful not to add a cross to this already huge load by way of my anger, my crabbiness or my disgusting disposition. Christ is patient with us. We must be patient with one another. Christ is kind to us. We must be kind to one another. Christ stops to help us. We must stop and help one another.
We also carry the cross with an upper case letter “C.” This is living the Gospel by living holy lives: feeding the poor; housing the homeless; counseling the bereaved; saving the orphan. This cross speaks Truth to power, whether that power is the Church or the Government, God’s justice must win. It chooses right over wrong. Even when the whole assembly jumps off the bridge, I follow my conscience even to the point of abandonment or martyrdom.
Carrying the Cross depends on how we understand Christ. In Jesus’ time some thought that he was just like John the Baptist- a far out preacher. Some thought him to be Elijah- a wonder worker. Other said that he is a prophet- one who speaks for God and tells oracles. Peter got it his title right but misunderstands the mission. If he is the Christ, then the Cross comes with him.
The Eucharist can transform us from a kindergarten kid to a Christian adult. We can learn how to slip on those difficult boots! Just pull out those mittens! ~ Fr. Becket Franks, O.S.B.