Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Cross, Veronica's Veil, and the Logic of Love

In large part, when I've considered the Cross in my own life, I've thought mostly about those things in my life that are imperfect, sinful, and displeasing to God and must be put to death.  But, this Lent has been less about that type of dying and more about participating in the Cross in a new way.  When Christ stood before Pilate and was condemned, when he was beaten, stripped, and humiliated, and when he poured out his blood on Golgotha, he gave what was good.  Christ who knew no sin, became sin.  This was the ultimate injustice.

As Christians, we are all called to die to sin and to experience the pain that comes with such a death.  But, Christianity isn't just about self-improvement.  When we are called to surrender our sinfulness, we can make sense of that.  But, Christian discipleship often requires that we surrender and sacrifice good things.  And those sacrifices can make absolutely no sense at times.  And, those sacrifices might never--in this life--be returned.  They might remain an absurdity and we might never be given the opportunity to look back and say, "Oh, now that sacrifice makes perfect sense."  Part of the sacrifice may well be enduring the absurdity of it.

In the past eight years or so, seven men associated with this parish will have either been ordained to the priesthood or will have entered the seminary.  Their connection with the parish varies.  Some were received into the Catholic Church through our RCIA, some were lifelong parishioners, and some found their way here for some reason or another.  No matter what, to have seven priestly vocations associated with one parish in such a short period of time is not common.  And yes, it is something in which I've taken a lot of pride.  Additionally, I've been happy that our parish has become a home to so many seminarians along the way.

Now, I have to sacrifice that.  Some say, "Oh, you will do that again in a new parish."  Maybe.  But, it is entirely possible (likely?) that the door now closes on that special grace that God had given in this particular place and time.  Maybe this parish will continue to flourish with vocations.  Maybe it won't.  Maybe my next parish will flourish with vocations.  Maybe it won't.  What I know is that the life shared by this particular priest with these particular parishioners in this particular time and in this particular place was a fruitful seedbed for vocations.  Maybe I will someday look back and joyfully comprehend the hidden wisdom in all of this.  Then again, I may never comprehend its wisdom, and it may even prove in the long run to be lacking in wisdom.  Who knows how it will all play out?  Therein lies the sacrifice. 

Beyond the external sacrifices--and far more wounding to the soul--are the internal sacrifices. When we walk the Via Crucis, like Christ's image left upon the veil of Veronica, we leave something of ourselves behind.  If all we left upon the Way of the Cross were our sins, then there would be little merit in that. We sometimes are called to leave behind our own image--our good name, our reputation, and our confidence in earthly standards.  Veronica's Veil may irrevocably take from us things that had, up to this very moment, been at the service of the Gospel.  At the Cross, we leave not only our sins, but everything.

Walking the Way of the Cross with Christ may produce immediate fruits in our life; fruits that make things comprehensible. Perhaps it makes us more sensitive to the sufferings of others, more credible in preaching forgiveness, better able to relate to the spouse who feels betrayed, and better able to guide others in their own Via Crucis.  Then again, maybe none of this will occur.  Part of the suffering that the Cross entails is--at times--its total incomprehensibility.  It was only in the very last moments of Jesus' agony that the good thief came to repentance.  And, it was only after Jesus breathed his last that the soldier came to faith.  Some sacrifices, difficult though they may be, are nonetheless comprehensible in their logic and in their results.  There are other sufferings that are notable for their lack of justice or for their lack of rationale.  In these latter instances, deprived of even the satisfaction of seeing the greater good, all we are left with is Christ.  We are left knowing (as almost every Catholic church in the world has hanging along its walls) that Christ walks this way with us and before us.  Unlike the rest of us who bring to the Cross some mixture of good and evil, he only brought to Calvary good things.  Only his love makes his sufferings comprehensible.

In the face of the Cross, sometimes we seek to comprehend the logic of suffering.  But, such logic is often lacking.  At other times, we are inundated with trite spiritual platitudes.  Such platitudes tend to reduce the reality of things.  In the end, the only thing that makes the Cross comprehensible is love.  The logic of love doesn't explain away the absurdity of the Cross.  It swallows it up and defeats it. 


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