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Feb 5, 2016 Written by  Fr. Paulino Twesigye Mondo

The Cross is the location where sin and salvation meet

A few days ago, good size Cross has been unveiled at Mbuya in the compound of Our Lady of Africa Parish Church which is one of the places frequented by a good number of Catholics in and around Kampala. This Cross which stands at 35 feet above the ground and 15 feet under the soil; with a well sculptured image of the Crucified Jesus that weighs approximately two tones, has been built to commemorate two important events in the life of Mbuya Parish in particular and Uganda in general. The first baptism in Mbuya took place on 11th July 1964 which should be counting fifty year by now. The second reason is to honor our Holy Martyrs of Uganda who were canonized on 18th October 1964. The Golden Jubilee of these two invents was the drive behind this common but meaningful visible sign in a form of the Cross. The Cross and Jesus are inseparable.

Some commentators and learned writers have tried to put their minds and expression in this sign of here in Uganda but just a handful may be having a comment that measures the level of Christian art and Catholic symbols. It is for this reason that I have opted to put a thesis foreword so that it can be assistance of any person who still has courage to think by combining faith and reason at the sometime. The Catholic symbols and other dynamics followed for the sake of faith, praise and worship are not easily to comprehend unless one has undergone a thorough catechism. Things pertaining to the Cross, the Holy Rosary, Mother Mary, Sacraments, Celebration of the Holy Mass, pilgrimages, devotions, prayers through Saints need a stable personality for them to leave an indelible mark in one’s life. A ceremony such as having ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday may even throw off balance the most learned and the clever. The reason behind kneeling while at prayers and reciting the Holy Rosary may just increase curiosity to any one who thinks shallow. The same will apply to the reasons behind why some Catholics decide to offer their entire life serving God as celibates and even others opt to die as Martyrs in defence of the Christian faith when they could have avoided it and save their skin for a while. Allow to begin with an ample explanation of the Cross but I hope somebody will get me space in the secular media so that I can share what many Ugandans would appreciate to learn but they may not be given the opportunity and the right explanation. The Catholic faith and its respected symbols, rites, rituals and ceremonies date back almost two thousand years. Many deliberations have been held by learned men and women to add value to what came in as a simple happening. Faith is built on history and history to so and sustain its momentum for two thousand years; it must be based on only what is factual, true and reasonable. The Cross has been one of those symbols that have accompanied humanity through various stages of human history and civilization. Some respected Countries like Switzerland have the Cross on their national Flag. The Society of the Red Cross that is doing a lot of good in human history endorses the Cross as its symbol. There are millions of buildings worldwide with the Cross adorning their highest point. The Cross is a visible symbol of evangelization.

Strange as it may seem, the Cross, which was the Roman instrument for executing its basest criminals, is the foremost identifying symbol of Christianity. In its crossbars, the cross holds in tension both the humiliation of the manner of Jesus’ death and the triumph over sin which Jesus’ dying accomplished. Because of this tension and the seemingly irreconcilable contradiction that a crucified man could also be God, the earliest generations of Christians generally avoided depicting the body of Christ on the Cross. Ironically, the oldest representation of the crucified Christ has been identified as a graffito found on a wall in Rome in the second century after Christ. In a seemingly blasphemous caricature, a pagan artist carved an outline of a man with a donkey’s head hanging on a cross. Another figure is paying homage and the caption reads, ‘Alexamenos worships his God.’ Because of the humiliation associated with crucifixion, even among some Christians and due in part to the intensity of the Christological controversies which occasioned the Councils of Ephesus in  431 AD and Chalcedon 451 AD, the symbol of the Cross was rarely seen in public until the 4th AD. It is also true that during the age of persecution, Christians were fearful of being identified by their oppressors because of this symbol and of its profanation at the hands of nonbelievers. In private, however, the Cross and even the Crucifix were cherished and accepted articles of devotion. When peace came to the Church, during the reign of Emperor Constantine between 306 and 337 AD, Crosses were no longer hidden. Constantine the Christian Emperor, who made Christianity a licit religion, claimed to have had a vision of the Cross; he subsequently had it inscribed on the shields of his soldiers and abolished crucifixion as a means of execution. Soon, the Cross was featured prominently in all public places.

Beginning with the fifth century and continuing through the Middle Ages, the fear associated with the Cross degenerated. In an effort to portray the glory and victory which resulted from Jesus’ death, Crosses were made of precious metals from gold, silver and were heavily studded with jewels. To underscore its salvific character, the Cross was represented as the tree of life as it is reflected in Genesis 1:9, entwined with vine-like branches bearing leaves and fruit. There is a mosaic in the apse of the Basilica of St. Clement in Rome which dates 1125 AD featuring the Cross as a living tree extending its tendrils in all directions to all people. In the early Middle Ages, huge geometrical crosses were carved out of stone, some as high as 20 feet. Crosses were Jesus’ suffering body realistically represented. Images of the crucified Christ replaced the jewels and believers were confronted with a dual message regarding: 1) the travesty of human sin; and 2) the profundity of God’s love, even for sinners. It is by meditating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ that we can come to terms  with the truth that it was on the cross that Jesus attained the high point of his mission. On the Cross, Jesus’ statement that he ‘must suffer’ was realized cf. Luke 24:26. This is the remarkable and incomprehensible ‘dei’ or ‘must’ aspect of the divine plan by means of which the seemingly insoluble connection between God’s sovereign direction and human freedom, between God’s love and human guilt, is proclaimed to all. In its own way, the Cross also announces that contingent human history has taken on a certain quality of absoluteness. That Jesus died on the cross was a ‘must’; it had to be and because of that, everything else, his life and work, all of his words and even the totality of human history can only be properly interpreted from that starting point.

Here at Mbuya as we unveil and bless this Holy Cross, we need to ponder one of the deepest mysteries of our faith: the necessity of the Cross. Jesus, in order to reveal his Father’s love and redeem the human race, allowed himself to die the most shameful death possible in his society, death on a cross. What are we to learn from this mystery? Every human being has to struggle with the mystery of suffering. Through our meditation on the cross we see clearly that Jesus’ suffering was not without purpose and did not end in death. Jesus’ suffering resulted in our redemption and in eternal life. By meditating on the cross we not only grow in our understanding of God’s profound love for each one of us, but we find purpose and hope in our own suffering as well. Today’s historical day in our Parish is fraught with an irony that cannot be ignored. We celebrate, we exalt an instrument of execution and a manner of death the Romans regarded as the most torturous. For that reason, they reserved crucifixion for the worst of criminals. With no disrespect intended; had Jesus been put to death by hanging, would a noose be the object of our reverence today? Or an electric chair? A guillotine? A lethal injection? Nevertheless, and despite its obvious cruelty and infamy, the Cross has become a central symbol of our faith, for it no longer represents merely a heinous act. On the contrary, because of love, the Cross is the sign of our salvation and the cause of our joy. We who have been saved by that cross continue to proclaim Jesus Christ is Lord!

Besides its value as the sign of our salvation, the cross is also a vivid symbol of the evil that is in each of us. The ignored truth is that each of us has an ordinary personality which we wear in public; however, underneath that public personality is a bunker in which we hide the refuse and rubbish which we would rather not see ourselves or let others see. Below that, there is an even deeper hold, a truly hellish place, full of dragons, demons, violence, hatred and viciousness. Through the power of the cross, this basest level of our being has thrust itself up and out of the underground cellar so that we humans may see what is in all of us and take heed. The Cross is crucial because it shows what possibilities for evil lie hidden in each of us. It is the distillation of human evil in our time and place. Whenever we look upon the Cross, we see not only what the love of God for sinners can do, but also what humankind can do, has done and still does to human beings.

Scratch the surface of a person, and below you will find a beast or worse than a beast. This reality is attested to by the Cross. While we may not want to believe this, history also attests to the reality of human depravity through the ages. Remember the Nazi concentration camps where Six million Jews were systematically tortured, starved and eventually gassed to death by other human beings. Think of the Mongol hordes who murdered hundreds of thousands in their sweep across Asia. Recall the untold numbers of wars within nations, ironically called civil wars. Remember Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Waco, Columbine, Iran and, more recently, Iraq. Remember the millions that have been killed in Uganda because of political mismanagement of our various self styled leaders and the genocide in Rwanda. Do you remember the dreadful acts of apartheid in South Africa? Do you remember slave trade and its consequences?  All of these and so many other atrocities come together and stare out at us from the Cross.

As we stare back, let us not be lost in the evil, but let us not forget it, either. While we strive to keep evil in check, in our hearts, in our Country Uganda and in our world, let us also never forget the love that led a good man and a beloved Son to give his life so that evil could be overcome. Perhaps that love, that great illogical, altruistic and merciful love, is best illustrated we can attribute to the humble symbol of the Cross now visibly standing at Our Lady Africa Parish Church Mbuya.

Hope you have the patience to share this small story that I want to narrate to you. While meditating under a big tree on the bank of a river, an old man saw a scorpion floating helplessly on the river. Quickly the man stretched himself out on one of the tree’s long roots and reached out to try to rescue the drowning creature. As soon as he touched it, the scorpion stung him; instinctively the man pulled away. But as soon as he regained his balance he stretched out again to save the scorpion. Again he was stung for his efforts, so badly that his hand swelled up most painfully. A passerby who had seen all that had happened called out, ‘only a fool would risk his life for the sake of such a creature’. Calmly the man replied, ‘my friend, just because it is in the scorpion’s nature to sting, that does not change my nature to save’. For me the symbol of the cross speaks a similar lesson. To the passerby who sees Jesus stretched out on its beams in order to save sinful humankind and who shouts, ‘only a madman would risk his life for the sake of such creatures’, one can almost hear Jesus answer: “my friend, just because it is humankind’s nature to sin and wound, that does not change my nature to save.” And so it was that sin and salvation met on the cross that long ago day in Jerusalem. Salvation stretched out his arms to save those who had given themselves over to sin, and by that act of selfless love and though that sacrificial death, we are healed; we are saved. Scorpion-sinners all, we are set free from ourselves and our sin. Sign of our nature yes, such is the Cross. But it is also the sign of God’s nature and therein lays the cause of our exultation.

The Cross is the ultimate demonstration of the nature of God. The reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians describes the kenosis, the emptying of Christ. He gave of himself even to death on the Cross. This is characteristic not only of the man Jesus but of the God head. Creation is the first example of divine emptying; redemption is the ultimate example. Unlike Good Friday when we stand before the stark Cross and mourn the death of our innocent Messiah, today we stand before the glorious Cross and praise God for God’s incomprehensible goodness toward us. God’s graciousness is poured out indiscriminately, prodigally, as only profound love can be given. Such is the nature of our God and the Cross is the symbol of this nature.

With the symbolism of the pole on which the bronze serpent hung in the time of Moses in the wilderness, it was merely a pole. Jesus compares it to the Cross that becomes the source of our healing. As painful as life’s crosses may be, they serve to transform us. They strip away what is superficial and they give us insight into the true meaning of life. They are the testing ground of virtue, the fire within which we are refined. The Cross may at times be bitter medicine, but it can combat the human weakness that eats away our goodness. It can be our hope in the midst of pain and suffering and brokenness, because it promises to carry us into new life. It was through the Cross that Jesus conquered sin and death and won for us access to God. It is through the cross that we die to sin and rise to new life in Christ. Through the goodness of God, which has been poured out for us, we have been granted eternal life. It is incomprehensible to think that death is the way to life, but that is the message of this Cross that we can visibly see at Mbuya. The cross which is a sign of shame and misery for those slow to reflect is now a symbol of glory and exaltation for the majority who have already found the way that leads to happiness.

Today, as we read this reflection on the Cross we are encouraged to continue to looking upon the Holy Cross of Jesus and to believe that in the Cross and all that it has reveals to us the fullness of God’s love. Since we have been privileged to participate in the whole dynamic of salvation, meaning, in the downward thrust as well as the upward splendor, we are thereby responsible for those whose lives continue to be mired in sin and burdened by suffering. By our loving care, support and compassionate service, we can extend to those in need an experience of what it means to be lifted up in joy and in glory. Through the witness of our lived faith, we can invite others to look upon the Cross as the sign of salvation, to believe and by virtue of that faith, to know and gain eternal life.

In keeping with, and as an expression of this fundamental principle of Christian faith, each one of us is invited to embrace the Cross and to be signed with it. From the newborn to the dying, the young and the old, the sick and the sound, the good and the evil are blessed by this sign. Baptized into Christ and the community under the sign of the Cross, we believers are called to live our lives as witnesses to its message of salvation. When the good news is proclaimed in our assembly, we who hear it should indicate our receptivity to it by signing ourselves with the Cross; on the forehead that its power may illuminate our minds, on our lips that we might proclaim its truth, on our heart that we might better understand and realize its challenges. Here is history that is being rolled out for you. In case you are courageous enough to be part of it, feel welcome to reflect on your life and the levels of God’s love in it.


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Sunday Masses

Luganda: 7:30 am.  English: 9:00 am, 11:00 am and 5;00 pm.

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About Our Church

Welcome to Our Lady of Africa Parish Mbuya. We are located near Bugolobi Township in Nakawa Division. It is about 5 kms from the City Centre of Kampala. Mbuya Catholic Parish is a vibrant and diverse community made up of people from different parts of Uganda. We welcome you warmly and joyfully.

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