Summary: What the world considers winners are often losers: how to become a winner like Jesus Christ.

Solemnity of the Holy Cross

2008 (Sept 14)

There’s two kinds of people in life: winners and losers. Winners achieve their objective; losers don’t.

Bernard Ebbers, head of WorldCom, was known as one of the most religious CEO’s in the high-tech sector of American business. Every board meeting began with a prayer. Ebbers served as a deacon in his Mississippi Baptist church, and led a bible study very competently. He was elected to the Mississippi Business Hall of Fame. He engineered the takeover of MCI Communications and was widely admired for his business acumen. At his peak, he was listed at #174 on the Forbes 400. But, according to David Callahan, he also presided over the largest fraud in U.S. history, one that hurt investment funds and retirees across the country–$11 billion in accounting lies. When he was uncovered, he told his congregation More than anything else, I hope this doesn’t jeopardize my witness for Jesus Christ. Ebbers now resides at Oakdale (La.) Federal Correctional Institution, and, at age 66, can look forward to release only in July, 2028. Everything but his house and $50,000 of assets were sold to pay back some of the millions his fraud cost investors, and his wife got all that in the divorce. Winner, or loser?

John Rigas served in an armored infantry division in WW II. He worked his way up from being an employee in a Sylvania plant to own a movie theatre which he parlayed over time into the Adelphia cable system, which also employed his sons. He was a religious man. He was the backbone of his small town, loved for his benevolence toward others. But Rigas was convicted in 2004 along with his son Tim of systematically looting his company of $3.1 billion in unrecorded loans to support his hockey team, build a golf course and finance a movie. In 2005 he was sentenced to 15 years in prison, which was later reduced on appeal so that he will be able to get out at age 92. Winner, or loser?

If there were a reality show called “The Biggest Loser,” and I know there is, but it had nothing to do with weight, the all-time champion of losers would be Jesus Christ. That’s how He ended His human life–the death of a slave, broke, beaten, crowned with thorns. Even when He was dead His executioners had to be sure, had to visit one last cruelty on His body–piercing His heart with a spear. Yet He was more than a slave, more than a Jewish rabbi, more even than a great man unjustly accused. He was God, the very second person of the Trinity. Yes, God so loved the world that the Father gave His only-begotten son. And, you know, you can’t keep God in the ground. So the greatest loser became the greatest winner–the first one to rise triumphant from the grave to a new, divinized life. God exalted Him. He didn’t just enjoy His divine name and honor–He earned them.

Thus St. John and St. Paul both tell us that the cross of Christ was not so much a torture stake, a weapon of execution, as it was and is a throne of glory. Jesus went out into the Garden of Olives fully aware of what would happen to Him. He was not dragged kicking and scratching to the cross, as we are to our crosses, He went willingly, because He was aware of the ultimate result–glory for everyone who would attach themselves to Him. When Jesus Christ was lifted up, He became a supernatural magnet drawing all people to Himself. People who had been scattered, driven from each other by their anger and jealousy and greed and lust were attracted, and continue to be attracted, by the figure on the cross, this God-man who died of love, who died for love, who died forgiving his executioners.

Let’s go just a few years forward from Calvary. Another man in the prime of his youth, arrested for heresy by the Jews, a witness to Jesus, Stephen, the first deacon, was dragged out of the gates of Jerusalem and stoned, even as he forgave his murderers. The persecution that ensued just made more Christians. The blood of the martyrs is the seedbed of the Church. Winners, or losers? In the eyes of their killers, Stephen and Lawrence and Cecilia and Lucia were the biggest losers. But they see the face of their Lord eternally, and that makes them winners.

So how do we become winners? By responding to our baptismal call and getting on the road to heaven. How do we avoid becoming losers? By avoiding sin and the near occasions of sin. You know what attracts you most to evil. I know what leads me to sin. Perhaps you spend hours in front of the TV or Internet or video game monitor instead of reading your spiritual books and Bible, or doing your homework. Or maybe you frequent the so-called gentleman’s clubs where the only men are those who are not gentle. Maybe you indulge in pornography. Maybe you cheat on your taxes, or your spouse, or you embezzle money or steal pens and notepaper from your employer. Perhaps you give money to Planned Parenthood so the “wrong people” don’t get born. All these are the actions of losers–of people who are destined to spend all eternity regretting their life choices, and missing the face of the Lord. Stop telling yourself you’ll convert on your deathbed; stop receiving communion unworthily. Find a priest–get to confession before it is too late. You have only one shot at life–don’t blow it by spending it indulging your whims and passions.

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