Today’s feast dismantled my resolve to not blog until January 1st. At least for a day.
How could I resist the infinite force of the Exaltatio, the “exaltation” of the precious and life-giving Cross? Even the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time could not resist this Feast, so who am I to remain silent?
Yet, I have little coherent to say. Only some splattering of paint that flew from my prayer this morning.
Ave crux, spes unica, “Hail the Cross, our only hope.”
A Sudanese refugee, pointing to the crucifix carried by a Catholic missionary priest, once said: “Now there, there is a God I can worship. He walks with me.”
The Cross bears within its frame the truth that an all-pure God, in His love for humanity, risked contamination with the filth of sin and death.
A man I know who’s long worked in and for the Church, and has seen within her the best and worst of humanity, responded once to a rookie church employee who was kvetching about the warts and stains of various church leaders: “Yah, it’s a mess. But so was Calvary. God, uncomplaining, puts Himself in the middle of messes and so do we if we’re His servants.”
The Cross is the farthest exodus of God from eternal bliss, God’s ek-stasis, His “coming out of himself” to face His enemy (Rom. 5:10) with unimaginably tender mercy, to save that which was lost. Like the Samaritan who tended to the fallen stranger — who could well have been a decoy-victim luring do-gooders into an ambush on the exceedingly dangerous road to Jericho — God-in-Jesus stooped down from the supernal Heights with great compassion and tended to our mortal wounds. And we savaged Him, violently stripping Him of all His glory. Though, O Terrible Paradox, even that awful stripping proved to reveal God ever more glorious still! Naked, dying, mocked, rejected, hated, cajoled, struck-down, God’s most glorious attribute — mercy — ascended to the highest of heights and filled the universe with its all-surpassing brightness.
The God of the Cross is not risk-averse in His love for humanity, not self-protective.
And so the Church bears within, impressed upon by the fiery waters of Baptism and the crimson hues of Chrism oil, this divine drive to risk all for the sake of the well-being of the Other – for the God-Neighbor. To be outward, downward, turned toward the broken, wretched, irritating man or woman nearby is to face Godward. Dorothy Day: “We love God only as much as we love the person we like least.” Pope Francis: “We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a church becomes like this, it grows sick. It is true that going out on to the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But if the church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded church that goes out on to the streets and a sick, withdrawn church, I would definitely choose the first one.”
The Cross, God-made-serpent, God-expended, God-emptied, God-made-sin (2 Cor. 5:21), God-so-loving-us that our imaginations cannot bear its weight, save in this Symbol and Sign, this horrid Tree on which Love bled and Life died.
Qui propter nos hómines et propter nostram salútem descéndit de cælis, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.” God from God come down to lift up the fallen children.
Man fell, God falls. The Cross opens for us a revelation about God that no mind could have conceived of, and which rightly leads us to stupefied, if adoring, silence.
“God’s passionate love for his people—for humanity—is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice.” – Benedict XVI
I once shared this Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote with you on Good Friday, but it’s worth repeating:
“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared.”
At today’s Mass, remember that the Food and Drink you ingest into your embodied souls was gained and given at unspeakable cost to God. Eat and drink with reverence, awe, holy fear and a full awareness of the real danger that comes with consuming it. Repent of all in you that refuses conformity to the prodigal extravagance of divine love; repent before you dare receive into your very depths Heaven’s Hound.
“You are the body of Christ. In you and through you the work of the incarnation must go forward. You are to be taken; you are to be blessed, broken, and given; that you may be the means of grace and the vehicles of the Eternal love. Behold what you are. Become what you receive.” – St. Augustine
The Sermon on the Plain in St. Luke’s Gospel is a presage of the Cross, a prelude, a preface, an exegesis, a prism that rendered the Cross’ invisible light into a visible spectrum of colors with which Christians paint the world beautiful.
But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. — Luke 6:27-35
Okay, back to silence. Blessings on you all.