|Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.|
Against a dark horizon of betrayal, false accusations, gross injustice, senseless torture and a premature death, the Cross of Calvary rises high to turn our eyes to the sure Promise and Glory of Heaven. The Calvary event turned the curse of the cross into the highest blessing of salvation for all humankind. The cross was the ultimate punishment given to a criminal. It was a signpost to all that should not happen to a person. Yet when Jesus took the Cross upon His shoulders it became the summit of love that shines down hope for all generations and all of humanity.
“Love Is Strong As Death” (Songs 8:6)/ “Love Never Ends” (1 Corinthians 13:8)
This is the greatest act of love that the earth has could ever witness because the Cross fell on Jesus Christ not because of His crime but because of the crimes of humankind. Further it was not that He grudgingly surrendered Himself to a tragic unfortunate plight. He said, “No one takes it (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:18) Pain willingly taken over for the sake of love is indeed a blessing. No wonder when we read the gospel accounts of the Crucifixion, what is striking is not the utter cruelty of the soldiers or the unjust condemnation of the authorities but the willing acceptance of the Cross by Jesus. The world has seen the ugliness of torture under different regimes and dictatorships. There is much injustice even in this day. Yet a love that vanquishes all ugliness simply by its untainted goodness is seen only at Calvary. In the midst of the atrocities meted out to Jesus, He kept goodness shining within Himself. No amount of cruelty could quench the flame of love in His heart. That flame burst out in a final prayer for the very persecutors - “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Love is sharing and the Cross was the ultimate expression of sharing love. As Prophet Isaiah had said, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:5) The mystery of Incarnation is now complete. God entered into human history and became Emmanuel – “God with us”. He shared the poverty and pain, the loneliness and helplessness of human existence. On the Cross, this sharing reached its climax. The Immortal took on mortality. The Unblemished took on the grime of our sins. The Glorious took on dishonor. Life took on death and death was defeated. Love triumphed! From then on Calvary has become the measure of love. The more one loves the deeper would be the longing to be part of the life of the other.
“The Joy Of The Lord Is Your Strength” (Nehemiah 8:10)
During a retreat, a mother shared with me her hectic way of life. She was a working woman and she would come home tired. Her two children were studying in the college. They would have to sit up very late into the night to complete their assignments. And the mother would sit in the neighbouring room praying for the two children. She would go to bed only after they would put off their lights. Early morning she would wake up to get their food ready and to prepare to go to the office for work. She would not be able to sleep more than 3 hours in the night. And yet she said she would wake up in the morning very refreshed in spite of the short sleep she had at night. She attributed this to the great joy she received in sharing the burden of her children. The hard work of the day and the vigil of the night did not tire her at all. Love never tires after all.
Jesus had a cross on his shoulders because He loved. “He loved His own,” St. John tells us, “and He loved them to the end.” (John 13:1) Since His Love was supreme, the Cross also was unimaginably heavy. Now the invitation of Jesus to each one of us is to take up the daily cross and follow Him. It is love that accords meaning and depth to life. And where there is no cross of sacrifice, there is no love. Everyone who follows Jesus will have a cross to carry because the way of Jesus is the way of self-sacrificing love – a love that seeks not to receive but to give, a love that seeks to bind up the wound of the other and to bear the burden of the neighbour. The burden of love is a burden that becomes light because of the joy of loving. It is the way of the followers of Jesus.
“Gold Is Tested In The Fire” (Sirach 2:5) / “The Genuineness Of Your Faith, More Precious Than Gold Which Though Perishable Is Tested By Fire” (1 Peter 1:7)
Every pain taken up because of love becomes mysteriously connected with the Cross of Jesus. In fact, it is when we allow the Cross of Christ to cast light on our sufferings that we shall begin to see the joy and glory destined for us. A prayer group leader once shared with me his journey through the agony of humiliation to the ecstasy of Christ’s Glory. He was working as a manager in a firm, very committed to his responsibilities but also committed to the teachings of Jesus. In the administration of his office, he would never sway from the principles of justice and truth. His partners instructed him to bend the rules which would lead to an unfair deal adversely affecting some of the employees. He tried to dissuade his partners explaining how such a step would cast a shadow on the future of those individuals. But they were insistent as this policy would bring in tremendous financial returns to the company and the managers would stand to get a good percentage of such gains. He however could not accept their proposals because it was for him a blatant violation of all norms of justice and truth. He was threatened of being demoted and would be so sidelined he would have no say in the policy-making of the company in the future.
He prayed over the situation for an entire week and he felt inspired by the Holy Spirit that he needed to follow Jesus by standing for justice and truth. That occurred to him as a far more precious value than the financial gain that he could get. He knew he could never be at ease if he made that big mistake. He made known his decision to the authorities and then and there he was given a choice either of being suspended or being demoted. He felt deeply humiliated by the very organization that he took the initiative to establish and gave his best to and hurt by his friends whom he trusted. Even his wife could not understand the rationale of his stand. She questioned him as to what was so grave about this step that he could disregard the financial needs of the family and the future of their children. His friends laughed at him for being so impractical in professional matters. Every direction he turned to, he felt condemned. Even one of his elders told him that religion is a matter of personal prayer and not to be dragged into the affairs of the world.
He felt very confused and angry and depressed - confused because he could not understand why it happened to him and what to do next. There was no one who shared his convictions. On the other hand, everyone sounded so convinced that his refusal to cooperate with corruption was unwarranted. He was angry at his partners for what they had done to him. He felt betrayed and shocked at their easy change of loyalties. He was depressed because he felt let down by his family and even by God.
"My God, My God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46)
When I met him, he asked me the question that he had obviously been struggling with day and night: “Why did God allow this to happen to me after my being totally committed to Him in life and in work?” He shared how he had lost sleep and peace of mind. He longed for a little rest and peaceful sleep. I prayed with him and helped him to surrender the whole problem in the Hands of God. He went to the chapel to pray. He opened the Bible and began to read the eleventh chapter in the Gospel of Matthew. He reached the end of the chapter which read this way - “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30) He was drawn to ask God for the grace to understand this invitation and the promise.
Jesus promises that the yoke will be easy and the burden will be light and one will even find deep rest for the soul. It occurred to him that he was carrying a terrible yoke upon himself and was yet not finding rest for his soul. His soul was in distress and turmoil, unable to understand or take the pain. He waited awhile and at one moment it struck him that this promise was only for those who carry the yoke of Jesus. He asked himself “Whose yoke he was carrying?” He realized that he was in fact carrying the yoke thrust on him by his partners, friends and his wife. That is the reason why his soul was not able to find the rest of Jesus. He fell prostrate in the Presence of Jesus and confessed his mistake. He surrendered himself to the Plan of God and accepted his pain of humiliation and the agony of his mind from the Hands of the Lord. He began to pray for all those who hurt him. He promised the Lord that he would continue to carry the cross because of his love for Jesus and for the love of the employees whose cause he was defending. He felt the ineffable peace of the Holy Spirit filling his heart.
He resigned his post willingly because he did not want to be part of an unjust system that he was not able to rectify. He remained in prayer waiting for God’s intervention. What happened soon after this amazed him. Another firm came to hear of his integrity and nobility and they approached him seeking his services and directly appointed him as the Managing Director of their firm. He called me that evening and declared joyfully - “No one who trusts in the Lord will be put to shame.” (Romans 10:11) He described how it took a crushing experience for him to unearth the treasure of the mystery of suffering.
“The Truth Will Set You Free” (John 8:32)
Two insights dawned on him. Firstly he realized that every suffering accepted from the Hands of the Lord is mysteriously but really connected with the Cross of Jesus. When we accept the cross as a participation in the journey of Christ, we shall reach the destination of joy and glory. “Rejoice in so far as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13) We will be able to rejoice in the moments of our suffering only when we are convinced that we are sharing in the mental agony and physical torture of the Lord. When I am deceived by my friend, I need to know that the pain of my heart is a sharing in the grief of Jesus when He was betrayed by Judas. When I am misunderstood and unjustly treated, it is Christ inviting me to stand beside Him at the hour of His humiliation when He was made to stand like a criminal before the Roman Governor who condemned Him. When my body is ailing, I need to look at the bruised and broken Body of Jesus staggering on the way to Calvary. It is then that pain becomes the expression of love and painful moments are anointed with the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit. It is then that with sincerity of the heart we will be able to pray for those who hurt us.
The second insight that inspired him was that it was the Christian calling he received through the love and responsibility he felt towards his employees. All the troubles came his way because he dared to be the voice of the voiceless. It was their sad plight that compelled him to sacrifice himself, all his accomplishments and his position. But he never regretted standing up for them. He felt honoured that he was giving them a confidence to fight for their rights. He felt that this was his responsibility because of his commitment to Jesus. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6) The great satisfaction that came into his life was from God Himself. St. Paul assures us, “If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him.” (2 Timothy 2:11-12)
Lent is the Holy Season where we prepare ourselves to celebrate the glorious Feast of Easter. We are invited to take on fasting, prayer and penance, contemplating the Paschal Mystery of Jesus. Indeed the experience of Lent is a living out of the mystery of Incarnation. As God shared the sad plight of humankind and achieved our salvation, we are invited to share the poverty and pain that Jesus took upon Himself from humankind. The fasting and penance that we take up during the Lent is a way we identify ourselves with the suffering humanity and the crucified Saviour. Hence Lent becomes not a dry period of boredom but a joyful celebration of love! We become part of everyone rejected and desolate, starving in any corner of the world, languishing in lonely sickbeds. The bitter grief of suffering gives way to rejoicing when it is accepted as a share in the Cross of Jesus.
Let Us Pray:
Lord Jesus, we praise You for You have revealed to us that love triumphs. By the sacrifice You gifted us in Love, we know that evil will be defeated if we could choose to love. We thank you Lord that You allow us to walk by Your side in Your most difficult hours. You give us a call to share in the highest call to love in every trial we face. As we open our hearts to You, Lord, we pray pour out Your Love into our hearts that we may find the strength to love and suffer and receive the victory You prepared for us.
May we look to You bearing the Cross and realize that this is the one way to love and to live. When in our families and work, we are called to shed tears, we shall look to You and may our eyes be opened to see the higher calling of glorious and lasting salvation that Father is handing us. Hold our hands and our hearts that we can live and love for You every person You bring into our lives. May our love transform every work we do that Your Glory may shine through!