Via Crucis: ‘That Weighty Cross’

crosswithclothOn Good Friday, Pope Francis, the Bishop of Rome, led the Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross, service at the Roman Colosseum, where thousands accompanied Christ’s path to the Cross by the light of candles and torches.

From the Palatine Hill Pope Francis listened to the reflections that accompanied each of the fourteen stations, dedicated this year to the economic crisis that afflicts many countries, to immigration, poverty, and the situation of women and the marginalized in today’s world.

The cross was carried to the various stations by a worker and a businessman, two immigrants, two homeless people, two detainees, two former drug addicts, two patients, two children, a family, two elderly people, two nuns, the Custodians of the Holy Land and, in the first and last stations, the Cardinal Archbishop of Rome, Agostino Vallini.

At the end the Pope addressed some unscripted remarks to the participants:

“God placed on Jesus’ Cross all the weight of our sins, all the injustice perpetrated by every Cain against his brother, all the bitterness of the betrayals of Judas and Peter, all the vanity of tyrants, all the arrogance of false friends. It was a heavy Cross, like the night of abandoned people, as heavy as the death of loved ones, heavy because it carried all the ugliness of evil. However it is also a glorious Cross, like the dawn after a long night, as it represents all of God’s love, which is greater than our iniquity and our betrayals. In the Cross we see the monstrosity of man, when we allow ourselves to be guided by evil; but we also see the immensity of God’s mercy; He does not treat us according to our sins, but according to His mercy.

Before the Cross of Christ, we see, we can almost touch with our hands how much we are eternally loved; before the Cross, we feel like ‘children’ and not ‘things ‘ or objects, as St. Gregory of Nazianzus affirmed when he turned to Christ with this prayer: ‘If it were not for you, O my Christ, I would feel as a finished creature. … O, our Jesus, guide us from the Cross to the Resurrection and teach us that evil will not have the last word, but rather love, mercy, and forgiveness. O Christ, teach us to exclaim anew, “Yesterday I was crucified with Christ; today I am glorified with Him”’.

And in the end, all together, let us recall the sick, let us think of all those people abandoned beneath the weight of the Cross, so that they might find in the trial of the Cross the strength of hope, of the hope of the Resurrection and the love of God.”

Holy Week: ‘At Calvary Near the Ancre’


At a Calvary Near the Ancre (For Good Friday)
by WILFRED OWEN (1917)

One ever hangs where shelled roads part.
In this war He too lost a limb,
But His disciples hide apart;
And now the Soldiers bear with Him.
Near Golgotha strolls many a priest,
And in their faces there is pride
That they were flesh-marked by the Beast
By whom the gentle Christ’s denied.
The scribes on all the people shove
And bawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.

Fred Shuttlesworth: #Occupying Heaven

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth with wife, Sephira in Selma, Alabama, at the 46th anniversary of Bloody Sunday at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. (Photo: Rose Berger)

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who withstood fire hoses and dogs unleashed by Birmingham’s public safety conmmissioner, and survived bombings and beatings during the civil rights movement, died on Wednesday (Oct. 5) at age 89.

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth (left), Ralph Abernathy (center), Dr. King (right) on Good Friday on April 12, 1963, in Birmingham.

I met Rev. Shuttlesworth last year in Birmingham with his lovely wife Sephira when I joined the 46th anniversary of Bloody Sunday on a civil rights tour of Alabama led by Congressman John Lewis.

Rev. Shuttlesworth’s body was a bit ravaged, but his eyes were fierce and he was tracking everything that was going on.

He made it across the Edmund Pettus bridge one more time. And now he’s crossed a bridge where there’s nothing but angels on the other side.

“I think God created Fred Shuttlesworth to take on people like Bull Connor. He was one of the most courageous men that I have ever known. I don’t know of anyone else that could have led the movement in Birmingham.”–Rev. Joseph Lowery

Read more about Rev. Shuttlesworth over at Sojourners.

Good Friday Poem: The Messiah After the Crucifixion

Pieta by Edilberto Merida

Iraqi poet Badr Shakir al-Sayyab, one of the greatest modern Arabic poets, was born near Basra in 1926. After World War II several leading Arabic poets began experimenting with Christian metaphor and imagery after work by T.S. Eliot, especially The Wasteland. Al-Sayyab allows the image of Christ to echo his own homeland’s need of resurrection.

The Messiah After the Crucifixion
by Badr Shakir al-Sayyab

After I was brought down, I heard the winds
Whip the palm trees with wild laments;
Footsteps receded into infinity. Wounds
And the cross I was nailed to all afternoon
Didn’t kill me. I listened. A cry of grief
Crossed the plain between me and the city
Like a hawser pulling a ship
Destined to sink. The cry
Was a thread of light between morning
And night in sad winter sky.
Despite all this, the city fell asleep.

When the orange and mulberry trees bloom
When my village Jaykour reaches the limits of fantasy
When grass grows green and sings with fragrance
And the sun suckles it with brilliance
When even darkness grows green
Warmth touches my heart and my blood flows into earth
My heart becomes sun, when sun throbs with light
My heart become earth, throbbing with wheat, blossom
and sweet water
My heart is water, an ear of corn
Its death is resurrection. It lives in him who eats
The dough, round as a little breast, life’s breast.
I died by fire. When I burned, the darkness of my clay
disappeared. Only God remained.
I was the beginning, and in the beginning was poverty
I died so bread would be eaten in my name
So I would be sown in season.
Many are the lives I’ll live. In every soil
I’ll become a future, a seed, a generation of men
A drop of blood, or more, in every man’s heart.

Then I returned. When Judas saw me he turned pale
I was his secret!
He was a shadow of mine, grown dark
The frozen image of an idea
From which life was plucked
He feared I might reveal death in his eyes
(his eyes were a rock
behind which he hid his death)
He feared my warmth. It was a threat to him
so he betrayed it.
“Is this you? Or is it my shadow grown white
emitting light?
Men die only once! That’s what our fathers said
That’s what they taught us. Or was it a lie?!”
That’s what he said when he saw me. His whole face spoke.

I hear footsteps, approaching and falling
The tomb rumbles with their fall
Have they come again? Who else could it be?
Their falling footsteps follow me
I lay rocks on my chest
Didn’t they crucify me yesterday? Yet here I am!
Who could know that I . . . ? Who?
And as for Judas and his friends, no one will believe them.
Their footsteps follow me and fall.

Here I am now, naked in my dank tomb
Yesterday I curled up like a thought, a bud
Beneath my shroud of snow. My blood bloomed from moisture
I was then a thin shadow between night and day.
When I burst my soul into treasures and peeled it like fruit
When I turned my pockets into swaddling clothes
and my sleeves into a cover
When I kept the bones of little children
warm within my flesh
And stripped my wounds to dress the wound of another
The wall between me and God disappeared.
The soldiers surprised even my wounds and my heartbeats
They surprised all that wasn’t dead
even if it was a tomb
They took me by surprise the way a flock of starving birds
pluck the fruit of a palm tree in a deserted village.

The rifles are pointed and have eyes
with which they devour my road
Their fire dreams of my crucifixion
Their eyes are made of fire and iron
The eyes of my people are light in the skies
they shine with memory and love.
Their rifles relieve me of my burden;
my cross grows moist. How small
Such death is! My death. And yet how great!

After I was nailed to the cross, I cast my eyes
toward the city
I could hardly recognize the plain, the wall, the cemetery
Something, as far as my eyes could see, sprung forth
Like a forest in bloom
Everywhere there was a cross and a mourning mother
Blessed be the Lord!
Such are the pains of a city in labor.

Badr Shakir al-Sayyab’s poem was translated from the Arabic by Ben M. Bennani, whose book of translations of three contemporary Arabic poets, Bread, Hasheesh, & Moon, was published by Copper Canyon Press (Spring 1975).