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Gospel and the universal scope of the cross

March 21, 2008
From the Toronto Sun
The Passion of Jesus Christ commemorated during Holy Week is connected with every ritual in the entire world. Jesus of Nazareth experiences physical and emotional cruelty that comes from an abuse of power, exercised by those in positions of religious and political leadership.
There is not an incident in these gospel stories that cannot be found in a myriad of instances: The preliminary trial, the derisive crowd, the grotesque honours accorded to the victim, and the particular role played by chance, in the form of casting lots for his clothing. The final feature is the inhuman, degrading punishment that takes place outside the walls of the holy city.
Haunting questions linger about the meaning of the crucifixion of Jesus. How did the "Hosanna!" of Palm Sunday turn into the "Crucify Him!" of Good Friday? The crowd turns around like a single man and insists on his death with a determination that springs at least in part from being carried away by the irrationality of the collective spirit.
Whether one was a Zealot, or Pharisee, or simple peasant, or Roman soldier, or Sanhedrin official, whether King Herod or Pontius Pilate, they all came together out of their need to find some measure of peace through a scapegoat.
It is in the crowd that we locate the universal scope of the cross.
Those who identify with the cross agree to identify also with the unwillingness to crucify. The question is not so much "WHO killed Jesus?" but "WHAT killed Jesus?" And what vicious circles of violence continue to crucify him today in his brothers and sisters of the human family?
Non-violence is the Gospel message of peace and it, alone, stops the cycle of violence. Jesus crucified shows us that there is another way to overcome evil instead of simply the way of power, domination, terrorism, missiles, war and money. How can we be non-violent with one another? How can we stop putting pressure on one another to get them to do what we want them to do? How do we love our enemies?
When Christian and Catholic institutions take down crosses from their walls in the name of political correctness or inclusivity, or when governments try to eliminate the Christian prayers and practices from their traditions and proceedings in the name of "tolerance" or "all things to all people," they continue a violence against Jesus and against Christians who bear his name and imitate his life.
The story of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ did not end on Calvary over two thousand years ago, but continues today through the denial of Jesus Christ's unique role and influence in world history.
While I was still Catholic Chaplain at the University of Toronto's Newman Centre, a deeply Catholic, elderly woman confided to me the struggles that she and her family were having with the acceptance of the cross as the central symbol of the Christian life. The woman wept as she expressed concern about her own daughter's troubled faith, and she shared with me a poem that her daughter had written about the cross.
I have kept that poem with me ever since. Far from describing a lack of faith, the poem reveals the raw faith and deep love that the mystery of Good Friday elicits from all Christians throughout the world on this day. The poem reads:
"But Lord," I complained,
"this cross is too heavy, too awkward,
it protrudes in the front, it drags in the back, it slips off the side, it just does not fit, Lord, it cannot be for me!"
"Ah, gently, gently," says He.
"It is not the cross that needs altering, it is your way of carrying it."
And stooping down ever so graciously,
He, the Connoisseur of Crosses, and crossbearing, adjusted mine, straightened my shoulders, beckoned me to look up and to smile, to carry it with dignity, if not with love, for I was
following in a great tradition."