This brightness eventually parted and the mountain herders saw a pair of very white hands, a face buried in these hands, elbows resting on knees, a woman seated on a pile of stones, weeping. She rose, tall and stately, and gently, reassuringly called the children to herself. Their eyes were soon riveted upon the source of the blinding light that clothed the Beautiful Lady, that enveloped her and embraced them both; what they called the Lady’s lovely cross.
The Hour of Jesus
Jesus’ crucifixion – it is history’s critical turning point, human freedom’s finest hour, the hour of Jesus. This was the hour he both dreaded and eagerly anticipated, an hour in which his mother shared deeply. “For this reason does the Father love me that I freely lay down my life that I may freely take it up again” (John 10:17). “If I set you free you will be free indeed. Knowledge of the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).
This gift that Christ brings — that Christ is — is freedom from self-delusion, from all that is self-deception, from all that is escapism, evasion and rationalization. Indeed, there are many ways to tell the story of the cross. According to St. John the Evangelist, it involved a collision between politics and religion. The chief priests and Pontius Pilate conspired to solve the “Jesus Problem” while managing to remain enemies.
Meanwhile Jesus – in that unmistakable dignity personal integrity confers – stood at center stage like a light, like a mirror in which all those around him saw themselves clearly for who they really were. One way we Christians have avoided seeing our own reflections in that mirror is to pretend that the story is about Jews and Romans who lived and schemed 2,000 years ago. And so long as they remain the villains, we are off the hook —or so we choose to believe.
History Still Happening
Unfortunately, this is not a story that unfolded in a far away land long, long ago. It is unfolding still. Daughters and sons of God have been put to death in every age. Ours is no exception. God’s children are being put to death just as they have been in the past: in holy wars and religious inquisitions, in concentration camps and prison cells.
They have been killed in Bosnia, in Cape Town, in El Salvador, in Selma, in Memphis, in Belfast, in Kosovo, in Rwanda. Then as now, the charges brought against them run the entire gamut. But bold, courageous, outspoken assertions of basic human dignity and civil rights and untimely questioning of popular beliefs and standards certainly head the list.
Jesus, too, dissented. He upset the opinion-makers and the power brokers of his day. He offered himself as a mirror in which they could see themselves. So appalled were they by what they saw that they smashed the mirror. They smashed him every way they could, too.
What happened then goes on up to this very day. In the presence of Christ’s integrity, our own pretense is exposed; in the presence of Christ’s constancy, our own cowardice comes to light; in the presence of Christ’s fierce love of the Father and passionate love for us sinners, our own hardness of heart is revealed.
Take Jesus out of the picture and all these things become relative. We say to each other: “I am not that much worse than you and you are not that much worse than I am; you have your faults but then I have my faults, too.” But leave Jesus in the midst and there is no place for any of us to hide.
He alone is the Light of the world. He is the Lamb who alone takes away the world’s sin. Before him, people either fall on their knees and worship, beat their breasts in repentance, or do everything in their power to extinguish the Light, to smash the mirror his life holds before their eyes.
A cross and nails are not always necessary.
Avoiding a Travesty of Reconciliation
St. Paul pleaded with the Christian community at Corinth: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). Devotees of Our Lady Reconciler of La Salette prize the charism of reconciliation and profess to share its ever-timely fruits with all. Allow me, however, to caution us all against a perverse reconciliation, a travesty of reconciliation.
“Beginning with myself”, Jesuit Father Daniel Berrigan candidly stated, “American Christians are indeed retrograde before the enormous suffering of the world’s innocent ones. We are even perversely reconciled to such suffering. Our complicity and our cowardice block the true reconciling act of Christ. Nostra culpa. (Forgive us.)”
Living Christ’s Gospel challenge with consistency is not at all easy. So it is that for over two millennia we have conspired to lower the high standards he set, so we can go on honoring them, so we can continue to hold them up to our world without having to pay the steep price of true conversion.
Apparitions, as we know, are not a new gospel. They are a renewed prophetic challenge to heed and live by the Gospel and to do so as a reconstituted People of God. A free, full, generous consent is what the Handmaid of the Lord gave: “Be it done to me as you have said” (Luke 1:30). She renewed that consent again and again along the faith pilgrimage of her life. She solemnly ratified it at the crossroads of history, at the foot of the cross.
To ratify or not to ratify our baptismal commitment, again and again along the faith pilgrimage of our life – that is the question. To ratify or not to ratify our personal commitment to Christ as we stand, at our moment of history, in the shadow cast by his freeing cross – that is the question.