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MARCH 20, 2005

Look at the Cross

by Thomas A. Droleskey

Holy Week 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 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?

Pontius Pilate

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 every Mass.

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 It?

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.

Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.

Saint Mary Magdalene, pray for us.

Saint Peter, pray for us.



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