By Orlando Hernández
The Traditional Passionist Mission Prayer to Jesus Crucified expresses what happens to many of us Catholics after years of sitting at Mass or walking past crucifixes in churches, rectories and other religious places, even in our homes: “Lord, Jesus, for how many ages have You hung upon Your Cross, and still people pass You by and regard You not, except to pierce anew Your Sacred Heart. How often have I passed You by, heedless of Your great sorrow, Your many wounds, Your infinite Love.”
We look the other way, perhaps not wanting to be disturbed by His Passion, and the stark reminder of our own cruelty and mortality. Maybe we just take it for granted. This is an attitude similar to the one many of us have when we see His crucified people in the news, suffering all over the world, and we just change the channel. We feel more comfortable with happy news, with an image of a powerful, indestructible, sovereign God, instead of the “scrawny one on his cross,” as the Catholic novelist Shusaku Endo writes.
Perhaps Peter was feeling like this in the Gospel for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. (Mt 16: 21-27): “Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him, ‘God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to You.’”
Perhaps Peter sees Jesus as the Warrior King, the Anointed One, the liberator of Israel from the Romans. Jesus, of course, rebukes him sharply and declares one of the messages that we can get from looking at all those crucifixes in our church: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Maybe not a very inspiring “pep talk” from a Warrior King to His soldiers.
At Our Lady of Victory Church in Floral Park, NY, a large crucifix hangs from wires, high over the first few pews. It is very impressive, similar to the one in “The Choir” chapel at the Passionist Monastery in Jamaica, Queens. I was sitting beneath it, admiring the artistry of this sculpture of the crucified Jesus, as I was waiting for Mass to begin. It was a beautiful object, nothing more.
I still had a half-hour wait so I started to read the Psalms on my phone. I was reading my beloved Psalm 24, which celebrates the entrance of the Arc of the Covenant, the Living God, into the Temple of Jerusalem. I always take it as an invitation to let God into my soul: “Lift up your heads, O you gates,/ Be lifted up you ancient portals,/ Let the king of glory enter in.” …..
Suddenly, the Holy Spirit of God decided to stop me on my tracks and teach me a big lesson. Psalm 24 goes on : “Who is this king of glory/? The Lord, strong and mighty/ The Lord, mighty in war/ …..Who is this king of glory?/ The Lord of hosts, he is the king of glory.”
I have many Catholic friends who talk about how we as a Church are engaged in a war. We are soldiers in this war; we are part of those “hosts.” However, I usually approach my spirituality in another way. I never think of my God as a military leader, a fighter, a general. But at that moment, in that Church, I felt it with all my heart, the urgency of the battle. I found myself asking: “Whom is He fighting against? Well, evil, suffering, and death, no?… And what are His weapons in this campaign?”
I was starting to imagine swords, and helmets, and breastplates, when suddenly I felt the urge to look up. My eyes were raised above me and I saw Him on he Cross, not a statue, but my Beloved Lord Jesus Christ. The thought struck me. THIS is the Warrior, the King of Glory. His weapons, incredibly enough, are surrender, non-violence, compassion, forgiveness, concern, self-giving, sacrifice, healing! That is what he offered me on that cross. In Revelation 19 it does say that He has a sword. It comes out of His mouth. It’s His Word, but it also says that He IS this Word. What word could possibly describe who He is except the word LOVE. That is the greatest weapon in this war! I was feeling dizzy, lost in Him as these thoughts swirled in my head.
Revelation 19 also describes the hosts of His Army. No military weapons either— just the white robes that He washed in His own blood, and I believe they were also equipped with hearts full of Love and all the work and sacrifice that it entails. So yes, as His warriors we carry His Cross in our hearts. This is how we can only possibly gain the ability to fight the evil around us and within our hearts.
I ran out of words beneath that Cross. I just sat there in pain and joy, sadness and glory, full of gratitude for the gift of His presence. I lost a little bit of my “life” right there. He came with His Life, filled that empty space with it, and made me just a little more like Him. Thank You, thank You, thank You, Beloved, Prince of Peace, King of Glory.
Since then every time I pass a crucifix I take a second look, maybe say “Thank You”. My Patron Saint, Paul of the Cross writes: “When you are alone in your room, take your crucifix, kiss its five wounds reverently, tell it to preach to you a little sermon, and then listen to the words of eternal life that it speaks to your heart.”