Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
“Moses accordingly made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he recovered.” (Numbers 21:9) “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14) Readings for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Many books are written about Jesus and about Christianity. And from these books we can learn a lot about our Lord, and about our religion. But the knowledge we get from them is superficial and shallow compared to the wisdom we can get from contemplating the crucifix. St. Paul claimed that he knew nothing but Jesus Christ crucified. “Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, to the pagans, foolishness, but to those who believe the power and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor.1:23) St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians in the history of the Church, said that he got all of his wisdom on his knees before the crucifix. St. Augustine, one of the most brilliant doctors of the Church, said, “One tear shed before the crucifix is worth a year of penance.”
Contemplation means to gaze lovingly at something. So contemplation is really a form of intuition. Intuition comes from the Latin intus legere, which means to read into. The “image becomes the icon.” It goes from the eye to the heart without going through the intellect. Seeing becomes believing. Let us contemplate the crucifix, that is, gaze lovingly at it.
First of all there is the cross itself. This dreaded instrument of torture has become the most cherished symbol in the world. We begin and end every prayer with the sign of the cross. “God forbid that we should glory save in the cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Gal.6:14) The cross is just two pieces of wood nailed together. It gets its value from the body hanging on it. That is not just an ordinary man that is Jesus Christ true God and true man.
“Behold the man!” Look at his arms outstretched to embrace the whole world. “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.”
Contemplate the hands of Jesus. Those hands during life were always open, always giving, healing and blessing. Now nailed to the cross they are still open, still giving, still healing to the last drop of his blood.
Contemplate the feet of our Lord. Those feet of the Good Shepherd left the ninety-nine in the flock in search of the one lost sheep. Those feet, so weary from walking up and down the Holy Land bringing the Good News and healing to all, now nailed to the cross are much more effective in bringing back sinners. “And if I be lifted up, I will draw all things to myself.”
Contemplate the side of our Lord. That side was opened by a soldier’s lance that we might see his heart, his Sacred Heart that has loved us so much and received coldness and indifference in return. See the wounded side from which flowed blood and water, the fountain of sacramental life in the Church.
Contemplate the face of our Lord. That face once so beautiful is now covered with blood and spittle and crowned with thorns.
Perhaps we cannot give a good definition of love. Perhaps no one can put in words what love really is. But we can all recognize love when we see it. Here on the cross we see and we recognize the greatest love this world has ever seen. The crucifix with the wounded heart will ever be the proof and the symbol of love. “Greater love than this no one has that he lay his life down for his friend.” And Paul reminds us that when Jesus gave his life for us we were sinners.
“Behold the man!” Look at his arms, his hand, his feet, his open side, look up into the face of Jesus and ask him, “Lord, why are you here? For me? For the love of me?” And then ask yourself in your heart, “What have I done for Jesus? What am I doing for Jesus? What ought I to do for Jesus?” And remember, it costs to be a lover; the language of love is sacrifice.
“ecstasy without agony is baloney.”
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