A devout Catholic woman, June, lost her husband and children in a car accident. They went out one morning, she remained, her family never came home. She was so traumatised, shocked and broken she seemed beyond reach to those who loved her and wanted to help her, yet feeling powerless to intervene. Her only social link with the outside world was the Mass. Sheer Catholic instinct enabled her to emerge, to show up in Church feeling she was in a bubble, numb and unaware of the words and the people. She would quietly leave just before Mass ended so as to meet no one. Much later, when she felt God’s healing love touching her wound, she thanked God for the Holy Mass, the only discernible Presence in her terrible state of absence. She said her tragedy had put her in a bad and empty place where nothing but the Mass could penetrate. What carried her forward? Structure. She remembered nothing of the Mass but its existence, just that it was physically there and so was she. It’s as if her life had burned to the ground and only the framework of the Mass remained for her to cling to. All else was opaque, ill-defined and unreal. Structure holds things together and gives support. It is the basic form to which other elements can be added. It determines and gives shape to what follows. The structure of the Mass enabled this broken hearted woman to begin the long process of healing. A window through which God’s grace could reach her where all else had failed. It literally carried her and ultimately entered the space of her great loss and moved her gently forward.
I was once asked why we as Christians do not have a picture of the empty tomb instead of the crucifix on our walls? Why not the event of new life rather than the instrument of death? Today I am pondering these questions in the light of the grieving wife and mother’s experience. For Christians, the cross is the vitally important structure which makes the miracle of liberation and life possible. Jesus came to save us, to die on the cross. The cross enabled Jesus to carry the burden of our sin past, present and future for we could not do it for ourselves. An unimaginable weight carried in love. The cross set us and sets us free. By His wounds we are healed. Jesus was nailed to the wooden structure that enabled Him to defeat sin and death and restore humanity. No cross, no resurrection.
Is Good Friday the end of the cross, has it played its part in the story of salvation? Yes, we are redeemed. But it’s value continues. In His ministry Jesus invited the disciples to take up the cross or they could not be effective co-workers with Him. It is that vital. He is telling them that the cross is the structure that will predispose them to effectively serve and to live in a way that authentically shows the true Jesus. How? Because it contains the elements that enable us to translate the graces God gives for the benefit of His Kingdom of love and those we minister to in His Name. The cross shows Jesus as pure love poured out with nothing held back in reserve. It is mercy as Jesus ministers to a thief asking no questions but healing his pain, regret and guilt and shame with His merciful words of reassurance that they will meet again (beyond the cross) in paradise. Who among us doesn’t need to hear this? The cross is Jesus supremely the Suffering Servant selflessly debasing Himself for us. Service is the posture that most effectively cares and shares. The cross enables the effective washing of feet.
As I have journeyed through Lent, I have been tarrying a little longer at the Tenth Station of the Cross where Jesus is stripped of His garments. How could they reduce the value of my beloved Saviour to what His cloak will fetch in the local market? The Lord of creation, though whom everything came to be and is sustained by Him, beaten until He is unrecognisable. I see the crucified Servant, doing the Father’s Will, intervening between evil and a frail humanity. The cross enables the sacrifice that is the antidote to all that is evil and cruel. Then, on Calvary and for us now. The cross is the language for us to avail of in our individual ministries. Our doctrine may be a mystery to people but not the language of the cross. Love, duty, compassion, trust and selflessness, humanity understands. The cross is the method which allows us to communicate the graces of God given to be lived and shared. This is why we venerate the cross. It is our template which we must take up in order to live the life we must live and be the conduit of love we must be. We must kneel in our own Garden of Gethsemane and say to God: “Let it be as you, not I, would have it”. The cross is the medium we must look through to see need as God wants us to see.
But the cross hurts. Our natural instinct is to recoil from it. It is no accident that the devil in the wilderness invited Jesus to go and plummet off of the Temple and he would be unhurt. The Devil was offering a life free from pain and felt he had a winner to which Jesus in His humanity would surely succumb. But this would avoid the cross, undo the opportunity of eternal happiness for humanity, so Jesus refused. How many times have we seen people with lots of issues, in pain, with demanding duties of care and great tragedies in life be given even more on an already full plate? Our Lord’s request that we each embrace the cross is demanding. Yet, Jesus on the cross is love at its most productive. He wants us at our most productive too. The way of the Cross is our way of life. The way of love and selfless sacrifice, the way of a mercy shown by the innocent party who isn’t to blame but humbly holds out the hand of reconciliation. This is the ministry of the cross that advances the Kingdom of God. It hurts. As we are told in the Beatitudes, blessed are those who mourn; these are of course the people who loved. Blessed are the gentle, as Jesus did not respond in kind to His torturers. He reminds us blessed are the merciful, the user friendly and eternally understanding people who, no matter the hurt, leave the door open. Blessed are those on the receiving end, who have so much that life and love have put their way, yet do not bemoan their fate but instead offer every tribulation up, seeing all as a labour of love and a share in the Passion of Jesus. What of the ill, those who live in limitation and pain, whose minds are broken and confused? In the eyes of the world they are weak and unfortunate. In the language of the cross they are in fact effective receivers and channels of God’s grace. They convey the power of the cross for us to ponder how God is so evident in the weak and powerless. They point beyond the worldly values of beauty and power to the enduring Kingdom of God. To true treasure. To the God Who hides himself from the clever and reveals Himself to mere children. The ‘weak’ are the efficient ministers of the Lord. As St. Paul said: “When I am weak, I am strong”. All the burdened need, as Jesus did, is a Simon to share the load. God bless all carers. A priest friend once told me in his view Jesus will have only one request for us when we stand before Him for judgement: “Show me your wounds”. An effective Christian life will have the scars of the language and the way of the cross. Such a person will have died to self for others.
For a structure to serve its function it must be maintained. The Lord gives us the graces to live the power and ministry of the cross if we ask for them. We do not want to be like the man in the Gospel who started to build but lacking the material was unable to finish. We don’t want to change our demanding duties, just the grace to cope, to continue with God’s help. The cross beam of the cross is the load bearing element. Its demands are all too familiar to us. It’s the state of the upright part of the cross that I reflect on this Good Friday. The upright needs to be strong enough for whatever the ministry of witness, love and concern will demand of us. It is strengthened by prayer. Our morning offering is vital. We need to ask Jesus Who knows what the day will demand of us to equip us with the necessary graces to succeed in all that love requires. Maybe we should make our Spiritual Communion when we rise before the busyness of the day is upon us.
There is a cross on the Altar. It is placed not facing the people but facing the priest to remind him constantly throughout the offering of the Mass that the Bread of Life and the cup of the Lord’s Precious Blood is only present through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The Church of St. Dominic’s is built in the form of a cross. I wouldn’t be surprised if Heaven isn’t cross shaped. I once saw a painting of people walking into Heaven in a wonderful way. You can see Jesus, head bowed, and people walking along His outstretched arms and shoulders one hand on the world and the other on Heaven. Jesus will continue to reign from the cross animating our loving ministries with His Holy Spirit, His loving gaze and gentle voice encouraging us as we love and care for others. I, like you, find the cross demanding. I, in my lowest moments, fear a trial that will prove to be the one too many. Yet like June who lost her family, I must believe the cross carries us more than we carry it. I am sure on the other side of the clouds we will look back and see just how effective we were as each day we picked up our duties of love and concern and walked forward with Jesus in our hearts, His arms around us with us through it all.
The cross invites us to trust God. Mary was given a premonition of how it would be for her Son Jesus when Simeon spoke of the sword, the cross piercing her heart. I remember as a child when I hurt myself how mom would kiss it better, a kiss that always worked. Mary was given to us by her dying Son for a purpose. She must have kissed the Child Jesus’s wounds better on many occasions. How she must have longed to put her lips to her wounded Son on the cross. As our Mother, Mary exercises this ministry for Her children now and until Her Son returns for us. Do not hesitate to take your issues to her intercession.
Yes, we are Easter People, but we will not put up pictures of the empty tomb. We will leave our eternal future in the loving hands of our Saviour as the seed of eternity is already planted in us at our Baptism. This life is our place of work and so we will continue to give centre stage to our crucifixes. There is much love and service for us to render before the Lord calls us and we wish to be found busy about the Master’s business when He comes. Meanwhile, we will gaze at the cross and be continually reminded of the task in hand. Our future is in God’s care, let us be reassured and just focus on the needs of the present moment. You will get tired, it is inevitable. Just turn in these moments to the Good Shepherd who lead us to still waters to revive our drooping spirits.
A mother was taunted by her disbelieving child. He said what would she do if her so-called God of love didn’t allow her into Heaven after all her prayers, pious life, sacrifices and acts of charity? The woman replied: “If that be the Lord’s Will, she would thank Him for her family, her faith, the Holy Mass, the sacraments and all the blessings she had received on Earth”. If she couldn’t be with Him, would He please leave her the precious memories of these blessings? She had served God’s Will without thought of reward; the doing of God’s love was all she sought, surely the best expression of the cross by a woman who truly understands it.
God bless, Fr. Gerard.
Stations of the Cross – Then and Now by Fr Denis McBride C.Ss.R