Since Middle Ages to our own day, one can still find the traces of a deep devotion to the mystery of the Cross. In the construction of those magnificent cathedrals and churches the Cross dominates. It dominates the altar. Every where, the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ has been raised. Saints Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, Daniel Comboni, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Pope John Paul II of great memory, among others, manifested in their writings, and I should say, in their flesh as well, the love that they had for the Cross of Jesus Christ. In fact the mystery of our sanctification and justification, cannot be explained without the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Today, more than ever, we need to meditate upon this mystery, because; particularly in our own age, the human person wants to eliminate the Cross. He does not want to look at it; he does not wish to have it before his eyes. Why? Because the Cross represents sacrifice, humiliation, suffering, pain, self denial; And yet it is only thereby; by the Cross, by sacrifice; that the human person can regain life. When He who is Life died, then death itself died. Life triumphed. And that is the entire summary of the spirituality of the Cross.
Holiness is nothing else; it is very simple indeed, summed up in two movements of our lives: the hatred of sin and the desire of God. That is the Cross; it is nothing more than that. It is the symbol of death to sin so as to live in God.
Human persons speak today of “liberation”. Everywhere they have this word so much on their lips: What liberation? Liberation from Jesus Christ? They want no more of Jesus; they want no more of His Cross! They want no more of His sacrifice because it reminds us that we must sacrifice ourselves, that we must die to our selfishness to have life. And that, people who seek rather their pleasure and their satisfaction can neither see nor hear nor understand the matters of value.
They want nothing to do with the Cross. And that is why so many crosses have disappeared in our day. Ours is a fragile generation that cant stand pain, cant walk, can’t have the joy of feeling hungry, thirsty. Bags packed with food, water and medicine are routine. Yet life sounds more miserable than before. See death, suicide, disease, corruption, drug, HIV/AIDS, broken homes, street families, refuges and a society without a future in search of well being, work and money.
We know Your Word says, 'Woe to those who call evil good', but that is exactly what we have done.
- We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.
- We have exploited the poor and called it consultancy.
- We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.
- We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
- We have shot suspects and called it justifiable.
- We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem.
- We have abused power and called it politics.
- We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition.
- We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography, and called it freedom of expression.
- We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our ancestors and called it enlightenment. Search us, Oh, God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free from the fear of the CROSS
Now, where shall we find a living Cross, the Cross ever filled with that charity, with that Holy Spirit which we need to combat our evil tendencies so as to live the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ? At the holy altar, in our churches, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass! And that is why the Holy Mass has so much importance and has always been at the center of our sanctification, at the center of the pre occupations of the Church. It is there that we find Our Lord! This is not a Cross which is simply an historical remembrance of the death of Christ. No, it is the living Cross. Calvary renewed.
For if there is a testimony of the love of God for us, it is certainly Jesus Christ crucified on the Cross for us. What more could Our Lord have done than immolate Himself on the Cross to redeem us from our sins? One can still find marked on old crucifixes these words: “Can you say that I have not loved you, when you see Love carved upon this Cross?” Love carved upon the Cross! That is the crucifix: love manifested, love alive upon the Cross. Thus one can understand the desire that all balanced people have felt ever to have the crucifix before them, to find in the crucifix the support of their spirituality and desire to live a reasonable life, the source of their success.
Some of us think that “since I am a Christian, God will bless me and exempt me from suffering. I shall lead a life without suffering, without sacrifice; because I love God, God must love me, and therefore the Good Lord should certainly not want me to suffer”. That is, indeed, poor way to comprehend the mystery of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. If Our Lord has shown us the example of suffering, then on the contrary, we should almost have the desire to suffer with Him, the desire to sacrifice ourselves with Him. When the thorn of pain pierces us, we should count ourselves blessed.
That is the Christian life; that is the Catholic teaching. That is object and reality of our faith. That is what all Christian generations of holy fathers and mothers of families who suffered in a Christian manner; who accepted their sufferings and difficulties with joy; who were examples to their children. In suffering and in pain, they knew how to support it with Our Lord Jesus Christ. These were the generations of Christian families which bore so many vocations in the example which their parents could give of knowing how to live, and to pray with such faith, with such piety, in the spirit of self-oblation as victims with Jesus Christ.
The Paradox and Mystery of the Cross
We live in a time which does not appreciate or value a sense of mystery. Our scientific, post-modern world would have us believe that everything can be analyzed, understood, reduced to a formula and replicated. If that cannot be done, then it must not truly exist. But that is foolishness. It is only pride which keeps us from appreciating mystery, and at times, the most courageous thing one can do is to utter the words, “I don't know. I don't understand.” We who have been called by God to be His children are grateful to have our names written in the book of Life. But as we have seen, heard and believed, our names were purchased at a great price. We all know the story, we have read it many times. But it would be naive of any of us to say we understood it, because the paradox is great.
In the Foot Steps of Abraham
The fullness of the sacrifice of Christ can only be grasped when we recognize the vastness of the complexity of God. Therein is the recognition of the paradox of the death of Jesus. We remember Abraham, the father of the people of God. We recall how he was told by God to do a monstrous thing; to murder his own son, Isaac. We do not lessen God’s horrific demand by calling it a sacrifice. To murder ones own child is to violate the cardinal rule of parenting. Any reasonable parent will love his /her child greater than anything else. Yet Abraham obeyed God. We do not know what thoughts went through his mind on the path up Mount Moriah. But we would do Abraham a great disservice if we assume his mind was one of vacant obedience.
Abraham and Isaac walked for days up to the mountain. Isaac asked of his father, “Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Confronting, minute by minute, the dreadful thing God had required of him, Abraham replied, “The Lord will provide.” In faith, Abraham believed the ridiculous. What God demanded of him made no sense; it was “foolishness.” What kind of God would demand the murder of ones own child?
At the moment when the knife was drawn and Abraham looked at his son, he was confronted with yet another paradox, one which we must confront as well: he knew that this was the hardest sacrifice that could be demanded of him, but that no sacrifice was too hard when God demanded it. So Abraham's hand came down to slay his son, only to have it stayed by the angel. And in the thicket was a ram. And the ram was sacrificed in the place of Isaac.
The Ram’s Name was Jesus.
It is often said that God is not fair. Who would fault us, after considering Abraham's agonizing ordeal, if we wondered whether God was not engaging in a cruel game. Sacrifice one's own son? But we return to original faith question:
“O Who am I?”
Who am I to decide whether or not God is fair?
Who am I to determine what is right in His sight?
Who am I to question His sense of justice? The psalmist informs us, when he writes, “What are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:5) As much as it flies in the face our arrogant thought that we are masters of our own fate and that we know what is best for us, God stretches his hand across time to remind us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways.” (Isaiah 55:8)
The Cross is Love
In the sacrifice of Jesus, love found no greater expression. John's first epistle tells us, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (I John 4:10)
The mystery of Jesus is great. We cannot comprehend the possibility of his being fully God and fully man. To consider one seems to cast out the other. But the paradox of Christ’s divinity and humanity is not for us to understand. It is for us to grasp in faith and, with gratitude, to offer up thanks to God for his miracle.
As the sacrificial ram in the thicket became the substitute for the blood of Isaac, so then Christ’s blood became the substitute for ours. God stretched his own hand and cut the cords which bound us. In our place, his hand came down to slay His own Son. Tonight reminds us that God would have us watch the sacrifice of the ram in the thicket; Jesus; in order that we can comprehend the miracle of His grace in setting us free.
The cross on Calvary's hill had a sign upon it. It said, “This is Jesus, King of the Jews.” But for the grace of God, the sign would have read very differently. It should have read, “Wamakutano leader of Galilean rebel forces.” And it should have had your name on it as well. Look at your hands. They bear not the mark of nails which God demanded be driven through your flesh. Another took that for you. The tomb was ours, yet another lay in it.
The paradox could not be harsher. Jesus told us, “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13) But Jesus was not alone in doing that, it has been done heroically by many through the ages. Sacrificing oneself for others is a noble, honorable thing. But what Jesus did was not simply to lay down his life. What he did was to take upon himself our lives and our sin and to take for all of us the just punishment required to be meted out to us by a righteous God.
In the horror which was Calvary, there was sorrow, deceit, and mockery. To those who carried out the order to kill Jesus, it was just another day at work. But at the moment Christ breathed his last, and, in the most literal sense, all hell broke loose, there was one who understood what the mob which yelled, “Crucify him” completely missed. A pagan Roman centurion looked at the limp body of God incarnate and, in fear and trembling, said, “Truly this was the Son of God.” The passion of Jesus concluded with those words of truth. The paradox: The Son of God was dead so we could live.
The dark day of Good Friday and the following Saturday weighed heavily on the earth. At the moment of Jesus’ death, the earth shook, graves were opened, dead men were raised, and the veil of the temple which separated mankind from God’s presence in the Holy of Holies was torn in two. God’s justice had been done. The glory of Easter had been predicted but not expected. It was not until Christ revealed himself on that glorious day that God showed us the fullness of his mystery and the fullness of His love.
From sorrow to rest; From death to life; From weakness to strength; From ugliness to beauty; From a lie to Truth. For my life and your liberation; how will we respond to this immeasurable, unspeakable, incomprehensible gift? When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, God's love to us demands a response commensurate with the gift we have received. It is not too high a price to pay in gratitude for one who “has given me rest by his sorrow and life by his death”.
The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God. We preach Christ crucified…unto them which are called, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:18, 23, 24).
Why are we in Love with the Cross?
1.That Christ was a perfect and pleasing sacrifice to God. The fact that Jesus was fully God also means that the sacrifice was sinless, perfect, and totally acceptable.
- That the reconciliation is extensive and all-embracing. No class of being is left out of the possibility of salvation. Kings can be saved, poor people can be saved, Jews can be saved, Gentiles can be saved, slaves can be saved, and so can their masters. The cross is effective for all classes of people.
- That the cross results in peace. When peace is made we move from being enemies of God at cross-purposes with Him to becoming obedient sons and daughters performing His will. This results in his blessing resting on our lives and this produces a state of blessedness known as "peace" or "Shalom" - the well-being, prosperity, abundance and joy of God.
- The blood of Christ brings redemption out of the hand of the Devil.
(Eph 1:7, Psalm 107:2)
- Through the blood of Christ all your sins are forgiven. (Eph 1:7)
- The blood of Jesus God's Son, is cleansing you now and continually from all sin.
(1 John 1:7-10)
- Through the blood of Jesus Christ you are made righteous, justified, "just-as if I'd" never sinned. (Romans 5:9, Proverbs 28;1, Isaiah 32:17)
- Through the blood of Jesus Christ you are sanctified, made holy, set apart for God. (Hebrews 10:29, 13:12 ; Colossians 1:12, 13 Romans 8:2)
- Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit , redeemed, cleansed, sanctified by the blood of Jesus, therefore the devil has no place in you and no power over you.
(1 Corinthians 6: 13, 19-20, 1 John 5:6, Eccl. 4:12)
The peace with God that comes through the blood of the cross affects every area of our lives bringing them into wholeness of body, soul, and spirit.
- The total forgiveness of us purchased on the cross ends the power of rules over the life of the believer. The cross has thus abolished the rules about food, drink, and festivals that are from God and destroyed the rules about food, drink and festivals that the Devil tried to impose. Thus there are no laws of this nature that the believer has to obey. Christ is the "real thing" and rules are now a thing of the past.
The cross of Jesus Christ gives us the confidence and assurance we need to progress in God. We know that we are part of a work of God on a cosmic scale where the perfect Lamb of God was sacrificed to reconcile everything on heaven and on earth to God and bring us peace and forgiveness of sin. The cross enables spiritually dead people to be made alive in Christ and empowers those with new life to become holy and blameless and without accusation. The cross is also our protection against all the attacks of the demonic world. It has disarmed the tempter and removed his ability to accuse us and means we no longer have to live in fear of breaking taboos or incurring curses and spells. As a result we need no longer be bound by obscure rituals, pointless obligations, religious dietary requirements and festivals designed to appease the spirit world. The cross is our defense and our refuge and gives us the ability to triumph over all spiritual powers. Thus we are freed from human observances into the liberty of the Spirit through the cross of Jesus Christ. Praise be to God.
The mystery of the Cross is indeed the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ
An attempt to examine the infinite psychic and spiritual suffering of the Incarnate God in atonement for the sins of fallen man is beyond the scope of this article. However, the physiological and anatomical aspects of our Lord's passion we can examine in some detail. What did the body of Jesus of Nazareth actually endure during those hours of torture?
The physical passion of Christ began in Gethsemane. St. Luke, is the only evangelist to mention this occurrence. He says, "And being in an agony, he prayed the longer. And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground" (Luke 22:44).
Every attempt imaginable has been used by modern scholars to explain away the phenomenon of bloody sweat, apparently under the mistaken impression that it simply does not occur. A great deal of effort could be saved by consulting the medical literature. Though very rare, the phenomenon of hematidrosis, or bloody sweat, is well documented. Under great emotional stress, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can break, thus mixing blood with sweat. This process alone could have produced marked weakness and possible shock.
In the early morning, battered and bruised, dehydrated, and worn out from a sleepless night, Jesus was taken across Jerusalem to the Praetorium of the Fortress Antonia, the seat of government of the Procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate. Jesus apparently suffered no physical mistreatment at the hands of Herod and was returned to Pilate. It was then, in response to the outcry of the mob, that Pilate ordered Barabbas released and condemned Jesus to scourging and crucifixion.
The half-fainting Jesus was then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, wet with his own blood. The Roman soldiers saw a great joke in this provincial Jew claiming to be a king. They threw a robe across His shoulders and placed a stick in His hand for a scepter. They still needed a crown to make their travesty complete. Small flexible branches covered with long thorns, commonly used for kindling fires in the charcoal braziers in the courtyard, were plaited into the shape of a crude crown.
In deference to Jewish custom, the Romans apparently returned His garments. The heavy patibulum of the cross was tied across His shoulders. The procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves, and the execution detail of Roman soldiers headed by a centurion began its slow journey along the route which we know today as the Via Dolorosa.
The centurion, anxious to proceed with the crucifixion, selected a stalwart North African onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross. Jesus followed, still bleeding and sweating the cold, clammy sweat of shock. The 650-yard journey from the Fortress Antonia to Golgotha was finally completed. The prisoner was again stripped of His clothing except for a loin cloth which was allowed the Jews.
Simon was ordered to place the patibulum on the ground, and Jesus was quickly thrown backward, with His shoulders against the wood "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" was nailed into place.
The left foot was pressed backward against the right foot. With both feet extended, toes down, a nail was driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. The victim was now crucified.
On the Cross
As Jesus slowly sagged down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shot along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain. The nails in the wrists were putting pressure on the median nerve, large nerve trunks which traverse the mid-wrist and hand. As He pushed himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He placed His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again there was searing agony as the nail tore through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of this feet.
The Last Words
Spasmodically, He was able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving oxygen. It was undoubtedly during these periods that He uttered the seven short sentences that are recorded.
The first - looking down at the Roman soldiers throwing dice for His seamless garment: "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do."
The second - to the penitent thief: "Today, thou shalt be with me in Paradise."
The third - looking down at Mary His mother, He said: "Woman, behold your son." Then turning to the terrified, grief-stricken adolescent John , the beloved apostle, He said: "Behold your mother."
The fourth cry is from the beginning of Psalm 22: "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"
The end was rapidly approaching. The loss of tissue fluids had reached a critical level; the compressed heart was struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood to the tissues, and the tortured lungs were making a frantic effort to inhale small gulps of air. The markedly dehydrated tissues sent their flood of stimuli to the brain. Jesus gasped His fifth cry: "I thirst." (Psalm 22:15).
A sponge soaked in posca, the cheap, sour wine that was the staple drink of the Roman legionnaires, was lifted to Jesus' lips. His body was now in extremis, and He could feel the chill of death creeping through His tissues. This realization brought forth His sixth word, possibly little more than a tortured whisper: "It is finished." His mission of atonement had been completed. Finally, He could allow His body to die. With one last surge of strength, He once again pressed His torn feet against the nail, straightened His legs, took a deeper breath, and uttered His seventh and last cry: "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit."
The common method of ending a crucifixion was by crurifracture, the breaking of the bones of the leg. This prevented the victim from pushing himself upward; the tension could not be relieved from the muscles of the chest, and rapid suffocation occurred. The legs of the two thieves were broken, but when the soldiers approached Jesus, they saw that this was unnecessary.
Apparently, to make doubly sure of death, the legionnaire drove his lance between the ribs, upward through the pericardium and into the heart. John 19:34 states, "And immediately there came out blood and water." Thus there was an escape of watery fluid from the sac surrounding the heart and the blood of the interior of the heart. This is rather conclusive post-mortem evidence that Jesus died, not the usual crucifixion death by suffocation, but of heart failure due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the pericardium.
In these events, we have seen a glimpse of the epitome of evil that man can exhibit toward his fellow man and toward God. This is an ugly sight and is likely to leave us despondent and depressed.
But the crucifixion was not the end of the story. How grateful we can be that we have a sequel: a glimpse of the infinite mercy of God toward man--the gift of atonement, the miracle of the resurrection, and the expectation of Easter morning.