Category Archives: Cross

The Vine from the Cross

I am the vine and you are the branches.
John 15: 5 

 Today in many parts of Central America we celebrate the feast of the Cross. In parts of El Salvador and Guatemala crosses are decorated with elaborate floral arrangements. I have not seen such a custom here in Honduras.

The Cross is central to our faith. The Cross is the source of our salvation: we have a God who became flesh and suffered for us. It can also be a source of consolation for many who can see Christ sharing in their sufferings. It can be a source of hope when we remember that death is not the final word. Christ Jesus, bearing the wounds of the Cross, was raised from the dead.

As I was reflecting on today’s Gospel that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, I came across two quotations that express this clearly.

José Antonio Pagola, in a commentary on the Sunday Gospels, writes:

Jesus is the «true vine», full of life; the disciples are branches that live off the sap that reaches them from Jesus.

Centuries earlier, St. Cyril of Alexandria explained this relationship with a beautiful maternal image:

Jesus says he is the vine, the mother and nourisher, as it were, of his branches. For indeed we are begotten anew from him and in him…

2012-06-29 09.15.35 As I reflected on the Crucified Jesus as the one who nourishes us, as a mother, I thought of the mosaic of the church of San Clemente in Rome. At the center is the Cross, surrounded by vines, which come from the plant below the Cross.

The Cross is life-giving. From it come all. It is not merely a sign of death. It is a sign of a love that saves us, that nourishes us that gives us life.

———-
The Church of San Clemente does not permit photographs; so the photo above comes from another source.

The Cross today

San Damiano Cross

San Damiano Cross

Today in much of the Christian world we celebrate the feast of the Triumph of the Cross.

The Cross is the sign of our redemption but all too often we reduce the cross to a minor pain or discomfort, something disagreeable that disturbs our normal routine.

This morning I came across this story I love about Clarence Jordan, a Baptist preacher and farmer, who founded Koinonia Farm, an interracial community, in Georgia in the 1950s. He also authored the “Cotton Patch” translation of parts of the New Testament that placed Jesus in Georgia.

Clarence Jordan was getting a red-carpet tour of another minister’s church. With pride the minister pointed to the rich, imported pews and luxurious decorations.    As they stepped outside, darkness was falling, and a spotlight shone on a huge cross atop the steeple.

“That cross alone cost us ten thousand dollars,” the minister said with a satisfied smile.

“You got cheated,” said Jordan. “Times were when Christians could get them for free.”

Jordan was, presumably, thinking of the martyrs of the early church who died for their faith.

But today I am thinking of other martyrdoms.

In 1597, Christians, priests and laity, were crucified in Nagasaki, Japan.

In the 1980s, some activist Christians were crucified by the Guatemalan army.

Today, Christians are being crucified by ISIS.

But it seems all too easy to be a Christian in many parts of the world. We often forget the radical commitment of Christ with the poor and with all the suffering, His radical love which embraced the world, including His enemies.

Today I need to contemplate Jesus who, as Paul wrote in Philippians 2: 6-8:

did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
But, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave, made in human likeness;
… he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.

And then I need to ask myself how I can put on the mind of Christ (Philippians 2: 5).

At the foot of the Cross

Shall he, then, keep on brandishing his sword
to slay peoples without mercy?
Habakkuk 1, 17

 Habakkuk is complaining about human beings whom God has made, who make gods for themselves out of the works of their hands, even out of the fishermen’s net. Worse, they “slay peoples without mercy.”

Today that complaint seems to ring true.

On August 9, 1945, the US dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. Nagasaki was a center of Catholicism in Japan, with its shrine of the Japanese martyrs. The bomb killed tens of thousands of innocent people, including those who had gathered in the Nagasaki cathedral to pray.

Two years before, on August 9, 1943, Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian peasant was beheaded for refusing to serve in the Nazi army. He was one of only a few Catholics who saw the reality of Hitler and decided that he could have no part of it.

In one of his letters to his wife from prison he recalled a dream he had in 1938 of a training speeding down a hill, with people running to get on board. He identified the train as Nazism and saw it as a train going to hell.

A year before Franz’s martyrdom, Sister Teresa Benedicta a Cruce, born Edith Stein, died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz onAugust 9, 1942. A philosopher, a convert from Judaism, a Carmelite nun, she did not see herself as separated from the pain of her day, especially the suffering of the Jewish people. In fact, she has written to Pope Pius XI seeking an audience to talk with him about the persecution of Jews. Her letter was unanswered.

But St. Teresa Benedicta saw her role as being with Christ crucified.

Do you want to be totally united to the Crucified? If you are serious about this, you will be present, by the power of His Cross, at every front, at every place of sorrow, bringing to those who suffer healing and salvation.

On August 9, 1991, two Conventual Franciscan priests, Miguel Tomaszek and Zbigniew Strzalkowski, missionaries in Perú, were killed by the Sendero Luminoso. They had stood with the poor.

How can I be present at the Cross, at the suffering of peoples? If I truly want to follow the Crucified God, how can I be silent in the face of suffering, death, bombing, persecution?

Ecce homo: behold the human person

…so marred was his look beyond human semblance…
Isaiah 53: 14

Today the Western Christian world celebrates the death of Christ Jesus.

The Black Christ

The Black Christ

A few weeks ago on retreat I was meditating on St. John’s Passion. Pilate had Jesus scourged and the soldiers put a crown of thorns on his head and mocked him.

Then Pilate brings Jesus out to the crown and tells them:

Here is the human person!
Ecce homo!

Here is the human person, tortured and degraded by power, by economic and political elites. Here is the human person in the eyes of the empire, in the eyes of the consumer culture.

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For that world, the human person is something, some thing, to be used and abused at will.

But in the eyes of God, the human person is a child of God.

Jesus lets Himself be identified with the victims, the poor, the maltreated, the violated.

But this human person – degraded and violated – will rise up and show us the real human person, God’s child.

For, as St. Irenaeus put it, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”

Pilate and the powers want to identify the human person as the one who can be controlled,  who is worth little of nothing.

But, in God’s eyes, each person is worth the death of His Son.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accompanying the pain

Today’s Stations of the Cross in the Dulce Nombre Parish brought me to tears several times.

But what most struck me were the photos and names of people who had been murdered in the past year.

One community has suffered much: four deaths in the last five months – and it’s a community where visitors from the sister parish of St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames helped with the foundations of the church about two years ago.

I realized that I knew one of the persons killed; in fact, we had worked with Daniel on the church building.

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I was also struck at the photo of one of the young people killed – so young. He was very recently killed at 17. The photo is from a few years ago and he appears much younger.

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I talked several times with the family members. One young man, the son of the man I knew, was especially stricken, many times close to tears. All I could do was put my arm around him. During the greeting of peace, we hugged.

As I look back on this, I realize that one of the most important things we can do is accompany them, to be present to them, to show them that we love them.

How I wished that some members of St. Thomas Aquinas Church or some of my friends could have been there, showing their care by their presence.

We need lots of things here; we need to work on alternatives to violence; we need to find ways that people can improve their lives and the lives of their families.

But I think we also need the accompaniment of people, people willing to be with the people.

Any takers?

——

More photos of the stations can be found here.

The Spanish text of the stations can be found here:  Via Crucis Romero DNM.

Take up your cross

Just a short quote from Father Richard Rohr, OFM, related to today’s Gospel:

The phrase “Take up your cross” has been softened by usage. We’ve all heard it since we’ve been kids. We don’t get the punch of it anymore. The cross is not simply enduring your hangnail for the day for the love of Jesus, or putting up with the inconvenience that your air-conditioner doesn’t work. That’s what it’s become in affluent societies. The “cross” in the New Testament is precisely the suffering that comes into our lives by the choices we make for the Kingdom.

2 Los perseguidos entero

Image by Cerezo Barredo, OMI

The Black Christ

Black Christ of Esquipulas

Black Christ of Esquipulas

Today we in this part of Latin America celebrate the feast of Nuestro Señor de los Misericordias, Our Lord of Mercy. But it is commonly known as the feast of the Black Christ, specifically the Black Christ of Esquipulas.

Pilgrims throng the church in Esquipulas, Guatemala, to pay reverence to the cross dating from 1594. Over the years, the crucified image turned dark – and began to be called el Cristo Negro.

Cristo negro de Intibucá

Cristo negro de Intibucá

There are other Black Christs throughout the region, including one in Quezalica, Copán, which I haven’t yet visited. There is also one in church in the center of the town of  Intibucá.

There may be other images of a black Christ throughout the world – most notably in Africa and among African Americans.

There are also black images of Mary throughout  Europe, some like the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, but one of the most notable (because of its connections to St. Ignatius of Loyola is Our Lady of Montserrat.

Our Lady of Montserrat, Manresa retreat house, Detroit

Our Lady of Montserrat, Manresa retreat house, Detroit

But what color was Christ?

I think it is clear that he was not blue-eyed and white skinned as many of us grew up with. But that image prevails even here. Note the image of Christ painted by a young Honduran in the Dulce Nombre de María church. (I afterwards told him that Christ was probably not white and showed him a number of alternative images.)

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But how often do we white North Americans make Christ in our image and likeness – not only with blue eyes, blond hair, and white skin? How often do we make Christ according to our prejudices, a supporter of our way of life, our imperial demands, our upward mobility?

What if we thought of Jesus as marginalized – as a person of color?

Christ, painted by a young Palestinian

Christ, painted by a young Palestinian

Wouldn’t that make us a different kind of Christian?

A powerless king

Today’s celebration of Christ the King is an anomaly in many ways.

The United States arose throwing off a king and the kings that remain in the west are mostly ceremonial. But the image of the king, the ruler, remains strong in our societies.

We want powerful rulers who will keep us safe from all enemies, foreign and domestic. We want absolute security in our houses and our streets, even if it means prisons that are overcrowded. We want our leaders who exude power.

I’m not primarily writing about the US.

Today is election day in Honduras. The president, congress, and all the mayors will be elected today.

In the campaign one candidate, who promotes the militarization of the police, is promising that he will do whatever needs to be done for security.

Another candidate is viewed by some of her supporters as the only solution for the country.

Another runs on a campaign against corruption but some say his campaign has been less than transparent financially.

Another appeals to the loyalty of his party members.

All, in one way or another, are taken in by the notion that power means domination. Power as service – or self-giving – is foreign to many of them.

But what is Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel, Luke 23:35-43?

The leaders and one of those crucified with him mock him and urge him to save himself.

But the mission of Jesus is not to save himself, but to give himself, to hand himself over – out of love.

How many of those who lead see their role as giving themselves for others? not as a “savior,”  but as a servant?

How many of us are willing to give ourselves – not to dominate, but to serve?

How many of us really want a savior who is powerless, who is crucified, who is despised?

That is the real choice today – not who will be the president or mayor or congressperson.

And that choice comes because we choose – and let ourselves be chosen – the One who “makes peace by the blood of the Cross” (Colossians 1:20).

 

The scandalous triumph of the Cross

Today the Christian world celebrates the Triumph or the Exaltation of the Cross.

It may seem strange to celebrate an instrument of torture and capital punishment. It was a scandal for the early followers of Jesus.

But in Jesus, the Cross has become a sign of life.

In the church of San Clemente in Rome, the Cross is the center of a vine that reaches to the corners of the apse. The cross is the source of life.

In the church of San Apolinare in Clase, outside Ravenna, the cross is in the center of a blue field full of stars.

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Such glorious images might lead us to forget the revolutionary scandal of the Cross. But as Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon write in Resident Aliens (p. 47):

The cross is not a sign of the church’s quiet, suffering submission to the powers that-be, but rather the Church’s revolutionary participation in the victory of Christ over those powers. The cross is not a symbol for general human suffering and oppression. Rather, the cross is a sign of what happens when one takes God’s account of reality more seriously than Caesar’s. The cross stands as God’s (and our) eternal no to the powers of death, as well as God’s eternal yes to humanity, God’s remarkable determination not to leave us to our own devices.

The Cross is the promise of God’s saving love and so  so today I pray the pray of St. Francis of Assisi before the Cross of San Damiano:

Most high and glorious God,
Enlighten the darkness of my heart.
Grant me right and true faith,
Certain hope, and
Perfect charity,
Feeling and understanding,
Lord,
To fulfill
Your holy and just command.

 

The Cross and The Challenge of Peace

In Central America and some other countries in Latin America, we celebrate today as the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Sant' Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna

Sant’ Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna

The cross of Jesus is a challenge to us who live comfortable lives, seeking always security. Why would God save us by dying on an instrument of torture?

The only answer is God’s love for us.

That love should move us to love, to give ourselves to God and others, seeking only the Reign of God – on earth as in heaven.

Thirty years ago today the US bishops issued their pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace. It is an extraordinary document, even though I believe it is not as prophetic as it could have been.

They wrote in the midst of the Cold War, where many felt that the presence of nuclear weapons was threatening the continuation of life on this planet. A strong “Nuclear Freeze” movement was stirring in the US, especially in the faith communities. Similar efforts to “ban the bomb” were active in western and eastern Europe.

What is also extraordinary is the process the bishops took in writing the document. A committee was appointed and worked on a document. There was a lot of debate in the years leading to its final publication and there was a lot of input, not only from church and government leaders, but also from the lay faithful. The bishops welcomed input in the preparation of the document, though the final word was often influenced by what the Vatican said, especially in terms of nuclear deterrence.

The document relies on scripture, theological reasoning, and political analysis. But I find two passages that point to the scriptural basis of a faith that seeks the abolition of nuclear weapons and the creation of a culture of peace.

First of all, the following of Jesus includes a witness to peace – even to the point of shedding one’s blood. The challenge of peace is to live the cross, as tehy note in paragraph 276:

 … In our own country we are coming to a fuller awareness that a response to the call of Jesus is both personal and demanding. As believers we can identify rather easily with the early Church as a company of witnesses engaged in a difficult mission. To be disciples of Jesus requires that we continually go beyond where we now are. To obey the call of Jesus means separating ourselves from all attachments and affiliation that could prevent us from hearing and following our authentic vocation. To set out on the road to discipleship is to dispose oneself for a share in the cross (cf. Jn. 16:20). To be a Christian, according to the New Testament, is not simply to believe with one’s mind, but also to become a doer of the word, a wayfarer with and a witness to Jesus. This means, of course, that we never expect complete success within history and that we must regard as normal even the path of persecution and the possibility of martyrdom.

The bishops insisted that this was not something merely political, though the document included a critique of many nuclear policies  of the US government. The call to peacemaking is, first of all, an act of conversion, rooted in faith. As they wrote in paragraph 333:

In the words of our Holy Father, we need a ‘moral about-face.’ The whole world must summon the moral courage and technical means to say ‘no’ to nuclear conflict; ‘no’ to weapons of mass destruction; ‘no’ to an arms race which robs the poor and the vulnerable; and ‘no’ to the moral danger of a nuclear age which places before humankind indefensible choices of constant terror or surrender. Peacemaking is not an optional commitment. It is a requirement of our faith. We are called to be peacemakers, not by some movement of the moment, but by our Lord Jesus. The content and context of our peacemaking is set, not by some political agenda or ideological program, but by the teaching of his Church.

Today as the US continues to use military violence or threats of violence, maybe we need to return to a spirituality of peacemaking based in the love of Christ on the Cross.

How then can we approve the use of drones which often kill civilians, the threat and use of violence in the Middle East, the continuing inflated military budget, the military assistance to governments that do not respect human rights (e.g., Honduras), and the continuing reliance on nuclear weapons.

The call of the Cross is different. It is the call to “give one’s life,” not to take the lives of others.