August 29, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Because of the ‘man on the Cross,’ we should be bearers of hope

(Twelfth in a series)

Were you there when he bowed his head and died?”

The Twelfth Station on Calvary marks the death of Christ. We are reminded of St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “And [Jesus] being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a Cross” (Phil 2:8).

In his Way of the Cross (Scepter Press, London, 2004), St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer reflected: “By now they have fastened Jesus to the wooden Cross. The executioners have ruthlessly carried out the sentence. Our Lord, with infinite meekness, has let them have their way.

“It was not necessary for him to undergo so much torment. He could have avoided those trials, those humiliations, that ill-usage, that iniquitous judgment, and the shame of the gallows, and the nails and the lance. … But he wanted to suffer all this for you and for me. And we, are we not going to respond?” (p. 95).

St. Escrivá continued: “A cross. A body fastened with nails to the wood. His side pierced. … Only his Mother, a few women and a young man remain with Jesus. The Apostles? Where are they? And the people who were healed of their infirmities: the lame, the blind, the lepers; … And those who had acclaimed him? Not a single one acknowledges him! Christ is surrounded by silence” (Ibid., pp.105-106).

It is important to meditate on this scene of Christ on the Cross. On Calvary, we are called to consider whether we pay attention—and are faithful in our attentiveness—to the needs of the infirm, the disabled, and those other sisters and brothers who are “surrounded by silence,” especially those close to home.

My friend, Bishop Peter Sartain, told me of an extraordinary lithograph he found in Assisi. Jacques Tissot, a French artist of the 19th century, produced a collection of lithographs titled “What Our Savior Saw from the Cross.”

One of the lithographs depicts a downward view of a crowd from the Cross. We are looking through the eyes of Jesus. The artist has us staring directly into the eyes of Mary, the other grieving women, and John, the beloved young disciple.

And the scene is filled with a motley assembly of characters: a Roman soldier standing defiantly at guard; shepherds squatting with staffs in hand; three men (the three kings?) on luxuriously saddled horses; there are official-looking elders off-handedly observing from the rear; there are simple people, men and women, caught up in the somber events; casual passersby are gawking out of curiosity. Jesus views them from the Cross.

One of the most captivating features of the drawing is that its focal point is outside its borders; in fact, one quickly gets the feeling that every character is looking at you, the viewer. Is Jesus the focal point: Or is it I?

Jesus is the focal point. But with brilliant subtlety, the artist makes us, the viewers, the focal point as well because the crowd seems to be staring at us. What emerges is a kind of identification of us, the viewers, with Jesus: He gazes from the Cross at those for whom he gave his life, and we see them through his eyes. At the same time—because we naturally picture ourselves in the crowd—it dawns on us that we are looking at ourselves through the eyes of Jesus.

Is it not true that the very meaning of our lives is caught up with a view from the Cross, with “the man on the Cross?” We can’t help but be moved to a sorrow of love.

St. Escrivá, reflecting further on the Crucifixion, said: “You too some day may feel the loneliness of Our Lord on the Cross. If so, seek the support of him who died and rose again. Find yourself a shelter in the wounds in his hands, in his feet, in his side. And your willingness to start again will revive, and you will take up your journey again with greater determination and effectiveness” (Ibid., p. 106).

In another place, St. Escrivá remarked: “How beautiful are those crosses on the summits of high mountains, and crowning great monuments, and on the pinnacles of cathedrals…! But the Cross must also be inserted in the very heart of the world.

“Jesus wants to be raised on high, there in the noise of the factories and workshops, in the silence of libraries, in the loud clamor of the streets, in the stillness of the fields, in the intimacy of the family, in crowded gatherings, in stadiums …” (Ibid., p. 96).

Because of our call to Christian holiness, we should bear witness to the awesome love of Jesus on the Cross wherever we find ourselves. Because of “the man on the Cross,” we can and should be bearers of hope. †

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