October 23, 2017

Holy Week 2015: The Way of the Cross (Lisa Dye)

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“The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross.”

• Paragraph 2015, Catechism of the Catholic Church

• • •

Five years ago, Internet Monk offered a series during Holy Week on the Stations of the Cross as Michael Spencer was struggling through his last days here on earth. I was new to the community and busily writing several of the meditations for the series. As is often the case, when one is in the throes of a project, vision is focused. It is up close and tunneled. I remember having exaggerated mental images at each step and station. In my mind’s eye, I saw rivulets of blood, felt the heat and jostle of the crowds, heard shouts and murmurs and smelled the closely pressed human flesh. I felt the breath go out of me as Jesus fell in the dusty street under the crushing weight of his cross.

Five years later, I sense the panorama, the sweep, the flow and end of the steps and stations. There is blessing and value in both viewpoints. There is a fellowship with Christ that comes in close scrutiny and meditation of the minutest details of his way to the Cross. I was thinking intensely about these things, but Michael, in his last moments, was undoubtedly experiencing fellowship in a way that none of us will until we are dying. Stepping back and looking at the whole, there is also a coming nearer to grasping God’s grand purpose, though always with the dimness and darkness that can’t be overcome without a face-to-face encounter in eternity with the living Christ. No doubt, Michael is experiencing this as well in a most exquisite way … a way that defies description.

“The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross.” This is not something to be understood at glance or even in a whole lifetime. It is layered and shrouded in mystery, something to uncover, bit by never ending bit as we attempt to know the ways of Holy God who has beckoned us through his Son. Part of the meaning seems to be that we, who contemplate the Cross and appropriate the work of it, enter and begin to travel the way of perfection. But strangely, Scripture tells us that the One who hung there was also perfected. We understand our need to be perfected, but the idea that Christ was made more perfect baffles and confuses us. Yet, the writer of Hebrews (2:10) tells us, “ For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect τελειωσαι through suffering … the suffering of the Cross.

It helps to consider this word “ to perfect” or “make perfect” in the original Greek. Τελειόω, the verb form here (and various parts of speech following), is more clearly understood as “to complete, to accomplish, to carry through completely, to finish, to bring to an end, to fulfill.” We can see its theme throughout the gospels and its culminating result on the Cross. There, Christ’s mission on earth and the purpose of his incarnation in time and space, were completed. The Lamb, slain before the foundation of the world cried out in his human flesh, “It is finished” (John 19:30). His saving work was accomplished, carried to completion, brought to an end, finished … τετελεσται.

We, as Christ’s followers and the children God desires for his family, are to be completed as well. He wants us to be the mature sons and daughters in the experience of our lives that he knew us to be in his will, the place of our conception. Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:48, “You, therefore, must be perfect τελειοι, as your heavenly Father is perfect τελειος.” We are the subjects of his mission to save. He has done his completing work and now we are invited to plunge into the living water of his resurrected life and submit ourselves to its purifying, refining effect. The Apostle Paul shares his assurance of this outcome in his letter to the Philippians (1:6), “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion επιτελεσει until the day of Christ Jesus.” By faith, by perseverance, by following hard on the heels of the elder brother the Father has sent to bring us into his house we can safely trust that we will not only be lovingly welcomed, but also conformed to the image of his Son.

stations-of-the-crossIt is this following of Christ we prepare for in part when we meditate upon the Stations of the Cross. We are developing a framework within our moral and spiritual imaginations that eventually makes a transference and application into our real life situations and circumstances. Usually, we think of these stations during Holy Week prior to Easter. They remind us of the events of Christ’s Passion and are fruitful meditations for all the ordinary times too. Although only eight of the fourteen are specifically detailed in Scripture, the other six (3, 4, 6, 7, 9 and 13) have traditionally been included over the centuries. But they are more than tradition and pieces of a story to remember. They are daily opportunities, if we are willing, to enter in spirit and stand with Christ as witnesses at his trials and humiliations and beatings, to follow his painful faltering footsteps on the road to Golgotha and ultimately, to wince in horror as the soldiers smash spikes into his flesh. Going deeper, we might experience a more profound union … and feel flashes of his pain, suffer his exhaustion and the weakness of his ebbing life. There is no telling what mysteries God may choose to illuminate and how he will use his Son’s way to the Cross to exert his converting power on our minds, our hearts and our spirits.

Consider also what Jesus said to his disciples. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”(Matthew 16:24 and Luke 9:23). We walk and watch and learn from him at each station and step along the way to his Cross. Our mission, after all, is to also bear crosses … to take up our burdens, our people, our pains, our joys and the sorrows of life God ordains for us in the Body of Christ and to keep following him. Our mission is to continue bringing his kingdom from heaven to earth by offering each living act, even life’s drudgeries and common requirements as spiritual services of worship. We can only do it by his continual outpouring of grace. We can only do it as we see it already done in him. We can only do it as our spiritual imaginations are formed according to the example of Christ.

This is the example Jesus gave us in going the way of the Cross. It wasn’t the high, the glorious or the exalted way as we would wish and as we tend to think we must travel. It was the low, the inglorious and broken way. It is this way, after we have given ourselves over to the searching, desperate meditation of it … a way born from recognition of our staggering spiritual need … that eventually bears its fruit in us. It bears its fruit in boardrooms, bedrooms and schoolrooms … wherever life takes place, wherever we suffer scorn and condemnation, contempt and abuse. It bears its fruit when we are hurting in our bodies, our emotions and our spirits. It bears its fruit when we are abandoned, betrayed and denied. It bears its fruit when we are blind and breathless with sickness, pain and exhaustion. It bears its fruit when we are wiping the faces of our children, our loved ones, our weak ones and our old ones. It bears its fruit when we ourselves are dying. We remember our Savior in these moments and we follow him.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me …” (Galatians 2:19b, 20a). That is really the purpose of meditating on the Stations of the Cross. It is to submit all that we think and do and are into conformity with all that Christ is … until by his Spirit we are taken up into Him. Jesus expressed it this way, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly τετελειωμενοι one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23). We are perfected and completed in communion with him and with his people, the Church. Our lives are the means by which he lives on earth today, the means by which his Kingdom and his love now come, wooing the lost into his perfecting embrace. Let us take up our crosses and follow him.

We adore you, Oh Christ, and we bless you.
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Comments

  1. Thank you for your contribution to my day. It will be a long one. To me, all of Jesus life was a station of the cross. I try to wrap my head around it and always there is more. Never plan B. I heard a sentence inside me once that said I understood you at the cross during communion. Yea, to stand under, it is there He held me up. It is there the Father understood Jesus. It is amazing to me that the creation we know always destined to fall was always destined to be redeemed. Some would say why even bother and some days maybe even most I have to wonder the same as I see the suffering and selfishness. Yet somewhere within us must have been something noble and of worth for One so loving to consider it worth doing this thing called dying on a cross. A capacity to love and care and be kind and gentle. Little lights. It is there I find some worthiness that God himself would consider it worthy to die in such a manner for me and everyone else. Not ever in anything I do but because from the beginning there was love and the expression of love and if and when I get some of it right I only enter in to what my Lord was always and is always and will always do. This Barth guy got it right in that paraphrase Robert. Jesus is the price the Father paid to be my God and since you’ve typed it and I read it my love has grown.

  2. Since not many have not commented please indulge me for you have inspired my poem this morning.

    Dearly

    This one who hopes so much
    A hope going beyond a cross
    Loving with a personal touch
    The found instead of lost

    In the forges of the Morning star
    One whose hope shines so bright
    A hammer beat the nails from a bar
    Took the blows so I could be right

    Inside a broken heart it cries
    This world’s struggles never seems to end
    I wipe the tears from clouded eyes
    The one who hold’s me is my friend

    He understands and keeps me going
    I pray help me through this day
    Like the river out my door is flowing
    In joining in I too find a way

    Though most days seem like steep hills to walk
    Level is becoming the ground
    In the silence of these endless thoughts
    Precious gifts of love I have found

    Walks and talks and feels like I
    Oh wait, He is living in here
    Somewhere too I have died
    With a friend I hold so dear

  3. Lisa Dye says:

    Thank you, W. “To me, all of Jesus’ life was a station of the cross.” How very true! Also true that our “worthiness” to benefit from price God paid is only because he has decided it so. Yet, by this decision, the wheels are set in motion to complete us. I just read a quote last night from St. Augustine of Hippo, “Let us rejoice and give thanks: we have not only become Christians, but Christ himself … Stand in awe and rejoice: We have become Christ.”

    • Wow! Thank you for that quotation, Lisa! And for this whole piece. Beautiful and inspiring.

  4. Lisa Dye says:

    Thank you, Damaris.

  5. Rick Ro. says:

    Well-written and thought-provoking piece, Lisa. Thanks. It triggered something in me, though, that has me pondering: if I don’t *feel* crucified or really want to experience that, is that okay? Am I truly His if I don’t pick up the cross daily and deny myself daily?

    It’s like when I sing “I surrender all,” I’m constantly adding “…again.” Because truthfully, I never do really surrender it all.

  6. Robert F says:

    the drama & passion
    do not hold me

    my own pains & anxieties
    pull me away

    my attention drifts
    like rain on a wind

    & I pass by these stations
    like a fast moving train

    but this too is a path
    & a cross to carry

    it finds me & lifts me up
    upon the elements of my own life

    • “…this too is a path and a cross to carry.” Amen.

    • Robert F says:

      the drama & passion
      do not hold me

      my own pains & anxieties
      pull me away

      my attention drifts
      as rain on a wind

      & I pass by these stations
      like a fast moving train

      but this too is a path
      & a cross to carry

      the path through weakness,
      the cross of absence

      & maybe these stations
      carry me where I need to go

      into a world that is yours
      into the self you have made

  7. Rick, I understand what you are saying. I often feel dull spiritually, but people farther down the path than I am write or say that our feelings convey perception, but not always the truth. We can rest…something I am not very good at doing. In my Greek class I have been discovering that things we feel responsible for are supplied by Christ as we abide. For example, Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “For I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life which I now live I live by faith in (properly understood in the Greek as “faith of”) the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Faith is in the genitive. It arises from or is generated from Christ. Paul’s word is inspired and expresses a truth that may be recognized and appropriated even if it is not always felt. We are jars of clay. We get weary and worn by our own weakness and by the circumstances of life, but we can cling to the truth that Christ’s own faith is enough to cover us…as is his love and holiness and every perfection.

    • You might want to recheck that.

      In Galations 2:20 faith is in the dative. Son is in the genetive.

      Faith in scripture is almost always that of the believer, directed to God. John 3:16 would be the perfect example. The faith chapter in Hebrews would be another.

      • Disputed passage, and important. I’m with those who think it should be read as the old KJV has it: “I live by the faith of the Son of God,” not “[my] faith in the Son of God.” It is the faith(fulness) of Jesus by which and in which I live.

        • Lisa Dye says:

          Hi Mike. Sorry to take so long responding. I have been driving all afternoon. I was going off memory on that one. It’s true that it is “Son” is the genitive, but I think it indicates where faith arises. We had this discussion in Greek and I see the other position. Still, Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. It’s not to say we have no part or responsibility to cultivate faith, but in the end I don’t think we are capable of the thing that pleases God without Christ breathing it into us.

          • Hi Lisa,

            I think you are correct that Son in the Genetive makes your point just as well.

            My apologies for the snarkiness of the original comment. It is a sensitive subject for me.

            As Chaplain Mike alluded to: Perhaps the verse isn’t talking about “our” faith at all, but the fact that Christ had faith in his Father and so submitted himself to the cross. The the verse would be understood to read “I live because of the Faith that the Son of God had [in the Father], who loved me and gave himself for me.”

          • … And I have no problem at all with that.

  8. Christiane says:

    ” Faith is in the genitive. It arises from or is generated from Christ. ”

    I love this description of faith, LISA. Your post is meaningful to me at this time in so many ways. Thank you for this.

    • I like the “Faith is in the genitive…arises from or is generated from Christ” lines, too. But even as I say that, I wonder if it’s true, and if it IS true, what does that say about when our faith is weak, or what does it say about those with no faith or little faith? Does that mean Christ isn’t generating it, or generating it weakly? Where is the line between our will and his will? I’d like to think, or I guess I feel anyway, that some of my faith is generated by me. I mean, my DOUBTS sure are, right…LOL.

      • Rick, your comments sound like my interior conversation. Lately, I have been reading Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. One of the points he makes is that God sometimes puts our senses to sleep, so to speak, so that he can do an interior work. We can’t always perceive with sleeping senses what is happening in the spirit. Sometimes the work is eventually perceived and sometimes we never can perceive it. That is very frightening to a person who wants desperately to see and understand what God is doing. I have to trust him even if it is a difficult and even if it seems like nothing fruitful is being accomplished. I have come to the conclusion that trust isn’t necessarily a peaceful feeling for me. It is just me showing up regularly, praying and listening, then doing it again … and again. Sometimes, I say, “You know, Father, I’ve been coming here for 40 years …”

        • Lisa, I just finished Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald May – who is looking at the writings of St John and St Teresa. It has really stuck with me, and your thoughts brought this quote to mind:

          Then I reflect back over my own life, in which it seems I can identify many experiences of both night and morning, and I ask, “Am I really more loving now than I used to be?” Sometimes I think I am; other times I’m not at all so sure. And then, finally, I remember how vast and incomprehensible real love is, and how terribly limited is my capacity to judge it for myself, let alone for anyone else. My ideas of love have to do with emotional feelings and acts of kindness, and I know these bear as much similarity to divine love as Teresa’s silkworm does to the butterfly. And I am reminded of how attached I am to the idea of progress; I am looking for objective evidence that I am making headway in this spiritual journey. Yet the truth of the journey admits of no such evidence, and it completely transcends my petty notions of progress.

          So in the end I am left only with hope. I hope the nights really are transformative. I hope every dawn brings deeper love, for each of us individually and for the world as a whole. I hope that John of the Cross was right when he said the intellect is transformed into faith, and the will into love, and the memory into…hope.

          • Lisa Dye says:

            Yes! Lacking the capacity to judge these things for ourselves is so applicable here. This is something I am struggling with at this very moment.

          • Robert F says:

            Gerald May’s books are wonderful. I keep returning to his Addiction and Grace; I can’t count the number of times it’s helped me through tough places.

    • Thank you, Christiane.

  9. I’m loving this Holy Weeks series, by the way. Lots to meditate on.

  10. Off Topic, but Interstellar just came out on blu-ray today. That movie was a bit of a spiritual awakening for me when I saw it. Walked in thinking I’d hate it, came out weeping over how much of my life had been corrupted by the anti-science crowd when as a young child I absolutely loved science.

    The parent teacher conference scene. Just watch that at least. It’s in the first 20 minutes of the movie, it grabbed my soul hard, and the rest of the movie just spiritually blew me away.

    • flatrocker says:

      Not sure how “spiritual” this flick was – as opposed to time and space enlightenment.
      Either way the take away message for me is the transcendent reality that we crave leads us back to us.
      Prairie independence and Gnosticism wrapped up in a worm hole.

      • Robert F says:

        And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is…

        So said Whitman, that poet of the only truly American religion, the Song of Myself.

  11. Thanks for the recommendation, Stuart. I’ll check it out.

  12. Thank you, Lisa. Wonderful.

  13. Thank you, Lisa. This is a wonderful meditation, though I can only understand a part of it — not because you’ve used obscure language, but because most spiritual language is obscure to me. Like you and Chaplain Mike, “I’m with those who think it should be read as the old KJV has it: “I live by the faith of the Son of God,” not “[my] faith in the Son of God.” That is, I *hope* that translation is correct, and I hope that statement is true. If my salvation depends on my faith, I’m done for. If it depends on Christ, there is hope.

    W and Robert F., thank you for your lovely poetry.

  14. Wonderful ! to all of you contributing to this post.

    On a patristic spin on faith (although I can’t point to any specific quotes – just a notion that this “fits”), I think that God probably uses the grace He has innately gifted in us (even though our humanity is fallen) by enlivening it with His Spirit. The grace of faith in each individual is His but His enlivening it makes it active, so in active belief it is still “my” faith, in that sense. In another sense it is also God’s, as He owns everything and everyone.

    When we initially start believing, this starts a mystical union with the faith “of the Son of God” and we continue on the journey to become one as in John 17. Part of that journey is meeting with Him in the Eucharist. Lord we remember Your death until you come…May the Stations prepare our hearts for the Bread of Life.

  15. “We are developing a framework within our moral and spiritual imaginations that eventually makes a transference and application into our real life situations and circumstances.”
    Spiritual imagination. A little noted point I think. A powerful and fruitful tool in our arsenal that we have been essentially stripped of in the age of rationalism. It’s either “evil imagination” or “childish imagination” that generally define it but very few espouse a full, robust, life giving imagination. Very glad to see it here.