Easter Triduum Reflection Part 2 of 3: The Cross
You ever have a dream of being naked in a crowd? It’s one of the top ten most common dreams, right up there with being chased, falling, and having your teeth fall out. For most this falls into the borderline nightmare category, or at the very least gets filed away in the classification of “uncomfortable and awkward.” What does it all mean?
All of us have aspects of our lives that we’d prefer to keep hidden from sight. Perhaps we have a painful memory that we’d like to forget, an addiction that we don’t want our friends and family to learn about, or a fear or insecurity that might cause others to question our ability to get the job done. While we expend copious amounts of energy keeping these struggles, pains, or fears in the dark, our subconscious mind with its yearning for truth always seems to bubble these things to the surface for our safe-pondering in dreamland.
In Part 1 of this blog series, I discussed how the message of death and shame is always at the core of the wounds we experience in life, and our natural human tendency is to hide or ignore our wounds so as to silence their mortal message. When we do this, on a spiritual level we deny the reality that sin has entered the world, and ignore the fact that this sin, be it our own or others, needs to be dealt with. Christ, the Divine Physician, can only heal the wounds we expose to him. This is why He gave us the cross, the place of exposition.
The cross is the place where our wounds are fully exposed, or, where our awkward naked dream becomes the reality. It is the moment in our life where our wounds speak most profoundly their message of shame and death, where onlookers can walk by and gawk at, harass, or pity us. On the cross, we experience the epitome of helplessness, hands and feet fastened, naked and exposed to the elements, barely able to breath. We experience the apex of abandonment and God-forsakenness, where we are the object of slander and assault. The cross is not a comfortable place, but this unavoidable seat of death and helplessness is a reality we all will face in time.
Still waiting for the gift part? Here’s my best crack at it.
The cross is also the place of supreme humility. With wounds fully exposed we are aware of our failings and have no room for overinflated egos. At the epitome of helplessness we are most likely to seek help outside of ourselves. At the pinnacle of ugliness and depravity we learn who our real friends are, and at the apex of abandonment and God-forsakenness we turn and see that God has chosen to be with us in our suffering. Most importantly, when permitted to feel the weight and sting of our sins and the sins of others, we are most likely to cry out to God for mercy, and offer penance for the atonement of mankind.
Most of us do not know St. Dismas by name, but we are familiar with his story as the good or penitent thief. Gestas, on the other side, is his impenitent contrast. Luke the evangelist juxtaposes the experiences of these men on the cross; both suffering greatly, both close in proximity to the suffering Christ, both guilty and deserving of their sentence, yet only one was penitent. Dismas’ eyes were open to the exposition of his wounds through the cross as well as the exposition of Christ’s, and in that moment he revealed all of his sins and failings to Christ. The German mystic, Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich, shares that Dismas felt perfect contrition and recounted to Christ all the sins of his entire life. She further shares that after receiving absolution from the cross, he would not cease proclaiming the glory of God! Where men on the cross commonly had their tongues removed to silence their cursing and blasphemy, Dismas amidst his pain could not cease evangelizing. His cry for mercy transformed his seat of shame and death to a throne of Divine Mercy.
Gestas also cried out for Christ to save him, but lacked any admission of guilt. He represents all of us who want the perks of the gospel without any of the humility and sacrifice. We learn clearly through Scripture where Dismas went to spend eternity. We still need to pray for Gestas.
The cross comes in many forms, always exposing our wounds. Men and women bearing the cross of parenthood have their wounds of selfishness and impatience brought clearly to the light. Men bearing the cross of chastity will find their pornography struggles and sexual addictions to be a front-line battle. To be clear, divorce is not a cross, it is a scourge that frustrates a man and woman from carrying their cross of living out their married vocation. Cancer is not a cross, but a scourge that beckons those suffering to carry the cross of a hopeful Christian witness amidst suffering. God gives the crosses, and sin gives the scourges. While those scourges seek to break our will and cause us to despair in our cross, God gives us crosses and the grace to carry them in order to bring us to the necessary point of complete self-abandonment to His providence. Through the gift of the cross, God transforms us into the “little children” we must become so to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
In our journey toward Calvary we will fall repeatedly and many will seek to dishearten us along the path. Hurling rocks and insults aside false promises of an easier way add to what already seems like an impossible struggle. To this I say, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” Mt 5:11-12. The name Dismas extends from the Greek word for “sunset.” By the mercy of Christ, the end of his life became a beautiful spectacle of God’s glory. So too can our lives through the cross and God’s mercy be a beacon of glory in the sky proclaiming to all the victory of Christ over death. At our end, we will be one of two criminals on the cross next to Christ. Be it a seat of death or a throne of mercy is ours to choose.
Light up the darkness!