By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published April 9, 2009
I am sitting with my best friend on a bench in downtown Decatur, where we are eating ice cream. And as we sit talking, something very strange happens, which I will always remember.
Two charcoal grey streaks suddenly appear in the sky, forming a huge cross against the white cloud background. The stark shape reminds me that the cross of Christ is everywhere.
When I go to church and see people in wheelchairs, I am glimpsing the cross. When I shop at the grocery store and see elderly people creeping slowly along, pushing their walkers, I am seeing the cross.
There are also invisible crosses. There is the cross of addiction that may strike a person who is young and fit. There is the invisible cross of grief, borne by those who have lost a child. And the cross of doubt, worry and fear, which can burden someone who, in the eyes of the world, is thriving.
I have a childhood friend who has been stricken by a huge cross. She suffers from a serious kidney disorder, which has led to disabling illnesses. What is heart-breaking is that she does not believe in God, so she does not have the comfort of prayer and the sacraments.
My friend doesn’t deserve the suffering she has endured, and she is understandably angry. But I pray that one day she will open her heart to the love that comes from another who suffered without cause. Of course, that was Jesus, the innocent lamb led to slaughter.
It is easy to wonder: Couldn’t Christ have saved the world another way, through a less painful death?
When he was in the garden of Gethsemane and knew the soldiers were coming, he could have escaped. After he was arrested, he could have answered Pilate’s questions differently. And rather than endure crucifixion, he could have called upon a legion of angels to rescue him.
Instead, he accepted the suffering of the cross.
In “A Retreat for Lay People,” Ronald Knox writes about Christ’s death: “Had he ever sinned? No. Did his motivation for loving his Father require purification, or did his character need perfecting? Again, no.”
Knox expresses something incredibly powerful: “If ever in human history there was an example of undeserved suffering, it is the agonizing death of Jesus.”
Yet, what is so astonishing is that Jesus welcomed the cross. Why? Because of love, as we are told in St. John’s Gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
The image of the man hanging from that horrible cross is burned into our hearts. It is an image of enormous love, and it is unforgettable.
Even those who mock the Christian faith still unwittingly acknowledge the power of the cross. Why else would screenwriters of horror movies rely on crucifixes to banish vampires? The cross is an image of love that Satan, the prince of darkness and despair, can’t bear to see.
Catholics wear this image of love around our necks, and we trace the cross upon our bodies each time we say our prayers. It is our way of saying that Satan and his demons shall not conquer us.
The cross is a contradiction, but a beautiful one. It is an instrument of death that tells us about eternal life. It is an instrument of hatred that bespeaks great love.
Perhaps suffering seems far away in our lives now, like a cross traced upon the clouds in a night sky. Perhaps now our lives are filled with pleasant nights eating ice cream with a friend. Still, we are called to pray for those bent under the weight of a cross.
I pray for my childhood friend whose suffering is so great. I pray for the people I see at church, the ones in wheelchairs and on walkers. I pray for all those bearing the hidden crosses of grief, addiction and depression.
I also pray for the strength and the grace to carry my cross when it comes.
The Murrays are parishioners at St. Thomas More Church. Lorraine’s books are available at www.lorrainevmurray.com.