August 22, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Christ nailed to the Cross invites us to open our hearts, trust in the Father

(Eleventh in a series)

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?”

The Eleventh Station takes place on Calvary. St. Augustine once said, “The Cross was not only the instrument of Christ’s suffering, but also the pulpit of his teachings.”

Jesus had only a few words to say on the Cross, but the message he proclaimed fulfilled everything he had said and done before.

Paralyzed by the nails of the Cross, he could not preach and heal as he had before. Yet in so many words, his crucifixion told us, “Trust my Father, Give everything to him. He will destroy the power of death in you.”

The late Cardinal John Wright reflected on the Crucifixion in a book titled Words in Pain (Ignatius Press, 1986).

“If the universal hatred of the world found its formula in the cry, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him!’ the compassion of Christ found a formula scarcely less brief, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do!’

“Jesus kept repeating this, tradition tells us, all through the dreadful time needed to strip Him, to stretch Him on the Cross, to nail Him there and to lift His bleeding body high. It was a prayer primarily for those who were actually engaged in the murderous work of His execution. … But we, too, were present in that prayer, for we, too, were involved in the repudiation; indeed we involve ourselves further whenever we prefer sin to Christ.

“That is the tragic fact which explains why, as each Good Friday we climb in spirit Calvary’s hill, we have the strange sense of having been there before, of having played some part in the iniquities which have given Calvary its terrible power permanently to haunt the memory of man” (p. 54-55).

We were included in Christ’s prayer for forgiveness. Preachers of the Passion of Christ through the ages have reflected on the silent power of Christ on the Cross. It was the climax of his priesthood. Nailed to the Cross, he could not walk among his beloved followers, he could not perform miracles, he could not really preach and teach.

Abandoned, he suffered in silence. Yet this is the way that he saved us. Christ’s message was one of humble surrender to the will of the Father. His was a silent but eloquent trust in the Father.

Trust does not always come easily for us sinners. The Apostle Peter is an example that might be familiar to our experience.

Despite his best intentions, he denied that he even knew his Lord. In doing so, Peter denied the deepest meaning of his life—for he had answered the call to be an Apostle, to be one who is to proclaim that Jesus is the Son of the Living God. Peter’s honor and his vocation came tumbling down in an hour when Jesus needed him most.

After Peter’s denial and after the cock crowed, St. Luke says Jesus turned and looked at Peter. Never had he seen on the Savior’s face the expression he saw there at that moment, his eyes marked with sadness but without severity. A look of reproach, without doubt, but which at the same time seemed to repeat to him, “Simon, I have prayed for you.”

This look only rested on him for an instant; Jesus is violently dragged away by the soldiers, but Peter saw him all the time. … And he went out and wept bitterly.

St. Augustine says Peter’s going out was to acknowledge his fault. He was able to weep bitterly because he knew how to love; the bitterness of sorrow in him quickly gave way to the sweetness of love (cf., G. Chevrot, quoted In Conversation with God, Vol. II, pp. 255-256). We can see ourselves in the experience of Peter, who experienced the sorrow of love.

A favorite poem by Elizabeth Cheney reflects the human meaning of Christ on the Cross:

Whenever there is silence around me
By day or by night
I am startled by a cry.
It came down from the Cross.
The first time I heard it
I went out and searched—
And found a man in the throes of Crucifixion.
And I said: ‘I will take you down,’
And I tried to take the nails out of
His feet,
But He said: ‘Let them be
For I cannot be taken down
Until every man, every woman, and Every Child
Come together to take me down.’
And I said: ‘But I cannot bear your cry.
What can I do?’
And He said: ‘Go about the world—
Tell everyone that you meet
There is a Man on the Cross.’

Christ nailed to the Cross invites us to open our hearts in the sorrow of love and to allow ourselves, with Him, to trust in the Father. †

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