Guest Post: Celebrating the triumph of the Cross at Easter

Guest Post

A reflection on the need for the Cross in the Christian life as we begin this Easter season, under the guidance of our new Holy Father, Pope Francis.  

By Anne McGuire

Although the date Wednesday, March 13, 2013, may not immediately sound personally relevant, the significance of the day’s events will long be remembered. At about 2:00 in the afternoon (EST), white smoke poured out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, announcing to Catholics around the world that we had a new pope. We waited in suspense to find out the identity of our new Holy Father, unable to guess who the Holy Spirit had chosen to lead the Church. When it was finally revealed that the former Cardinal Bergoglio had been elected and had accepted, choosing the name Francis, we paused, uncertain of who he was. Yet in the course of hours, it became obvious that the Holy Father was not afraid to depart from the norm, yet his fatherly care continues in a similar spirit to his predecessors.

Pope Francis has charmed the world with his remarkable humility, which is illustrated through such unprecedented gestures as requesting prayers of the people for himself before giving the papal blessing. In his first homily, the Holy Father went straight to the heart of Christianity, which has remained the same from the beginning: the Cross of Christ. He said,

“When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.”

Entering the Easter season, we recall the triumph of Christ’s Cross, and all that it has won for us. The importance of the Cross is as old as Christianity itself, and still – no, because of this – Pope Francis’ moving words stir our hearts to remember this life-changing truth of our Faith. The simplicity of the Holy Father’s teaching on the foundation of what it means to be a Christian naturally extends also to respect for human life in all stages, and as a cardinal he acknowledged, “We cannot embrace the culture of life if we do not put our roots in Jesus, if we are not united to Him as a branch to the trunk of the vine.”

Spurred by Pope Francis’ witness, we are provoked to look at our own lives. When we are living our day-to-day lives, do we embrace the Cross, which is the instrument of salvation that Christ gives to us? Do we seek to unite ourselves to Christ, allowing ourselves to be rooted in Him and allowing Him to direct our paths? When we encounter obstacles, challenges, or trials, do we give in to the temptation to wallow in discouragement, or do we allow even those moments to become moments of grace for us, reminding us of our complete dependence on the Lord?

As we begin this Easter season, celebrating the triumph of the Cross, let us take very seriously the Holy Father’s invitation “to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward.”

Anne McGuire works in Washington, D.C.Image

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A Holy Week reflection

I learned the value of repetition from my college chaplain. Granted, I knew repetition had its uses in grammar and math classes, and in practicing music (how else is one to memorize the multiplication tables, or the proper conjugation of the verb “to be,” or to learn the really rough spots of Chopin?). But it hadn’t quite sunk in that our hearts learn the same way–they take things in only after weeks, months, years of repetition. Why? Maybe at least in part because constant repetition allows you to turn off your mind at a certain point, so you can take the thing in on a deeper level. As long as the conscious mind is engaged in a thing, it holds it out–away from the self, if you will–in order to scrutinize it and understand it. But once the mind gets turned off, the thing can take root in you, because you’re no longer keeping it at arm’s length.

Again, our school chaplain taught me this, not directly–but just by repeating certain things over and over and over again during the almost four years he served our spiritual needs on campus. Sometimes then I would think, “Okay, Father, we get it…you’ve said this like a million times before.”

But now I couldn’t forget if I wanted to, because so many of his repeated lessons sank in, and are still sinking in, and will probably continue to sink in for the rest of my life.

I’ve been reflecting on one of those lessons for the past couple weeks, as the Church has readied itself for Passion Week and (soon!) Easter. Father talked about Our Lord’s vulnerability, and the meaning of “vulnerability”–literally, the ability to be wounded. Christ is the exemplar of vulnerability, and in his Passion he says to each of us, “I wish to be able to be wounded by you.”  He became man precisely in order to be vulnerable.

And I do not understand this. Why does the human heart require that a thing be vulnerable in order to love it? Why did God have to come down from heaven and become infant/child/man/condemned prisoner…and now bread…to teach us how to love him? And it’s not only love of God, but love of one another: love (real love) doesn’t happen between people until each becomes vulnerable in some way to the other. I know this; I have seen it in my own life and in the lives of those closest to me; and I don’t get it.

“I wish to be able to be wounded by you.”

I’m so glad to have that phrase to accompany me as we move into the celebration of the Passion. And of course, one of the greatest fruits of this reflection (thus far) has been my own humbling…as always. Without fail Holy Week presents a great opportunity to come nose-to-nose with my many imperfections. This Holy Week I’m having to face down a particularly nasty one: that in the face of this need to be vulnerable, my initial reaction has always been the cowardly one. I’d rather not love than face the possibility of being hurt. If the cross, with all the blood and horror that accompany it, presents a true portrait of love, maybe it’s better to do without.

As a single person, it’s particularly tempting to reject the whole concept of vulnerability. My state in life doesn’t necessarily require it of me; the world around me encourages me to be strong, impervious, aloof; and being a “career woman” actually flies in the face of vulnerability. We’re supposed to display our strengths and spin our weaknesses to sound like strengths. To be vulnerable can even be dangerous, depending on how ambitious you may be in your field.

Besides, aren’t I getting along just fine without love? I’m comfortable. I have friends and a busy life. I enjoy my work. I find fulfillment in this project, that service opportunity, in travel, in hobbies, in long walks by myself and in bike rides. I’m continuing to grow in my spiritual life–and wouldn’t human love take me away from my carefully ordered prayer routine? Might it not tempt me to love someone else as much as (or more) than Christ?

With these and a thousand other excuses I shield myself from vulnerability. I wear all sorts of armor, to cover up my weakest spots.

And tomorrow is Good Friday. We will stand and watch as Our Lord has even the clothes on his back stripped from him, as he opens his hands to the soldiers’ nails, as he hangs subject to the taunts and stares of an angry crowd, as he dies. I think there may be only one way to start peeling off that armor we create for ourselves: we have to repeat those words to him: we have to stand at the foot of the cross and say to him, “I wish to be able to be wounded by you.”

Teach me, Lord–teach us–how to be vulnerable as you were vulnerable…as you continue to be vulnerable, even in your triumph.

 

 

 

 

Heart on the Cross

It dawned on me this morning, as I licked some old wounds (okay, and a couple new ones, too), that we have to seek a balance between accepting when others don’t (or can’t) love us and maintaining a healthy, loving perception of ourselves in spite of it.

Easy enough to say, but how do you go about it? There are two typical, natural reactions when people we like or admire clearly don’t like or admire us back–or at least, not as much as we would like. The first: responding with anger, and eventually dislike. We dislike those who spurn us. There’s a great line from some rom com I watched a couple years ago (a movie so memorable I can’t recall the title, the plot, or the characters, but this line definitely stuck with me): “I’m angry with you for not loving me.” The main character is actually monologuing at the camera about how he can’t say that to the woman he loves…even though that’s exactly what’s going on.

Okay, so it does seem a little silly to get all bent out of shape with another person for not loving us. Who do we think we are, anyway? So to avoid that ridiculous extreme, we fall into the other: these people don’t love me/notice me/whatever…and who can blame them, really?

If they don’t recognize my value, it’s only because there’s not a whole lot of value there to recognize in the first place.We’ll call this the Eeyore response: “You don’t hafta love me if you don’t want to.”

And this goes for any type of love. Maybe it’s the cool older cousins who never gave you the time of day back in middle and high school–and who still completely ignore you at family events (when they deign to attend them at all), because in their eyes you’ll always be that nerdy 11-year-old, wearing jeans about 20 years out of style and T-shirts three sizes too big.

Or the girls in the Bible study your mom signed you up for in 10th grade, because you’d just moved to a new town (again), and she wanted you to make friends. Great girls. Great study. Only problem was, those girls had known each other since grade school, and they just weren’t interested in making new friends.

Or the countless coworkers who barely notice you or your work (except, of course, when they need something).

How about that guy you were head over heels in love with in [insert year/month/week here], who didn’t even know who the heck you were?

Or even worse, the guys who did know who the heck you were–and just weren’t interested.

Perhaps worst of all, those once-upon-a-time friends who just stopped calling, without any apparent reason, and with no explanation. Maybe he started dating someone and just doesn’t have time for “just friends” anymore. Maybe she’s been really busy. Maybe you said something wrong. Or maybe…they finally figured out that you’re not really worth the time and effort, so they stopped reaching out.

Insert your own story and your own hurts. It all adds up to the same thing: anger and resentment, and that sneaking suspicion: “Maybe I’m not worth it after all.” It’s a double-edged sword, and it maims or kills charity in us. Why bother loving others when they’ll only hurt us? Why bother loving ourselves when we’re clearly not worth it?

Whatever the situation, whatever the reasons, we have to fight to stick to the high middle way: between hatred of others and hatred of ourselves…love. Love which is freedom. It’s freedom that looks like this:

Freedom: you just open yourself up and pour yourself out.

Freedom: you allow the other person to respond–or not–according to his own needs, his own wants, his own heart.

You do this because you know you have been loved first. You, who so often ignore, neglect, or even outright dislike the One who loves you, are loved constantly in spite of all that. Lent provides so many beautiful opportunities to reflect on how loved we are. And faced with all our weaknesses, we eventually have to realize and accept that we can offer only one response: we have to love as He loves. Without asking for anything back, we must hold nothing back.

“And if by chance, before this … Cross … your heart were to show repugnance… don’t give it consolations. And, filled with a noble compassion, when it asks for them, say to it slowly, as one speaking in confidence: ‘Heart: heart on the Cross! Heart on the Cross!'”