29 Mar GOOD FRIDAY 2013
WE have lived through truly momentous times in the Church during this Lent, and we share the universal joy in having a new Holy Father to lead us in the great Paschal celebration. In his very first homily as Pope, given to the assembled Cardinals at Mass on the day following his election, Pope Francis spoke strongly and clearly: “When we journey without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord…”. He goes on to say, “We may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord”.
Of ourselves, we can surely say the same; we may be Carmelites, we may wear the habit, we may profess the vows, but is we are trying to journey without the Cross we are not true followers of Christ. We may be walking along a parallel path, careful to keep Him in view, but we are not following in His steps. “If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me”.
And what and where is the Cross in our lives? It is never very far away. We find it initially in the sacrifices we make on coming to Carmel and that we must sustain ever after. We find it in the constant rub of interactions with others, causing us many small hurts and irritations, while we ourselves are a source of hurt and irritation to others. The Cross is there in the physical hardships of being cold, or tired, or unwell. At a deeper level it is in the revelation of our weakness and imperfection, our humiliating failure in virtue, our spiritual poverty. More intimate still is the Cross of emotional pain we would prefer to bury or ignore, but that must be faced and felt as part of our own truth if we would follow Christ as closely as he desires.
But is this not a rather dark and sombre spirituality? Why insist of the Cross and not focus rather on love and joy, on life and light? Are not these also aspects of Christian discipleship? Yes, indeed, but we can only come to them by way of the Cross. It is only in following Christ generously that we experience the truth that dying is followed by the light and life and joy of resurrection. As St Paul tells us: “If we have been joined to him by a death like his, so we shall be by a resurrection like his; realising that our former self was crucified with him, so that the self that belonged to sin should not be destroyed and we should be freed from the slavery of sin” (Rom. 6:5,6).
The Cross cannot be avoided in life.We will suffer whether we wish it or not. And suffering, of itself, does not have the power to bring us to freedom and new life. If, when we suffer, we wrap ourselves in self-pity, we will only become resentful and even bitter people, trapped in the prison of fruitless pain. If we resist and protest, as if suffering, struggle and pain should not come to us, then we are refusing to follow a crucified Christ who walked the way of Calvary for us. But is we accept the Cross, each time and in whatever way it weighs upon us, if we consent to carry it and make that our habitual response, then we will discover its saving power. The Cross detaches us from ourselves, frees us from the bondage of self, deepens our capacity for real happiness and purifies our hearts until we can love with the sacrificial love of Jesus.
On Good Friday when, in a special ceremony, we solemnly venerate the Cross, we are honouring the wood of Christ’s Cross that became the tree of life for us. But we are also venerating our own Cross, and to kiss it is an appropriate gesture. To embrace our Cross is to follow Christ as a beloved disciple, and to make our passover with Him to new life, true joy, light, love and peace. Let us learn, then, to say with St Paul, “I will glory in the Cross of my Lord, Jesus Christ”.