I started off Lent with lofty plans on boosting my prayer life, a firm purpose of amendment to avoid sin and to fast. I failed miserably on every level, sinking into the comforting thought that I am simply enduring the dark night of the soul. I reasoned that I am experiencing what St. John of the Cross and Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta experienced. The reality is that my Lenten ambitions were based on a foundation that was built on the sands of sloth. Spiritual sloth can be addictive. There are so many excuses we can use. Mine are quite convincing. My commute is 5 to 6 hours a day on top of a 9 hour work day. However, my commute time could be used for prayer, many times it is, but most times it involves inane conversation and watching useless YouTube videos. I comfort myself with the knowledge that the Lord loves me, yet my response to His love should be greater than the love I have for myself and my excuses and my comfort.
I have been thinking about the pelican on the rood, which is the legend of the pelican wounding itself to feed its young with its own blood to give them life, a symbol of Christ. This meditation led my imagination to contemplate The Dream of the Rood, a beautiful poem about the tree that was made into the cross. The tree speaks of how it was originally destined to be used to hang a criminal but instead was honored to bear the young hero, God almighty. The tree speaks of how it too, was pierced by the nails which pierced Christ and how the cross and the Lord became one. It speaks of how it was sanctified with the Lord’s Precious Blood and how it heals anyone who reverences it.
The power and might of the cross is inextricably united with Christ, and the poetic imagery of the merger of Christ and the cross is so powerful that it harkens back to Jesus’ exhortation for His followers to take up their crosses and follow Him. This imagery would have been terrifying to Jesus’ listeners as the cross was the Roman torture device. Jesus’ audience would have been very familiar with these types of executions and yet Jesus uses it as a symbol which His followers were to embrace in the same way that He did, with both hands. This torture device prefigured by the bronze seraph serpent that Moses made and lifted up in the desert so that all who had been bitten by seraph serpents and looked upon it would be healed. It is no coincidence then that we who look upon Him on the cross with faith are also healed, physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally and freed from the deadly venom of sin. The cross is an invitation. When the Son of Man is lifted up He will draw all people to Himself. It invites us to enter into the mystery of Salvation. He draws us into Himself. He invites us to contemplate the mystery of God’s love and His wrath. Instead of avenging His just anger against His enemies, He Himself absorbs the punishment and He accomplished this in a terribly powerful way. The cross is the expression of God’s unfathomable love for us.
The cross is still powerful. It is the throne of the King of kings. It is the instrument of Salvation. Dismas won heaven on the cross with his declaration of faith. Longinus was converted and sanctified by the Precious Blood and water which issued from Jesus’ side when he thrust his spear into Our Lord’s Sacred Heart at the foot of the cross. And virtually everyone who participated in the Lord’s execution were forgiven from that Cross of crosses by their Victim. Even His executioners declared at the foot of the cross that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the power of that Holy Cross which converted even Jesus’ own executioners.
Lent is over. Easter is here. The cross is as powerful as ever and I’m still feeling spiritually slothful. Frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation helps. Praying the Rosary helps. Daily mass helps. Eucharistic adoration helps. Reading Scripture helps and yet I still feel dry. Maybe I really am experiencing the dark night of the soul. Maybe the dark night is spiritual sloth, at least for me. Spiritually, I hit the heights and sink into the depths all in the same day, sometimes in the same hour.
Strangely, I actually look at all this as a blessing. This dryness is a cross. It can sometimes can be a heavy burden because I feel like a son who is disappointing his dad. I can embrace it, not with guilt but in spiritual poverty being totally reliant on the grace and mercy of God. Other times it feels like a sanctifying grace because the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. To paraphrase Saint Paul, when I am weak then I am strong. This personal cross is a weakness which strengthens me. This is the contradiction of the cross. It is when we appear to be at our weakest point, broken, beaten, dying. Pinned to a tree literally or figuratively is when we are our strongest if only we do what Dismas did. Turn ourselves towards the Lord and ask. Trust. Surrender. Rely totally on Christ focusing not on present suffering but on future glory with Jesus. Becoming one with Jesus as that holy rood did.
I hate suffering. I used to look to escape it. After kicking against the goad for decades and enduring much suffering (sometimes because of my own pride, anger and stupidity) and other times because of other people I have learned to embrace it when it comes if it is unavoidable or unchangeable at that moment. This was especially true for me regarding my growing commute times. I would rail against every thing and everyone I thought was responsible. My wife chided me about my anger and bad attitude advising me that if I resist it will persist. Is this not what happened to the bad thief who grumbled at his fate, fought his just punishment and ultimately cursed the Lord losing his opportunity for eternal life? He didn’t focus on Christ only his circumstance. Televangelists have counseled that we shouldn’t tell God how big our problems are, we should tell our problems how big our God is. My wife and the televangelists are correct. Telling the problem that God is bigger than it is and enduring trials patiently united to Christ does render the problem impotent.
When I was struck by a car driven by a careless distracted driver, I experienced helplessness and immense pain as I laid there in the middle of the road. The accident left me with a broken back, dislocated and broken shoulder and a broken leg. As I lay in the road in pain the driver that hit me held his cell phone above me filming me as I begged him for help. He made no effort to help me, relieve my pain or even speak to me. He just held is phone above me filming me yelling in pain. I was yelling for God to help me. I forgave the driver right then and there and turned to Jesus. At that moment I felt one with Christ nailed to the cross. I felt like the holy rood in that poem.
We are celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus. By the time you are reading this we will have celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday and we look forward to celebrating the great feast of Pentecost. We have gone from ashes to fire, from the cross to the grave from the grave to the sky as the song proclaims Lord we lift your name on high. May all who read this have a blessed Easter season. The Lord has truly Risen. He makes all things new. May He renew His Holy Spirit in me and in you.