Learning the Way of the Cross

Learning the Way of the Cross

Lord, what are you saying to me in this situation?

I was in the chapel with a class of students as we prayed the Stations of the Cross. Only a few were actually praying the words out loud. Others were loudly flipping their papers every time they needed to turn a page. Some acted like genuflecting was a gargantuan task when I know they will go work out at the gym after school. Others were barely alert, kneeling and standing only because the people around them were doing it.

Frustrated and a bit angry, I wondered what I should do about it. It wouldn’t go well to stop them all to tell them to pray louder or ask for more of them to pray. Telling them to not act like kneeling was difficult would only draw attention to it if they continued to carry on in that manner. So I tried to forget about their indifference and enter into the Stations myself.

Interestingly, the words of my spiritual director kept coming to mind. He mentioned that teaching and following the Lord might look like the Stations of the Cross. My life might have to resemble that suffering if I was to do the Lord’s will. And here I was: actually praying the Stations and feeling so done with the antics of teenagers.

Lord, what can I see in this?

As I watched them mechanically perform the proper actions, I thought about how they don’t care. Ah, Lord, sometimes I don’t care, too. I imagined myself on the couch watching a movie and the Lord inviting me to pray yet not caring enough to do so. I pondered the Lord asking me to love my neighbor yet realizing that I do not do that very well at all. The very thing I was lamenting in my students was rooted deeply within my soul, too.

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In the Waiting

The “crucify Him!” of Good Friday gives into the waiting of Holy Saturday.

I always find it difficult to speak those words.  Inwardly, I rebel.  I don’t want Him crucified, I don’t want to be one of the crowd yelling for the death of the One who loves me.  Yet what other role is there to play in the Passion narrative?  Peter denies Christ three times.  Judas betrays Christ for money.  Pilate is intrigued by Jesus yet still washes his hands of Jesus and hands Him over for death to appease the crowd.  The Pharisees rile the crowd and they yell for the death of Jesus.  In the words listed in the Passion narratives at Palm Sunday and Good Friday, there is no one to defend Jesus.  None speak on His behalf.  So I must cast my lot with the crowd and speak the words that I too often live out.

We suffer through the Passion with Jesus on Good Friday.  Not fully, of course, but we enter into it more.  We try to make it a reality, an event to experience today, not simply a fact of our faith.  At Good Friday service we reverence the cross.  I pictured myself at the foot of the cross, looking up at Christ.  At times I am clinging to the cross, kissing His feet.  Other times I am crumpled on the ground in agony.  Or I am embracing Mary, trying to understand her sorrow.  At one point I was Our Lady, cradling Jesus in my arms, my broken heart questioning why this must happen yet remaining steadfast in my hope.

He dies and is buried.  There is an emptiness I feel with all of this.  There is a strangeness in the tabernacle, open and empty.  There is a sense of deprivation.  I don’t understand what the apostles felt, but I catch a glimpse of it.

We enter then into the waiting of Holy Saturday. In a way, this is worse than Good Friday.  Good Friday involves action–we are walking with Jesus to the cross, we are watching Him be crucified, we are mourning Him and cradling Him in our arms.  But on Holy Saturday He is buried and He sleeps.  My soul is waiting for the “Alleluia” of Easter but it is not here yet.  I try to imagine the starkness of Holy Saturday for the apostles and Our Lady.  Jesus is dead and buried.  They do not understand that the Resurrection will take place.  Perhaps Holy Saturday is bleaker than Good Friday.  While yet alive, there was the hope that angels would come and rescue Him or that He would come off the cross of His own volition.  Holy Saturday is filled with memories of the Passion, reliving the moments when they betrayed the Christ, and wondering what the future holds.

Did that happen?  Did He truly die?  Is this how the story ends?  Did we follow this man for three years, see Him perform many wonders, listen with burning hearts to His words, only to see Him die the ignoble death of a criminal?  What is God’s next move?  Did evil really triumph?  Where is hope?

Easter Sunday cannot be understood yet.  It is beyond what they expect.  Living in the hours after the death of Jesus, they are wondering how life can ever be the same or even continue.  We can experience Holy Saturday in the same way, too.  Yes, we know the next step in this story: Christ rises from the dead.  Yet in our own lives, we do not know the next step.  We often experience a Good Friday and then think it ends with Holy Saturday.  It is difficult to wait.  It is difficult to be patient and to let God bring something gloriously beautiful and incomprehensible from the ruined ashes of our situation.

Between “Christ has died” and “Christ has risen” there is a tension.  Perhaps much of our life is spent in this tension of living between death and resurrection.  The waiting has a purpose though.  It is preparing us for the joy that is to come.  We simply need to have the patience to sit with Our Lord in the tomb.  He will rise–we know this truth.  In this moment, in this Holy Saturday of our lives, we need to wait in this moment of death, in this apparent loss of everything we hold dear, in this aching lack.  Christ is meeting us in this lack.  And He is preparing our hearts for the joy that He will pour into them.  The joy will be made all the more wonderful by the experience of the agony of waiting, suffering, and dying with Him.

Christ will rise.  For now, let us wait at the tomb with Him, deepening our desire for Him.  Let us wait in the tension that is bringing about our salvation.

No Greater Love Meditation

No Greater Love
My hands are clenched, uselessly grasping at the stones and dust beneath them.  My face is buried in my arms, tears streaming down, body trembling.  I do not feel the sharp rocks that I kneel on or the beating sun rays on my cloaked back.  I feel only anguish and sorrow.  The tears are all wept and I remain crouched, afraid to look up and see.  Everything seems to happen quickly but the moment drags on in agony.
            I thirst.  My heart clenches at the sound of His voice.  It is both loving and tortured.  Although dreading the sight, I slowly raise my head.  He is looking at me, peering into my eyes, reading my soul.  I feel terror at all He can see there—my sins, my shortcomings, my foolishness.  Yet His eyes remain soft and tender despite the overall appearance of pain around Him.  I glance to the ground where my hands are unconsciously reaching into the dust, sifting through pebbles.  When I return my gaze to Him, He is still studying me.
            I thirst.  My lip trembles uncontrollably and a tear courses down my cheek, over the dust of the day’s trials.  He looks as though He wanted to caress the tear away but His hands were unable to reach.  A man reaches up a sponge on a hyssop branch with wine on it.  He tastes it but turns back to me.  In His eyes I can see He was not satisfied.
            ‘What do You thirst for?’ I pondered to myself.  His eyes pierce my heart.
            ‘I thirst for you, my beloved.’  I am taken back.  His lips are dry from no water and heavy exertions, His back bleeding from whips, His hands and feet pierced by nails.
            ‘You thirst for me?’  I ask silently, willing Him to hear me.
            ‘Yes, I thirst for your love.  I desire to be loved completely by you.  Will you not give it?’ His eyes are pleading.
            ‘What can it mean to You?  I am so little.”  He looks away briefly, but returns His gaze, His eyes brimming with tears.
            ‘It means everything, little one.’  Weeping, I close my eyes.
            ‘Yes.  You have all my love.’  Opening my eyes, I see the joy in His. 
            It is finished.

            ‘Hardly, it is just beginning.’  He looks approvingly at me.  I press my face into my arms again, weeping.  When I quiet, I sit up and lovingly gaze at my Eucharistic Jesus, crucified in a monstrance for love of me.