Have you ever given thought to what the Gospel is without The Crucifixion? What if God had sent someone other than his Son to preach the 'Sermon on the Mount'; another to heal the sick; a third to feed the hungry…but no one to take up the cross? One prophet after another arrives, teaching wisdom and knowledge; speaking about kindness and compassion; calling for change and repentance. Yet the Cross remains empty and forsaken.
On Passion Sunday I attended a Church concert of The Seven Last Words of Christ by Theodore DuBois. As we sat in our pews with our backs to the choir we faced a slightly larger than life sized Crucifix which is suspended by chains from the ceiling and is perhaps four or five feet away from the wall. Now the Crucifix hangs in darkness except for one light which shines on if from the ceiling, casting an even larger shadow of Christ's body upon the wall.
As I listen to Christ's words from the cross in concert, I am taken by the spectacle of a body nailed to a cross. It's more than a 'putting to death' of an enemy. It's far more than what we think of as capital punishment…even more ghastly than a lynching or a beheading. I fear I will never fathom the enormity of God's love in willingly and purposefully taking on the suffering involved in His Passion.
Considering the readings of Passion Sunday, we see how the world seems to be secreting gall and bile in an effort to rid itself of the one who is Truth and Love. It is rejecting its own Savior; an incomprehensible and absurd drama that must be accomplished. What's even more transfixing is the realization that Jesus can prevent this, but doesn't. No attempt at escape; no money to bribe; no political or military solution; no legions of angels to force the will of his opponents…none of this will He have.
The world which insists on achieving its own salvation wants to eliminate Him; but can't do it. Our own evil has recoiled upon us, not with punishment, but with His love. In nailing Jesus to the cross we have unwittingly fallen under his Father's Will: a Will in which our Savior holds on to our sin and transforms it with his all powerful love and forgiveness. From the altar of the Cross he has reconciled our sinful state. Nailed to his pulpit he has taught us how we must deal with sin and evil. But will we listen?
Our Redemption is now complete and the forces of darkness were not able to forestall the Redeemer. But they deviously apply the never ending temptation of trying to turn us from 'the gospel of Love and the Cross' and have us become intoxicated with a gospel variation of self redemption and the sweet life.
Must I endure the fear and pain of suffering in this world, all of which is caused by sin and evil, and be limited to a response of love and pardon? Can't I trust in money and wealth? Why not superior weapons and strategies? Shouldn't we solve this with our own intellectual assertions and philosophies of what is good and what is not? Must I confront evil by relying solely upon the way of the Cross?
Back to my opening paragraph in which I pondered a world without the crucifixion. I can treat my life as though I were living in the time before the reality of the Cross. I can seek wisdom and all virtue; yet stop short of the scandalous Cross. I can treat Jesus as a great teacher or prophet; a Buddha or Confucius. I can limit my life to avoidance of sin with scrupulous examinations of my own behavior. I can do all these things (and more) while never desiring to take up my cross and follow Him in his Passion.
But if I forsake my crosses, I would be void of what Francis preached as Perfect Joy. I suspect that many who visit this blog misinterpret the meaning of its title and theme. Some perhaps picture a smiling and contented state of peacefulness and eternal bliss. In fact, Perfect Joy is all about The Cross.
As St. Francis explains to Brother Leo: …"Above all the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ gives to His friends is that of conquering oneself and willingly enduring sufferings, insults, humiliations, and hardships for the love of Christ. For we cannot glory in all those other marvelous gifts of God, as they are not ours but God's. As the Apostle says: 'What have you that you have not received?' But we can glory in the cross of tribulations and afflictions, because that is ours, and so the Apostle says: 'I will not glory save in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.'"