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Lent: With the Cross Front and Center


Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 03/10/15

Don't let it be just another ornament

Lent is a struggle of a few weeks, a battle of a lifetime, and a fight for eternity. In previous columns, I spoke of the nature, purpose and instruments of Lent. Now I wish to speak of the Cross of Christ, which is the center of Lent and the gateway to Easter.

What do we see when we look at a Cross? Many years ago, I was driving with my business partner, who was Jewish, and his five-year old daughter. We stopped at a traffic light, and the little girl pointed out the window and said, “That building is a church!” Her father asked, “How do you know?” She replied, “Because it has a ‘T’ on top.”

A ‘T’ on top. Through no fault of her own, the Cross to her was just a shape, a shape in the form of the letter ‘T’. She looked at the Cross, but she did not recognize it. I want to suggest that we, like her, but for different reasons, might look at the Cross without recognizing it. I fear that the Cross has become so familiar that we are no longer shocked by it. Can the Cross become merely part of the furniture of a chapel? In the popular culture, the Cross has become a piece of jewelry, a decoration. In the popular culture, people look at the Cross and see nothing.

But the Cross of Christ should be shocking! It should be, as Saint Paul wrote, a scandal, a stumbling block. The pagans could scarcely imagine that the divine could love us so; the moderns would reject that we need such moral remedy. The Cross would force the pagans to reconsider love; the Cross would force the moderns to reconsider sin. And our own present culture the Cross as invisible, irrelevant or as neutered. In other words, it regards the Cross as something that may be handled safely and without consequence. But it should take daring to lift high the Cross of Christ! When we see the Cross, we should be startled and frightened, as if we found a ticking bomb or a child playing with a loaded gun. We must be startled and frightened and awestruck as we look upon the Cross—for the Cross of Christ has unimaginable power. During this season of Lent, may we come to look at the Cross of Christ and see it as if for the first time.

What can we see when we look at the Cross of Christ? We have to learn to look at the Cross again and again, seeing more and more each time that we turn our eyes and hearts and minds to it. 

 Let us look at the Cross and say, “That’s me—that’s what the world has done to me.” We need to be able to look at the Cross of Christ and see our own pain, our own suffering and disfigurement. We have to look at the crucified Lord and see our own wounds. We must identify each of our wounds and ask God to touch them with His healing. In this way, the Cross can become for us a remedy for sin—the sin of others and our own sin as well.

If we repent of our sin without asking God for healing, we will almost certainly commit the same sins again and again. Repenting without getting healing for those wounds which are so often the roots of sin is like trimming the tops of weeds and then becoming surprised that the weeds grow back. You see, sin more easily takes root in places where our hearts have been wounded. If we want to be free of our habitual sins, we must find healing for our hearts. 

We are not likely to receive healing if we do not ask for it. The first step for the healing of our hearts, which is essential as a remedy for sin, is to look at Christ crucified and then to see and name our wounds so that we may offer them to God.

Let us look at the Cross again and say, “That’s me—and I did it to myself. This is what I look like when I disfigure myself by sin. I, the nearest neighbor whom God has given me to love—I have wounded and mangled myself by my sin.” We have to look at the Cross and see the awful truth. I behold the crucified Christ and see that I am destroying myself by my sin.

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