“Tell me about it”

February 2, 2010

 

 

Our church is under construction. They’re at the point where they’re moving things from the old church building into the new one. Last week they took the life-sized crucifix down and placed it over the new altar.

I miss it.

The wall where it once was is glaringly bare. If you’ve never been in our church you wouldn’t know the difference but for those who’ve spent hours praying and worshipping in that space, well,  it’s just not the same.

A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend from church. We were sharing some of the challenges we’d both faced in the last year and how often we’d found ourselves on our knees before the cross. I smiled as she talked about her prayer time.

I’ve knelt before that crucifix so many times and said, “I’m not sure I can take much more of this Lord” and when I look up at the image of His suffering it’s like He’s saying, “Tell me about it.”

Her words express exactly why I’m so fond of that crucifix and any crucifix for that matter. No matter what trial or suffering I may face in this life, it will never surpass that of  Jesus. He gets it. He knows my pain.  

He knows what it means to love and forgive those who’ve hurt you even while they continue to hurt you.

He knows the anquish of rejection, hatred, and the unfaithfulness of friends.

He knows the suffering that comes with intense physical pain.

The crucifix reminds me of these truths. It tells me I am not alone but instead I have a friend that loves me so much He was willing to undergo great suffering to prove it.

The crucifix reminds me that even though he was tempted in his own suffering to find a way of escape he chose the path of sacrificial love instead. And now I am free to do the same–to bear my own cross with as much love as He bore His.  

This is why the crucifix has such meaning to us Catholics. And it’s why that wall in our sanctuary seems so bare without it.  Yes, I know, with or without it, the truths remain but I miss this beautiful and humbling image of suffering and sacrificial love.

I look forward to moving into the new sanctuary and seeing that cross again. Meanwhile when I kneel in church and see that empty wall I will follow the spiritual direction of St. Francis De Sales.

With the interior eyes of your soul, contemplate Jesus crucified, naked, blasphemed, calumniated, abandoned and overwhelmed with all kinds of disgust, sadness and labour. Then consider your own afflictions, which neither in number nor intensity can be compared with His, and reflect that never shall you be asked to suffer for Him so much as He has suffered for you. 


Things that make you go Hmmmm…

July 30, 2007

 

Every now and then I hear something and it just makes me stop and think.

 A few months ago I heard this priest talking about the divorce rate and a wedding tradition in a small town in Croatia. Seems that in the small town of Kerzegovina (population 13,000) the divorce rate is very low (some claim there has never been a divorce). I haven’t checked the stats on this so I can’t confirm nor deny the accuracy of this claim.

Supposing this fact is true, one wonders what’s going on in this town. How have they kept divorce from infiltrating their community and destroying the hearts and hopes of men, women and children? There are some who believe the marriage covenant in this community is strengthened by a perspective on marriage expressed in a unique wedding tradition commonly practiced in this Catholic community.

In the small town of Herzegovina, when a Catholic couple is married, they are told:  

You have found your cross. It is a cross to be loved, to be carried, a cross not to be thrown away, but to be cherished. 

 In Herzegovina, the cross represents the greatest love. During the marriage ceremony, the bride and groom place their hands together on a crucifix. Then they kiss, not each other, but the cross. The crucifix they kiss at their wedding then becomes a focal point of their home. It’s a reminder that if one should abandon the other, they cannot do so without abandoning Jesus Crucified.

 Ok, I have to admit, it’s not all that “romantic.” But then anyone who has been married for a while knows that contrary to our cultural traditions and stereotypes, marriage isn’t only about the romance and “feel good” stuff. No, marriage is about so much more.  

So, this tradition made me think. Instead of allowing the world to teach our children that marriage is about finding someone who makes you happy, who “completes you,” and who adores you, what if we teach them that the primary purpose in marriage (like any vocation in life) is loving and serving God by loving and serving those around you (in this case, your family). What if we focused on marriage as a means of becoming more like Jesus and committing to helping your spouse to love Jesus and others too instead of seeing it as a means of “self-fulfillment.

Instead of thinking of marriage as a “right” (i.e. my right to be happy and to not be alone, my right to fulfill my physical and emotional desires, my right to have children, my right to be loved), what if more people saw marriage as a true covenant; a covenant in which one surrenders their “rights” just like Jesus did when he came to fulfill the Father’s covenant with us. A covenant fulfilled when Jesus came to carry the cross for us.  

Again, I know this is not so “romantic” in the traditional sense of the word. But then given the statistics of marriage and divorce among Christians perhaps it’s time to redefine “true romance.” Maybe the self-serving romantic fairy tale of marriage we’ve been handed by our culture is another one of the enemy’s lies we’ve believed.

What if the real image of marriage we should hold onto is that of each spouse carrying a cross for the love of their life, like Jesus did for us?

 Hmmmm….I can’t help but wonder if our brothers and sisters over there in Herzegovina might not be onto something. 

 
 
 

*Note: A few disclaimers and qualifiers…

  1. Marriage, divorce and re-marriage are touchy subjects. Please don’t read into this any judgmental overtones. These are the musings of an a “idealist” who often has high expectations of herself and the world around her; one of my strengths and my weaknesses. That being said, this post is not a diatribe against those who find themself divorced. It’s really about the hope of what Christian marriages can become.
  2. I should also make the disclaimer that in no way am I suggesting that all of marriage is about “carrying a cross” and there is no place for “romance,” emotional and physical fulfillment, joy and contentment. I’m just suggesting the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of “self-love” in marriage instead of an other-centered, self-giving love that Jesus calls us to show one another.

 


“Both/And” instead of “Either/Or”

June 22, 2007

Some time ago someone asked me why I wear a crucifix around my neck instead of an empty cross. “After all ,”she said “Jesus is risen”– as if to imply that somehow my wearing a crucifix was sign that I thought Jesus was still on the cross and a denial of His resurrection. Before I go any further let me say I know this woman’s heart and I don’t think she meant the statement to come across as it did. Her question didn’t surprise me (she was raised in a different faith tradition that doesn’t use the image of the crucifix as part of their worship and church environment). However, it did make me stop and think about a few things. Mostly it made me think about Jesus.

The first crucifix necklace I owned I bought with my big sister in the early 80’s (the era of big hair, big shoulder pads and big jewelery). I wasn’t Catholic then. I was just a girl who loved Jesus and wanted to wear a cool silver crucifix as a sign of my faith. I didn’t know the crucifix was seen by many (not all) as a “catholic” image. I’m not sure that it would have made a difference to me had I known. I wore that crucifix for a number of years but lost track of it during my college years.  Fast forward to 2002. My parents gave me my second crucifix when I became Catholic. These days I’m not really into wearing much jewelery. In fact, I wear very little at all. But I do like to wear my crucifix; not because I’m trying to make a statement about where I worship but because of what the image of Jesus on the cross speaks to my heart.

I have come to love kneeling before the crucifix at church. I find that it’s nearly impossible to spend anytime at all on your knees before a life-sized image of Jesus on the cross and not be humbled. Think about it… It’s hard to really contemplate the image of Christ on the cross and hold unforgiveness or anger in your heart. After all, it was my sin that put Jesus on the cross. In light of this truth, what right do I have to hold an offense against my brother or sister? I also find it difficult to kneel before the crucifix and entertain judgmental thoughts against others. And, I can’t possibly look at an image of Jesus on the cross, the wounds on his feet and hands and his side, and complain about my circumstances. My suffering (if you can call it that) is nothing in comparison to what Jesus went through for me. I most certainly haven’t suffered to the point of shedding blood. The crucifix reminds me that He surrendered all of his rights so that I could be forgiven and reconciled to my Father in heaven. So, how can I cling to my rights as if God or anyone else owes my anything.  As I behold the image of Jesus on the cross I see a true example of what it means to “die to self” and quite frankly I need to be reminded of this daily. 

Obviously I can’t spend all day kneeling at the foot of the crosss (who would do the dishes at home?). So, I wear a crucifix.  When I wear my crucifix and I see its reflection in the mirror, touch it with my hand or when my three year-old looks at it and says “hey mom, there’s Jesus,” I am reminded of all the things mentioned above. I am reminded of the one who humbly suffered and died because He loved me and it compells me to live by grace  so that I may love others like Jesus loves me.

I don’t recall everything I said to my friend who asked me about my crucifix. I know I didn’t say everything I just put in writing. But I do think I said something about how “the resurrection of Jesus is meaningless without the crucifixion and vice versa. Had he not suffered and died there would be no resurrection to celebrate.”  But even that statement is incomplete. The crucifixion and resurrection are not an “either/or” kind of thing like my friend’s question suggested. Christ’s suffering and death are an example of how we are to live: picking up our cross and humbly dying to self (to our flesh). But we cannot follow this example without the resurrected life of Christ within us which He’s given in the gift of the Holy Spirit. We must be mindful of what He’s given us through both His death and His resurrection. It’s a “both/and” kind of thing. And there’s definitely a balance to be had.

I’ve met Christians who focus only on the hope we have because of the resurrection. It seems these brothers and sisters want to deny their suffering, trials, God’s discipline or the need to die to their flesh. They’re convinced that the power of the resurrection is their guarantee to avoid suffering or inconvenience here on earth. Then again, I’ve met Christians who focus so much on their suffering for Jesus and carrying their cross here on earth that they’ve lost the joy of their salvation and they fail to live by and reflect the hope and promise of the resurrection. The Bible tells us the Christian life involves both. In Philippians 3:10-11 St. Paul puts it this way: “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, and so somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” I love this passage of Scripture. It demonstrates a paradox of our faith; “the power” and “the sufferings.” It reflects the “both/and.”

I’m glad my friend asked me about my crucifix. Little did she know where her question would lead me in my thought process. It’s definitely made me more conscious of the crucifix I wear and everything it represents. Which makes me think more about my Jesus. And the more I think about my Jesus, the more “I want to know [Him] and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, and so somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.  And that’s what matters most, isn’t it?

*Note: I first read about the concept of  “both/and” vs. “either/or” in the writings of Stephen K. Ray. It’s applicable to many aspects of our Christian faith.