In today’s world, the cross can be seen in jewelry, tattoos, and even advertisements, but does it mean more than the symbols in which it is portrayed? The cross is not simply an icon or a symbol; it is a commemoration of the sacrificial love of our Lord and a sign that all Christians are called to make manifest in their lives.
“Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
The cross is the means by which we ascend to a new, greater life because it is the definite defeat of death and the inauguration into life beyond it. The cross is the place of sacrifice where Christians meet the abundant love of Christ. As I once heard Dr. Edward Sri explain, “Jesus didn’t say, pick up the American dream of a white picket fence and a couple of nice cars parked out front and follow me! He said, ‘Come pick up your cross and follow me.”‘ But what is the cross Jesus is calling you to pick up in order to follow Him? What does your cross look like?
St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote a meditation that has come to be known as the “Meditation on the Two Standards.” It illustrates the spiritual battle we face. The reader is invited to imagine one army that is commanded by our Lord; he calls his followers to his beauty. The opposing army is commanded by the Accuser, Satan, who sits upon a terrible throne of smoke and fire. While Satan commands his followers to use nets and chains in this spiritual battle for souls, Jesus urges his disciples to offer help to all in the spirit of humility. The Light of Christ draws his followers to his throne of eternal goodness and endless beauty. Jesus is the Prince of Peace who brings fullness of life by offering his whole self to the Father in an act of sacrificial love and invites others to do the same. Satan is the prince of deceit and “father of lies” who seeks to chain men in sin, ensnare them in misery, and convince them to bitterly despise the light of our Lord.
If you pray through this meditation, your mind wanders through the images of the battlefield, the commanding officers, and the banners that distinguish the armies. You see the throne of smoke and fire contrasted with the throne of light and beauty. The banners that rally these armies to battle around their leaders reflect the identity and culture of each side. In picturing the banner of the Devil, the image darkens, shrouded by sin and death. The banner of Christ shines radiantly as it extends mercies without end. The differences between the two are blatant and clear. The banner of Christ is the cross of Christ! Through the cross “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death” (“Christ is Risen”, Matt Maher).
A banner is used in battle as a visual aide, lifted on high, signaling to soldiers their proper alignment and their next actions. An advancing banner moves troops towards the fight and presses onward amidst the battle. The banner not only forecasts actions, but also defines which units belong to which army.
Although all Christians will follow under the banner of Christ, his army is so vast that each unit will need their own banner to rally around. As a Catholic, you will be called to carry the banner of Christ, the cross, so that others may find refuge under it. Leaders know how to consistently live out their values and morals in such a way that calls others to follow their example. Good leaders can assess the environment around them in order to identify needs and fill them. Great leaders do this by leaning into their gifts and talents, utilizing them in service for others.
It is important for leaders to make their flag distinctive because without specific identifying features their banner will not be distinguishable from any other leader. When you regard a flag as a visible, easily identifiable emblem of a team, you immediately grasp its purpose to unify. As a Catholic leader, the people you are called to serve and walk with (even the ones who do not know it yet) are looking for this banner: the Cross of Christ, the source of hope, unity, freedom, peace. Your cross, your banner, may look a little different than everyone else’s, but by understanding what cross the Lord has given you, you can witness to the world that carrying it is worthwhile.
Do you see the ways which you are called, right now, to lift this distinctive banner so that others will be inspired and equipped to follow your example and pick up their cross? Are you willing to lead for Christ, so that others can find refuge under his banner? You must examine what gifts and talents you possess. Authenticity to who you are enables you to lead – uniquely and unrepeatably – under Christ’s banner. When you lean into the talents God has given you, you begin to create that banner on the battlefield that reads “Follow Me” (John 21:21). In so doing, others will follow, and thus follow Christ.
Look to Catholic leaders that use the gifts and talents that God has given them so that souls can be reached for the sake of the Gospel. Some have gifts of preaching, like Father Mike Schmitz (top #5 trending podcast “Bible in a Year”) and some have gifts of discernment of spirits, like Father Marvin Bearis, OFM Cap. Both of these priests galvanize the masses for Christ, but as leaders they draw people to themselves (and therefore the Lord) through different charisms. Each, with his own charisms, gifts, and talents, still fundamentally marches under the overarching banner of Christ: the cross. But like battalion leaders, they both carry a unique banner for unit of Christ’s Kingdom that they can reach and lead souls according to their particular gifts.
Even as the vocation and call to holiness varies between each person, the cross is the culminating aspect of each and everyone’s pursuit of Christ. Jesus, the leader of leaders, the King of Kings, used his innumerable gifts and talents not for himself, but so that others too might have life and life to the full (John 10:10). Be bold in your conviction of how God has called you to follow him and be tireless in honoring the cross in your life. Lift High the Cross! The world is waiting to find refuge under its banner.