Tag Archives: Cross of Christ

Reinterpreting the Cross

IMG_0500

During the Easter season, we go to Calvary to reinterpret what we saw there. Reinterpretation is at the heart of the Easter mystery. Listen to the 4th century Saint Ephrem the Syrian:

Glory be to you, Lord,
You raised your cross like a bridge to span the jaws of death, that we might go from the land of death to the land of the living.
Glory be to you, Lord,
You took on a human body that every human being might live.

You are alive. Those who killed you sowed your living body in the earth as farmers sow grain, and it sprang up and brought forth an abundant harvest of human beings from the dead.

Come, brothers and sisters, let’s offer our love. Pour out our treasury of hymns and prayers before him who offered himself on the cross to enrich us all.

In our Mary Garden here at the monastery, Mary stands with her Son on the stump of a cedar tree. A tree of life stood in the garden at the beginning, the Genesis account says. The Cross of Jesus brought life to the world, a “Faithful Cross” it’s called in an ancient hymn. And it is.

Death Destroyed

On this Friday in the Easter season the poetic St. Ephrem the Syrian has this beautiful description of Christ conquering death:

“Death trampled our Lord underfoot, but he in his turn treated death as a highroad for his own feet. He submitted to it, enduring it willingly, because by this means he would be able to destroy death in spite of itself. Death had its own way when our Lord went out from Jerusalem carrying his cross; but when by a loud cry from that cross he summoned the dead from the underworld, death was powerless to prevent it.
 ” Death slew him by means of the body which he had assumed, but that same body proved to be the weapon with which he conquered death. Concealed beneath the cloak of his manhood, his godhead engaged death in combat; but in slaying our Lord, death itself was slain. It was able to kill natural human life, but was itself killed by the life that is above the nature of man.
  “Death could not devour our Lord unless he possessed a body, neither could hell swallow him up unless he bore our flesh; and so he came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which he received from the Virgin; in it he invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strong-room and scattered all its treasure.

Love on a Friday

Mk 12:28-34

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the first of all the commandments?”
Jesus replied, “The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
He is One and there is no other than he.
And to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

We  should expect to hear about love on a lenten friday. Believers, of course, recall the passion of Jesus on all the fridays of the year, but the lenten fridays are special days to prepare for the Friday called Good. That was a day of love.

On that day the great commandment Jesus preached was fulfilled in a striking way. Historians, scholars, artists approach the mystery of his passion and death from so many perspectives. The gospels and Christian tradition dwell on it in great detail. It is a fascinating conclusion to a fascinating life.

But the question Why did Jesus suffer such a death? can only be answered by  recognizing it as his response to the command of love. Jesus accepted the cross with love for his heavenly Father and love for us, who were there when he was crucified.

The cross was not something Jesus endured, he embraced  it with his whole heart, his whole mind and all his strength. At his cross, we stand before Love.

Can Haiti Help Us?

I’m reading these first days of Lent a book by Fr. Rick Frechette: Haiti: The God of Tough Places, the Lord of Burnt Men. He’s a priest, a doctor, a member of my community, the Passionists, who has been serving the poor in Haiti for over 20 years.

When the recent catastrophic earthquake struck on January 12, 2010 he was the  director of a 150 bed pediatric hospital for poor children near Port-au-Prince and was responsible for setting up some street schools for poor kids in the slums of the city and a program for bringing clean water into the slums by truck.

All of those projects came to a halt or suffered severe damage in the earthquake that killed over 230,000 people. Fr. Rick is rebuilding now. Not only is he rebuilding, he hopes to do more.

His book,  a compilation of reflections about his work in Haiti over the years, is more than a picture of what he’s doing. It’s more a story of God’s grace shining through human misery. Haiti is a tough burnt land, but God wisdom and beauty are there in a place its people call “Calvary’s Hill.”  God’s grace is always there where a cross is set up.

Frechette’s book, instead of making you ask  “What can we do for Haiti?” makes you ask rather “What can Haiti do for us?”.

What can we learn from the place that most of us don’t want to look at?

When Fr. Rick built his pediatric hospital for the poor, he made it the best children’s hospital in Haiti, because he said the poor deserve the best. That’s not the way we think in our part of the world, is it? With us, the poor more likely get the worst.

We believe in success and think we have a right to it. We can be successful if we try hard.  We  can be winners and we like winners; we don’t like losers.  We like the stars, the celebrities, not the failed and the broken. We grow impatient with intractable problems. We turn away from them. “You’re fired,” we say to them.

The wisdom Jesus teaches is different, however. “Whatever you do to the least, you do to me.” And he told us to bear our cross and to share the cross that others bear.

Fr. Rick’s stories are about beauty and grace in the least and God who reveals himself in the mystery of the Cross.

The ultimate human failure, of course, is death.  And here again, Fr. Rick has  some of Haiti’s wisdom to pass on to us.  As a doctor,  he heals, but as a priest he buries dead as well. The grace of God pursues us even to death.

A few weeks after the earthquake, Fr. Rick’s mother died. He was able to get to her bedside and celebrate her funeral in Wethersfield, Ct and this is what he said.

“My mother was diagnosed with cancer about 8 months ago.  Over these months she had time to think about her life and death, about all those she loved, and about her God.  With the care of the best physicians and nurses, with the full devotion of her husband and children, she met the end of her life in a beautiful way. Slowly dying during mass at her bedside, dying shortly after my sermon on the merciful presence of the Blessed Mother who is with us “now and at the hour of our death”, she died during the consecration of the sacred bread and wine.  I later asked my father, since mom died so soon after my talk, if he thought my words were lethal, and did mom in!  He replied quickly, “your sermon darn near killed us all.”

Imagine, the earthquake caused the death of 100,000 to the present count.  The death of these people was so different from the death of my mother.  Instead of 8 months to prepare, they had 34 seconds.  Instead of constant attention and affection from loving families and skilled doctors, buildings fell on them, trapped them, crushed them and isolated them.  Instead of being honored with a beautiful coffin, the precious white pall, the wonderful incense, they bloat and rot and make you turn your head and vomit.  Instead of being laid tenderly in the grave as we will do to my mother today, they are lifted from the street by backhoes and front end loaders and dumped into huge trucks..  It is so different, so tragic, sad beyond words.  Life has to end for everyone. But the way that life ended for Gerri Frechette is a cause of thanksgiving and joy, and our gratitude should make our hearts burst with zeal, to want to right the wrong for those whose death is a humiliation and a disgrace.

On January 6th as I came home from Haiti to stay with mom to the end, the Archbishop of Port au Prince, Joseph Serge Miot, asked me to let him know when mom died.  He wanted to come and officiate at her funeral.  On January 12th ,  just 6 days later, he was dead.  Within 34 seconds the earthquake threw him from his 3rd floor balcony to the patio below, and the chancery fell on top of him, and the cathedral fell on top of the chancery.  I tell you this for two reasons. First, to remember and pray for this kind pastor and bishop during this mass. And second, as an example of a simple reality.  Did he ever expect to be dead before my dying mother?  What are your expectations of your death?  How secure are you sitting here at the funeral?  Will you still be here in 6 days?  Or maybe will you also be gone, with 34 seconds to prepare?

The point is a simple one.  We cannot escape death.  We should learn everything we can about it.  This mass, this earthquake, should be a profound school of learning for us.  To die the right way we have to know the right way to live.  Right living is the preparation for right dying – even a death  that comes in 34 seconds.”

For more on him, see www.thepassionists.org

Black Money Crucified My Lord

Holy Week is usually a time to turn away from the world and return to the mystery of Jesus Christ who died and rose again nearly 2,000 years ago.

But we should forget our present world as we celebrate Holy Week?  If we do, we may fail to understand what this mystery is really about.

Last night on PBS’s Frontline, there was a story about international bribery called “Black Money,” a sordid tale of bribes by international corporations and governments paid secretly to powerful individuals and government officials to get deals done.

International treaties have been signed against the practice, of course, but when the “national interest” or the “corporation’s interest” is a stake, people find ways to evade the law.

Petty thieves may get 10 years or more in prison for breaking into a store; governments and corporations mostly get off free for  enormous crimes of bribery.

Jesus died for the sins of the world. Doesn’t this kind of sin, which produces a chain of other injustices, have a place in his death? Herod and Pilate, the powerful clique in charge of the temple in Jerusalem were also “there when they crucified my Lord.”

If Jesus was stood up against them when he died, shouldn’t we stand up to this world of injustice?