Thursday 5 April 2012

The Cross: An Encounter with God and Our (Suffering) Brothers and Sister

By Eric Hanna, S.J.

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get. It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads. —Mark 15:21–27

We often feel like once we have mastered the basics, we can move on to the more complicated stuff. But the basics, the foundations of our faith, can never be mastered or completed. They bear repeating again and again. The cross is just such a foundation. We must return to it again and again and continue to discover it. St. Augustine is said to have declared, “We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song”. But, in this happy season, what is the place of the cross?

I propose a brief meditation on one aspect, one experience of this very deep mystery. The cross interrupts us on our way. Simon of Cyrene is minding his own business when he is forced to carry the cross. Suffering and sorrow do not come to us according to a calendar. They violate our routine, forcing themselves upon us as unwanted guests.

Every day, I walk past homeless people, begging for change on the street. Their harsh, demanding, slurred, angry, hopeless words bite the ear, shaking all of us passing by and making us uneasy. I often avoid eye contact and shuffle away, justifying to myself that I have other commitments and at the same time I am ashamed that I cannot even meet the gaze of a human being who is calling out to me.

Many Christians interpret the cross and the suffering of the world as a call to action. The cross, for them, becomes a symbol of the call to labour on behalf of (but also with) the poor and the oppressed. We yearn to feed all the hungry and clothe all the naked and bring about a Kingdom where all are loved. And we are not wrong to be so moved, for it is Christ's kingdom we serve, when we serve the poor.

Yet, for all our efforts, the cross remains unbearable. Rather than experience the suffering of our neighbours, we find it far easier to numb that pain with the wine and myrrh of activity: turning away from the faces of the poor to the more comfortable regions of logic and policy, looking for ways to be effective in solving the problem. Don't look away. The Saviour, the person you love, is dying. You are helpless, as he is helpless. Let your heart be pierced.

This is not so foreign to us. There are times when words are useless and you must simply hold your beloved and let them cry into your arms. If I can be transfixed by Jesus' suffering in this way, I can look into the eyes of my neighbour, even into the eyes of a homeless, frightening stranger, and find room in my heart to share his suffering. I can be interrupted by it. I can be hurt by it. And in so doing I can say to my neighbour, “I see you. And just as I love the man who laid down his life on the cross for us, I love you.”

We can never heal a sorrow that we do not share with others. Christ knew this so very well. The cross is the connection of two lines. It is God sharing the sorrow of the world. And it is we sharing our sorrow with one another. In that sharing, we will find our sorrow converted to joy on the third day.

1 comment:

  1. Today I was screaming to the Lord "why this cross". Thank you for writing the eloquent last paragraph and the challenge to hurt a bit...exactly what I needed to hear.