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.”

St. John of God: ‘Becoming Servants of Love’

St. John of the Cross, Ojai, California

“If we look forward to receiving God’s mercy, we can never fail to do good so long as we have the strength. For if we share with the poor, out of love for God, whatever he has given to us, we shall receive according to his promise a hundredfold in eternal happiness. What a fine profit, what a blessed reward! With outstretched arms he begs us to turn toward him, to weep for our sins, and to become the servants of love, first for ourselves, then for our neighbors. Just as water extinguishes a fire, so love wipes away sin.” —St. John of God

Thomas Merton: Love, Not Duty

“It is not dutiful observance that keeps us from sin, but something far greater: it is love. And this love is not something which we develop by our own powers alone. It is a sublime gift of the divine mercy, and the fact that we live in the realization of this mercy and this gift is the greatest source of growth for our love and for our holiness.”–Thomas Merton

Joan Chittister: ‘Mercy Is What God Does for Us’

Sr. Joan Chittister and the folks at Benetvision have just released a new book on forgiveness. As we seem to live in a culture that promotes “mercilessness,” rather than a “quality of mercy [that] is not strained” (as Shakespeare put it), this book is a good one to use with small groups and for summer meditation. (Also listen to the podcast with Sr. Joan below.)

Mercy is what God does for us. Mercy discounts the economic sense of love and faith and care for a person and lives out of a divine sense of love instead. Mercy gives a human being who does not “deserve” love, love. And why? Because, the Scriptures answer, God knows of what we are made.

The fact is that we are all made of the same thing: clay, the dust of the earth, the frail, fragile, shapeless thing from which we come and to which we will all return some day. We are all capable of the same things. Our only hope is that when we are all sitting somewhere bereft, exposed, outcast, humiliated and rejected by the rest of society, someone, somewhere will “reach out a hand and lift us up.”

Mercy is the trait of those who realize their own weakness enough to be kind to those who are struggling with theirs. It is, as well, the measure of the God-life in us.

Beware those who show no mercy. They are dangerous people because they have either not faced themselves or are lying to themselves about what they find there. “We are all sinners,” we say, and then smile the words away. But the essayist Montaigne was clear about it: “There is no one so good,” he wrote, “who, were they to submit all their thoughts and actions to the laws, would not deserve hanging ten times in life.”

It is our very weaknesses that enable us to understand the power, the necessity of mercy.

The Sufi mystic Mishkat al-Masabaih reminds us, when we are overwhelmed by our own inadequacies, our own diversions from the straight paths of life, that the mercy of God is always greater than the sin of being too humanly human. He writes: She who approaches near to Me one span, I will approach near to her one cubit; and she who approaches near to Me one cubit, I will approach near to her one fathom; and whoever approaches Me walking, I will come to her running; and she who meets Me with sins equivalent to the whole world, I will greet her with forgiveness equal to it.”

The mercy we show to others is what assures us that we do not need to worry about being perfect ourselves. All we really need to do is to make the effort to be the best we can be, knowing we will often fail. Then, the mercy of others, the mercy of God is certain for us, as well. “The only thing we can offer to God of value,” St. Catherine of Siena said, “is to give our love to people as unworthy of it as we are of God’s love.” –Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB

Excerpt from God’s Tender Mercy: Reflections on Forgiveness by Joan Chittister

Listen to a podcast with Sr. Joan on forgiveness and the conversation about the controversy about the Cordoba Center at Ground Zero in New York.

Save a Nun: Bishops’ Media Director Feels ‘Suspect’

walsh_lowres061Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, a Sister of Mercy, is the director of Media Relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. She posted a commentary yesterday, A Nun Could Get Whiplash These Days, responding to the Vatican investigation of American nuns.

Her commentary isn’t all that exceptional, but I find it rather amazing that even this Catholic hierarchy “company woman,” with a very strategic position within the U.S. bishops’ Conference felt the need to push back on Vatican investigation. See an excerpt below:

This morning I read about a new documentary that tells the heroic tale of nuns in Eastern Europe sent to Siberia, prison camps, and into exile in the Stalinist days post World War II. I’m proud of them – and deeply moved by their lives. I hope everyone gets to see this program on ABC TV. It was produced by Sisters of St. Joseph and funded by the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Communication Campaign. ABC will get it September 13 and if affiliates choose to air it, it will make gripping television.

Then I read a Catholic News Service story about the Apostolic Visitation of U.S. nuns that reported that I could confidentially contact the visitator with concerns I might have about my order. It made me wonder how we nuns are perceived. Is my happiness as a sister suspect? My lifestyle? Can’t I just e-mail my own head nun when I have concerns? I wonder what my family will think? Will the young adults who asked me to read at their weddings start to wonder about the aunt they think is special?

Read Sr. Mary Ann Walsh’s whole commentary here.