According to the Church’s ancient tradition, the sacraments are not celebrated today. Instead the sacred liturgy proposes a three part celebration to commemorate the Lord’s Passion. In the first part, the Liturgy of the word, we read the holy scripture detailing the events and theology of Christ’s sacrifice. The Liturgy of the word however concludes with prayers of intercession that will be chanted for the church and the world. These intercessions will be followed then by the Veneration of the Cross and reception of Holy Communion kept in reserve from Holy Thursday.
Our liturgy rightly puts an emphasis on this intercessory prayer on this particular occasion, because it is here where we focus on the key event of our salvation, the passion and death of Jesus Christ. In these intercessions we pray for the Church, for the pope and clergy, for the faithful, for those about to enter the church through baptism, for Christian unity; we pray for the Jews, our elders brothers in the faith; we pray for those who do not believe in Jesus, or even in God; we pray for our world leaders and all those who suffer and are in need. In a senses we pray for ourselves. We are called to put ourselves in these prayers, for these prayers speak on behalf of all of us.
We all have to struggle through life, we all have times where we may struggle with faith in God. The Community, the Church, the body of Christ, are all formed by us, and in our humanity we journey along in the messiness life sometimes thrusts upon us.
Today we Contemplate the Cross, we face the extreme reality of our human condition. We know that it is often not a pretty sight. The cross of Jesus forces us to take stock of the reality of our own mortality, of our own shortcomings, of sin and the hurt within our world. There is evil in the world, each of us have or will come to face it at one point or another; and death, especially that of Christ’s, is a sign of that evil.
If our liturgy today invites us to take a close look at the reality of the cross, maybe it is because all to often our culture, our upbringing, our way of life, refuses the cross. We seek rather to deny the reality of the cross, of suffering, of death, or at least to avoid it.
Father John Monbourquette, a priest and clinical psychologist, wrote a book called ‘How To Befriend Your shadow.” In it he tells us that every person has a shadow, a dark side composed not just of sinful behavior, but of everything we have driven back into our unconscious for fear of being rejected. The Shadow is “a dark treasury that includes our infantile parts, emotional attachments, neurotic symptoms, as well as our undeveloped talents and gifts.”(p.12) Monbourquette tells us that we are called to bring our shadow into the light, that we may use it for our psychological health and spiritual growth. Neglecting to face our shadow, our dark side, is the cause of many obsessions and struggle and violence in our world. Father Monbourquette quotes Carl Jung: “it is not by looking into the light that we become luminous, but by plunging into the darkness.”
In a certain real way Jesus has done this ‘par excellence’. Jesus has entered the darkness, Jesus did not refuse the cross but instead embraced it fully. He became the Suffering Servant. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: “it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we are healed.”(Is 52)
Father Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, writes: “We cannot embrace the ocean but we can let ourselves be embraced by it, immersing ourselves in its water at any point. In the same way we cannot grasp with our mind the whole passion of Christ, or even see into its depths. We can, however, do something better, more useful, and that is to immerse ourselves in it.”
Pope Benedict reminds us about the hope we have through the Cross:
“Christ’s death recalls the accumulation of sorrows and evils that beset humanity of all times: the crushing weight of our dying, the hatred and violence that again today bloody the earth. The Lord’s Passion continues in the suffering of men.
Every year, placing ourselves in silence before Jesus nailed to the wood of the cross, we realize how full of love were the words he pronounced during the Last Supper. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24). Jesus willed to offer his life in sacrifice for the remission of humanity’s sins. In front of the cross we are placed before something that humanly might seem absurd: a God who not only is made man, with all man’s needs; not only suffers to save man, burdening himself with all the tragedy of humanity, but one who dies for man.
Saint Jose Maria once wrote:
“Many years ago I saw a painting which made a deep impression on me. It showed the cross of Christ with three angels beside it. One was weeping; one held a nail in his hand, as if trying to convince himself it was true; and the third was rapt in prayer. Here we have a program for each of us: to cry, believe, and pray.
Here before the cross, we should have sorrow for our sins and for those of all men, for they are responsible for Jesus’ death. We should have faith to penetrate deep into this sublime truth which surpasses our understanding and fill ourselves with amazement at God’s love. We should pray so that Christ’s life and death may become the model and motivation for our own life and self-giving. Only then will we earn the name of conquerors: for the risen Christ will conquer in us, and death will be changed into life.