The cross, wisdom for all ages

Father Columkille Regan, C.P.

November 22, 1994 was a memorable day at the Synod of Bishops in Rome. A petite Vietnamese sister, Anne Nguyen Thi Thanh, Superior General of the Institute of Lovers of the Cross addressed the assembly of Bishops and religious delegates. Her arrival in Rome had been delayed by Communist red tape. And even though the allotted time for speeches was over, she was allowed to address the Synod.

In stirring words she spoke about her community (3500 members, 2290 postulants and aspirants) and their mission in the Church: "... to spread everywhere a practical love for the Cross of the Son of God'. With gentle irony she reminded the bishops that "Vatican II explicitly mentioned the love for the Cross only once!" She continued, "The Christian cannot avoid the scandal of the Cross without suppressing or deforming the Gospel".

When she sat down the whole assembly rose to its feet and applauded the little nun and her wonderful witness to the mysterious Wisdom of the Cross. She had reminded everyone of the great mystery of our Faith: a sign of death became the sign of life and is the symbol of our Faith.

Crucifixion - TafelOn the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross we read in the prayer of the day:

"God our Father, in obedience to you, your only Son accepted death on the cross for the salvation of humankind."

What did Jesus come to save us from? From sin obviously. And from radical disorientation and alienation. Alienated from God, from ourselves, from others, from the whole of creation, we yearn for healing.

The Hebrews yearned for liberation from the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Romans. The need for liberation is indeed universal. Freedom from fear, poverty, war, hatred, and disease is a timeless goal. Every age seeks peace, to transform hatred by love, to treasure God's earth. It is a process.

Yet overcoming prejudice, hatred, fractured relationships takes centuries, and for each of us it is a lifetime process. St. Paul, the Apostle, the great exponent of the Wisdom of the Cross, knew how painfully long and at times embarrassing that process can be:

"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.... for I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do." Romans 7:15ff

The modern world put its hope in scientific and industrial revolution, in new discoveries that promised freedom for the people of the world. It declared God dead or irrelevant. And the result? Our century has been the most violent of all with its wars, hatred, poverty, oppression, ignorance, and bigotry.

In this era of chaos, however, there is a slow awakening, a great searching among so many disillusioned people. Our age is an "age of seekers." So many are exploring the world of spirituality. Will the wisdom of the cross be rediscovered?

Humankind needs a model of life free from all kinds of alienation. Christ is the model and he teaches the wisdom of the Cross. Pilate's words "behold the man" (John 19:5) mean more than he imagined! The wisdom of the cross is our path to salvation. It says that good will not be overcome by evil, that good men and women, good deeds, compassionate love for all, are not in vain. In spite of apparent failure, good prevails. The cross conquers even death: "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting." (I Corinthians 15:55)

And so the mystery remains. We may question its wisdom. But, "who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him." (1 Corinthians 2:16) The fact remains that twenty centuries later we still struggle to trust, to embrace and assimilate Jesus' teachings. For the powers of evil are still present in the world (John 16:33)

Each generation has the challenge to keep the memory of Jesus' triumph on the Cross alive. "Do this in memory of me," Jesus said at the Last Supper. (Luke 22:19) Today, when we eat the bread and drink the cup, the work of our salvation continues.

St. Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists, "...never tired of insisting that the most effective rewhelming works of God's medy for the evils of the time is the Passion of Jesus, the greatest and most overlove." (Constitutions of the Passionists) He said we must keep the wisdom of the cross imprinted on our minds, and so he taught people how to meditate on this incredible mystery. It was that simple. Thus the memory lives on.

The yearning for liberation has never been more poignant. The wisdom of the Cross awaits our embrace. It is our answer, yet it has a price. St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) said, "The wisdom of the cross can be acquired only if one experiences personally the whole weight of the cross."

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