Fausto Gomez OP
“Anyone who has a true devotion to the Passion of the Lord must contemplate Jesus on the cross, with the eyes of his heart, that Jesus’ flesh is his own” (St Leo the Great).
Near the celebration of Good Friday, I wish to meditate with you on the cross of our Lord, and on our cross. Fray Luis de Granada after reading the Passion of Our Lord was going to preach on it. He started: “The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. John.” And he began to cry and could not continue. Perhaps, it was – they said – his best sermon! And he preached many excellent sermons!
St John writes in his Gospel (12:27): Jesus tells us that his “hour has come”: his hour is his hour on the cross. It is the Crucified Lord who “draws all people” to himself (12:32); it is on the cross where the Son of God is glorified (cf CCC, 609).
In our hearts, we contemplate Jesus on the cross: Jesus so “gentle, humble and patient” (St Basil). So serene! And so covered with wounds and blood – so much blood shed for you, for me, for all! He talks little, just the Seven Last Words – significant, golden words: “Father forgive them…” “Today, you will be with me in Paradise; “This is your son, this is your mother”; “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? “I thirst”; “It is finished,” and “Into your hands, I commend my spirit.”
Why is the Only Begotten Son of God crucified and dies on the cross? Three reasons are usually given. First, Jesus suffers and dies on the Cross because God loves us unconditionally: “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son” – to save us and all. Christ’s love is suffering love.
Second, Jesus dies on the cross to show us the evilness of sin: Sin is darkness, night, and unhappiness: a betrayal of God’s love and of the precious blood of Christ shed for us. St Augustine tells us that when Judas betrayed Jesus, it was night. And the saint adds: “And Judas was night, because the sinner carries the night within himself.”
Furthermore, Jesus is crucified to be with us in our sufferings and with all those of our brothers and sisters who are nailed to the cross yesterday and today – and always. We see the terrible sufferings pervading our world: natural disasters, wars, violence, injustice, etc. Why there is so much suffering in our world? Why do innocent children suffer? It is a mystery: the mystery of evil linked to the mystery of God – of an omnipotent and merciful God! We know that God loves us, and that the only answer we have to those intriguing questions is Jesus on the cross – Jesus, the Son of God, our Savior and our brother!
As we fix our eyes on Jesus on the cross, we also think of our own cross: you know that you will be saved on your cross, and I know that I will be saved on mine – with God’s grace and love! But, Lord, why this cross? Why for me? Why now? We remember the words Jesus keeps telling us: If anyone wants to be my disciple let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me; My yoke is light; Come to me all of you who are burdened, and I will give you rest. When the cross comes, we try hard not to blame our loving and merciful God for it; we pray constantly to the good Lord asking him for help either to eliminate our suffering, or to strengthen us to be able to bear our cross patiently and – if possible – joyfully and gratefully. We remember that “for the servant, God is always right” (Urs von Balthasar).
Venerating the Cross of Christ, another question that comes to our mind may be this: Where are we, when others are crucified today? Facing the terrible sufferings of other human beings – our brothers and sisters – we are asked by our humanity and our faith to help them carry their cross, not with sermons, but with compassion. Like Simon of Cyrene, we are asked not to give more crosses to people, but to help the wounded on the roads of life – when we can. And we can always do something – little, perhaps, but something! We can pray, care, share, forgive, and we can light a candle by working for justice, peace and the wounded earth, our common home.
The cross of Christ is an inexhaustible source of continuing meditation. No wonder, that for the saints – the truly happy ones -, when the cross comes, it is the Lord who comes. For them – and for us – suffering love means the embrace of God’s love. This is why the saints love to contemplate Jesus on the Cross: the crucified Christ on a wooden cross – presiding the main altar – removes the nail on his right hand to embrace St Bernard. Christ on the cross in San Damiano asks Francis of Assisi to restore his Church. St Thomas Aquinas, for whom the cross is the example of all virtues, heard from Jesus crucified on the cross these words: “You have written well of me. What do you want from me?” (After that vision, St. Thomas stopped writing; he considered thereafter that all he had written – “books enough to sink a ship” – was like straw). The preferred book of Saint Catherine of Siena was Christ’s death on the cross. St John of the Cross, for whom the cross is the staff for the journey of life, heard from a painting of the Nazarene carrying the cross these words: “You have done a lot for me, what you wish from me?” (The mystic answers: Only to suffer and to be despised for your sake!). St John XXIII writes in his lovely Journal of the Soul: “My great book, from which I must draw, with great care and affection, the divine lessons of high wisdom is the crucifix.”
What is our response to the Crucified Lord? Christ is on the cross for you, for me, for all. It is his hour. As we contemplate him particularly on Good Friday, my questions are: What have I done for him? What have you done for him? Do we accept our cross patiently and prayerfully – out of love for God, and of sorrow for our sins, and for our salvation and the salvation of others, and also to walk the way – the way of the cross – that leads to heaven, to our resurrection?
Where were you, where was I, when they crucified our Lord? Where am I today when my brothers and sisters in Christ are crucified? Where are you? As we contemplate Jesus on the cross, we remember some of his essential words: Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, those who forgive…; Love one another as I have loved you; I was hungry and you gave me food. I was sick, and you visited me… Remember, what you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.
As we venerate the cross of Christ, we make an act of faith (“Adoro te devote, latens deitas, in cruce latebat sola Deitas” – “I adore You, hidden God, in the Cross only the Divinity was hidden,” while in the Eucharist, also the humanity of Christ is hidden). When we kiss the Cross of Christ, we kiss Christ on the Cross. As we kiss Christ on the Cross, we also kiss our brothers and sisters who are crucified like Christ. We believe in the crucified, glorified, and risen Lord.
We cannot jump from Palm Sunday and its hosannas, to Easter Sunday and its Alleluias! Easter Sunday is only possible after Good Friday! That said, we never forget that we are always on the way to Easter: to the imperfect but real Easter in this life, and to the never ending perfect Easter of heaven. Indeed, we are Easter People and Alleluia is our song.
As we venerate the Holy Cross, as we adore the Crucified Lord, we pray with Mary, the Mother of the Son of God and our Mother, Our Lady of Hope:
We thank you, Lord, for your wounds, for your death – for your love!
We are sorry Lord, for our sins, for the sufferings we cause to others, for our lack of compassion.
Above all, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit; above all, many, many, many thanks! We love you, Lord!
To you, dear God One and Triune, be honor and glory and power forever and ever.