at the Cross
Thomas A. Droleskey
has begun. Our annual desert journey of Lent will reach its climax in
the commemoration of the events of Passiontide, the Easter Triduum of
our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. The passage out of
the desert of Lent and into the glory of the Easter season must be called
to mind at all times, especially so during the most solemn week of the
year, the week in which our salvation was wrought on the wood of the
Holy Cross by our Blessed Lord and Savior.
The price for our passage out of Lent was paid by the shedding of every
single drop of Our Lord’s Most Precious Blood. He died on the
wood of the Holy Cross so that we might have life. This central fact
of the one, true Faith is called to mind in every celebration of the
Mass, the unbloody re-presentation of Calvary. However, familiarity
does breed contempt. Even those of us who are faithful Catholics can
take the central facts of our Faith for granted. We tend to forget what
Our Lord endured to redeem us, and how much responsibility each one
of us bears for the agony He endured as He suffered in His Sacred Humanity
the very antithesis of his Divinity, sin. And we can tend to forget
that each one of us is called to bear our own crosses with joy, for
there is no way we can pass from the desert of life to an unending Easter
Sunday of glory in Paradise except through the patient endurance of
our own crosses on a daily basis.
The Passion of Our Blessed Lord
Human beings were created out of a pure act of love by Love Himself.
All God wanted of our first parents was for them to choose to love Him
in return for His having created them out of nothing. They rebelled,
choosing to serve the Prince of Darkness rather than to love the One
who had created them, setting themselves at enmity with Him and closing
the Gates of Heaven. Ever omniscient, God knew that this rebellion would
occur, but He permitted it in order to show forth the depth of His love
for us by becoming Incarnate in Our Lady's virginal and immaculate womb
to take our place on the wood of the Cross so that He could pay back
the blood-debt we owed because of our sins.
Our Lord undertook His fearful Passion out of love for us. Although
we were not there physically when the events of Passiontide took place,
our sins spoke for us. For Our Lord suffered in His Sacred Humanity
because of the sins of every human being who had lived before Him, who
lived at the same time in history as He did, and who would ever live
until the end of time. That includes each one of us. And even though
Our Lord cannot suffer any longer in His glorified Body which sits at
the Father’s right hand, our Lord meant it when He said, “Whatsoever
you do to the least of My brethren, that you do unto Me.” Our
sins continue to wound our Lord in the persons of the members of His
Mystical Body, the Church Militant here on earth.
Therefore, it is good for us to reflect upon the role that we played
by means of our sins, both during Passiontide and in the ordinary events
of our own lives today. Sin is no laughing matter. It is what caused
Our Lord to embrace the wood of the Cross, and it is why each of us
must bear our share of the hardship which the Gospel entails. If we
are honest with ourselves, a good examination of our lives will reveal
that we have played many different roles in the events of Passiontide.
Permit me an opportunity to explain.
The crowd. The fickle, fickle crowd. Those who comprised the crowd that
welcomed Our Lord on Palm Sunday were pretty much the same people who
condemned Him five days later. We were in that crowd on Palm Sunday,
welcoming the miracle worker, hoping to see Him perform some spectacular
feat. We welcomed Him without really understanding Who He was or how
radically our lives must be conformed to Him and the wood of His Cross.
Truth be told, folks, there are a lot of us today who want to find Him
in the spectacular, racing here, there and everywhere to visit the site
of some as of yet unapproved, if not condemned, apparition. Never mind
the fact that there are plenty of approved apparitions worthy of pilgrimages
(Fatima, Lourdes, Guadalupe). No, a lot of highly emotional people,
who believe very wrongly that religion is supposed to produce some kind
of continuous mystical feeling of euphoria and joy, spend all manner
of money and time racing after apparitions and consulting alleged seers.
Our Lord performed miracles to manifest the power of His Sacred Divinity.
But He did so using ordinary elements. Simple words. A touch of the
ears or of the legs or of a withered hand. The use of dirt and spittle
to restore sight to the man born blind. Bread and wine, the fruits of
the earth, to institute the Eucharist. And He has commissioned His Holy
Church to do miraculous things by the power He entrusted to bishops
and their co-workers, priests.
Yes, Our Lord is to be found in the ordinary, not in the spectacular,
not in the sensational. Ordinary words spoken by ordinary men forgive
sins. Ordinary words spoken by ordinary men over the elements of bread
and wine make Our Lord incarnate on altars of sacrifice. Ordinary words
spoken by ordinary men, who use the ordinary elements of water and oil,
give birth to souls in the baptismal font.
However, the crowd on Palm Sunday was not satisfied with what they saw.
The “miracle worker” was much too ordinary for them. In
like manner, many people are not satisfied with the Mass unless it becomes
some sort of hand-waving spectacular, full of emotion and noise. Calvary
was no spectacular. It was the most solemn, somber event in the entirety
of human history, which is what is conveyed in the very spirit of the
Traditional Latin Mass. Our Lord lived most of His life in Nazareth
doing ordinary things. We must be satisfied with seeing Our Lord in
the ordinary, not be part of contemporary crowds demanding new and “exciting”
innovations designed to improve that which inherently cannot be improved,
the unbloody re-presentation of Our Lord’s Sacrifice to the Father
in Spirit and in Truth.
We were in the crowd on Good Friday, too. It was our sins which motivated
the crowd to cry out “Give us Barabbas! Give us Barabbas!”
Barabbas was a political zealot who believed that he could free the
Jewish people from their cruel political bondage to the Romans. How
many times have we believed in the power of politics and political ideologies
to resolve our own problems? How many times have we failed to invoke
the Holy Name of our Blessed Lord and the authority of His Holy Church
in public debate and even personal discourse with our family and friends?
Beyond that, however, we are crying out “Give us Barabbas!”
every time we sin. We are demanding Our Lord’s crucifixion with
even our venial sins, no less our mortal sins. Whether it be lust or
envy or pride or gluttony or covetousness or anger or sloth—and
the many evils which flow from each of these capital sins, we are choosing
to crucify our Lord when we seek to satisfy ourselves at the expense
of the salvation of our immortal souls.
Lust and anger and envy and pride get a lot of attention, and deservedly
so. A lot of us can identify with one or more of those. But what about
gluttony? That is not usually a topic for spiritual reflection. As one
spiritual writer put it several centuries ago, “Food is the seed
of all pleasure.” It is. It is a sin to eat more than we need
to eat. It is a sin to crave food to the extent that we look forward
to eating as the highlight of our day. Yes, food is designed to be pleasurable,
and it is not a sin to take pleasure in a good meal. Not at all. But
the craving for food for the sake of pleasure alone is what leads to
repeated acts of gluttony, and gluttony can turn in quick measure to
overindulgence in drink. Do we use the legitimate pleasures of this
earth in moderation? Are our bellies our gods? We can cry out “Give
us Barabbas” by becoming attached to any created thing on earth,
including food and drink.
Gossip? Idle chatter? As I wrote in the September 1997 issue of Christ
or Chaos, reputations are destroyed daily by orthodox Catholics
engaging in idle speculation about the lives of other orthodox Catholics.
We crucify Our Lord anew in the persons of those we gossip about. And
how many orthodox, believing Catholics waste time in idle chatter, which
has become quite common with the proliferation of so many "chat
rooms" on the Internet? So many people waste day after day in idle
chatter when they could have been spending time before Our Lord in the
Blessed Sacrament. If a person honestly assesses how much time he spends
in idle chatter, he will discover that he has plenty of time to adore
Our Lord in His Real Presence.
Yes, our very lives are lived in the crowd, choosing to ignore how our
words and actions are not consonant with the divine election as adopted
sons and daughters of the Blessed Trinity by which we were favored in
the baptismal font. We should see ourselves in the crowd on Palm Sunday
and on Good Friday. We should see ourselves mocking Our Lord in the
Via Dolorosa. We should see ourselves jeering Him as He hung on the
wood of the Holy Cross. And we should see ourselves in the persons of
those who passed by the scene of the Crucifixion on Good Friday, nodding
their heads and jeering as they did so. How many times have we passed
by a Catholic church without making the Sign of the Cross or nodding
our heads? How many times have we passed by a Catholic church and not
stopped in for even a momentary visit?
Most of us will never hold political office. However, we have exhibited
Pilate’s cowardice from time to time in our lives. We have washed
our hands figuratively of any responsibility to defend Our Lord and
His Church in conversation with family and friends and coworkers. We
may have even supported candidates for office who, though nominally
pro-life, have been ashamed of the fullness of Our Lord’s truth,
to say nothing of being afraid to speak out in behalf of His social
kingship over us. We have done so thinking that some good will come
from being “realistic” and “pragmatic” in the
midst of the “real” world. But the real world is the world
of the faith.
Pontius Pilate sought the path of careerist expediency when he let the
crowd determine the fate of Truth Incarnate. He knew that Our Lord had
committed no crime deserving the death penalty. But he needed the cooperation
of the Sanhedrin against the Zealot party to which Barabbas belonged.
Pilate chose the path of least resistance, letting our sins be heard
in the exclamations of the crowd demanding Our Lord’s crucifixion.
But we have done the same, whether at home or at work or in the company
of total strangers. We have sought the path of least resistance. We
have been no better than Pontius Pilate, assuring ourselves that our
careers and our plans require just a “little” compromise
now and then. After all, we have to get ahead, right?
Simon of Cyrene
It was with reluctance that Simon of Cyrene helped Our Lord carry His
cross. He had to be forced to do so. How many times are we slow in helping
others carry their crosses? Are we slow to help our family members in
times of need? Do we do little things around the house to ease the burden
of others? Do we go out of our way to smile and be friendly to those
who serve us at the cash register in various establishments? Indeed,
do we bring a cheerful image of Our Lord to everyone we see and meet?
Are we solicitous of those we know to be ill or lonely? And if we are
lonely ourselves, do we unite ourselves with the loneliness of Our Lord
as He underwent His Passion and Death (and do we reflect on how many
tabernacles have no one in front of them in adoration)?
Sure, we are Simon of Cyrene a good deal of time. Yes, we will help
others, but frequently with great reluctance. We don’t want to
be bothered. We complain. We make demands. We ask for favors in return.
But a true disciple of Our Lord helps others without complaint, offering
up whatever inconveniences may be experienced in union with Our Lord’s
own sufferings—and in reparation for our own sins and the coldness
of our indifference and hard-heartedness.
Saint Peter and Judas Iscariot
The Rock upon which our Church is built, Simon bar Jonah, three times
denied He knew Our Lord. We have done so more than three times. Mortal
sin is of its nature a denial of Our Lord and a rebellion against Him.
Like Peter, however, we do not despair of Our Lord’s forgiveness.
We seek that forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance, never giving up
the struggle to grow in holiness despite our weakness, our selfishness,
our backsliding. We know that Our Lord stands ready to forgive us seven
times seventy times, as He told the first Pope himself, if only we turn
to Him with contrition and a sincere purpose of amendment. Unlike Judas
Iscariot, we do not hang ourselves on a tree limb for taking the silver
pieces which accrue to us as the baubles of sin. No, while we are ashamed
of our sins, both Mortal and Venial, and understand how they make us
less capable of shining forth the love of Our Lord to those around us,
we always have access to the Divine Mercy which flows from the Sacred
Heart and is available to us in the Sacred Tribunal of Penance.
St. John and Mary Magdalene
Yes, we have been on the wrong side of the Cross many times in our lives.
But we have also been on the right side of It, too. Every time we have
attended the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we have been present at the
unbloody re-presentation of Calvary, making reparation for the fact
that our sins placed us on the wrong side of the Cross nearly 2,000
years ago. In every Mass we have had the opportunity to offer a solemn
thanksgiving for being fed with the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity
of the One who stretched forth His arms on the wood of the Holy Cross
to redeem us. Just as St. John took our place at the foot of the Cross
to keep Our Lady company as her Son died to redeem us, so can we keep
company mystically with the Beloved Disciple and the Mother of God in
St. John the Evangelist stayed with Our Lord when all of the other Apostles,
the first bishops of the Church, had abandoned Him. There are times
in our lives when we have been relatively alone in our defense of the
faith. There are times when we have been misunderstood, slandered, and
persecuted. There are times when our witness to the faith has cost us
a lot in terms of friends, family relationships, career success, or
material comfort. Sure, we have been unfaithful—and it is that
infidelity which caused Our Lord to undergo His Passion and Death. But
there have been times when we have been faithful to the point of truly
living a life united to the wood of the Cross. We keep company mystically
with St. John as we do so.
St. Mary Magdalene? St. John the Evangelist was as pure as the driven
snow. St. Mary Magdalene was not. But she loved Our Lord and reformed
her life. It is possible for a horrible sinner to repent and to bear
witness to the saving truth of Our Lord’s Holy Cross. We are horrible
sinners. Some of us may have had the same temptations as Mary Magdalene.
Others have had different struggles. But we can turn to her at the foot
of the Cross to recognize that we, weak vessels of clay that we are,
belong there with her, unworthy though we are to be there.
Our Blessed Mother
The woman who gave birth to Our Lord painlessly in Bethlehem gave birth
to us in great pain as adopted children of God at the foot of the Cross.
She saw her Son die as a result of Our sins. The sword which Simeon
had foretold would pierce her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart did so
with great ferocity on Good Friday as her Son’s Body was taken
down after His death. We might meditate for a moment two, perhaps now
and then, about how our sins caused Our Lord to suffer. But do we pause
to reflect on how our sins caused Our Blessed Mother to suffer, how
they broke her Immaculate Heart?
There is a perfect communion of hearts between Our Lady and her Son,
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. His Sacred Heart was formed out of
her own Immaculate Heart. She was preserved from all stain of original
and actual sin so as to be the singular vessel of honor in which the
Word would become Flesh and dwell amongst us. Our Lord suffered the
antithesis of His Divinity, sin, and our Lady suffered with Him. She
is truly the Co-Redemptrix of the world and should be declared so by
a solemn proclamation issued by the Sovereign Pontiff.
Our Lady was given to us by Our Lord to be our mother as He was dying
on the wood of the Holy Cross. She is there with us in our own daily
walk to Calvary. She is there with us to protect us from sin and to
help us grow in holiness. We must ask her always to keep us close to
her Son’s Cross. We must ask her to help us to cooperate with
all of the sufficient graces made available to us to lift high that
same Cross in our own lives. For there is nothing we can endure which
is the equal of what just one of our venial sins did to her Son on Good
Friday. She is there to help us become co- redeemers of the world.
Waiting for the Empty Tomb
Our Lord’s Sacred Body was in the tomb for forty hours between
the time He died and the time He rose from the dead on Easter Sunday.
The Apostles hid in fright during those forty hours, not knowing what
to think or what was going to happen to them. Some of them found the
news of His Resurrection hard to believe at first. St. Thomas, my own
patron saint, wanted to place his fingers in the nail prints on Our
Lord’s hands and his hands in Our Lord’s wounded side. They
were slow to believe.
Each one of our own lives is a wait for our own empty tombs. We sleep
at night, a figure of bodily death. One day, however, our bodies will
know the sleep and the corruption of the grave. But they will rise up
on the Last Day. They are meant to rise up incorrupt and glorious to
be reunited with our souls in the General Resurrection of the dead.
Whether they rise in such a manner (or are sent to Hell for all eternity)
depends in large measure on the patience we exhibit in bearing our own
crosses. Will we persist in a state of sanctifying grace until the point
of death? Do we always look at Our Lord crucified and understand that
we are responsible for His suffering? Do we look at a Crucifix and understand
that, guilty as we are for His suffering, we are the beneficiaries of
eternal happiness if only we cooperate with the graces that flow from
The vale of tears in which we live will pass away. Whether we spend
eternity in Heaven or Hell depends, ultimately, on whether we keep the
image of Our Lord crucified uppermost in our mind's eye at all times.
There is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. There is no crown of
eternal life without bearing a crown of thorns. There is no eternal
life without dying to self for love of Our Lord as He died on the Cross
to redeem us in fulfillment of the Father's will.
May this coming Holy Week of 2005 help us to renounce sin more fully.
May this year’s Holy Week help us to appreciate Our Lord’s
love for us more completely. May this coming Holy Week help us to appreciate
the role Our Lady played in our redemption as our Co-Redemptrix. And
may this year’s Holy Week lead us into seeing everything in the
world through the eyes of the true faith, so much so that we are unafraid
to bear the instrument of our salvation, the Cross, into a world where
it is still considered to be the ultimate Sign of Contradiction.
Our Lady of
Sorrows, pray for us.
the Evangelist, pray for us.
Magdalene, pray for us.
pray for us.