THE PRECEPTS OF THE CROSS
“The apostle tells us, God displays his love for us in that while we were sinners Christ died for us. What does this mean? It means that no one could ever have known that there was such great love in God; no one could ever have guessed how immensely kind he is, or how eager for our welfare; none could have known the consuming fire of his love, apart from the work of the Incarnation and the Redemption wrought in Christ for the sake of mankind. God displays his other perfections and affections piecemeal in his creation, but in the Cross he displays his love.” Thomas of Villanova.
1) God can no longer walk with man “in the cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8). Sin has cut us off from God, and the “wickedness of man is great in the earth......every imagination and thought of his heart is only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). Man has rejected God and therefore in the Incarnation God is the Redeemer first and foremost, and then only secondly is he the teacher and Revealer. From the Annunciation he is called “Saviour”. He came into the world, yet the world knew him not. (Jn. 1:10)
2) The Incarnation leads directly to the Cross. “God will provide a lamb” says Abraham (Gen 22:8). “The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” says the Baptist (Jn. 1:29 ; 1Jn. 2:2) “For this purpose was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil” (1Jn.3:8).
3) God is in a cosmic struggle against forces in rebellion to him. The world is in the power of the devil, and “lieth in wickedness” (1 Jn. 5:19) because of the devil’s great lie that man shall become god. The work of Christ is to set man free from the devil, from sin, and from death. Only God, in Christ, can overcome the power of evil, and recapitulate all things, the entire cosmos.
4) The devil is ultimately involved in everything opposed to God’s will, to his law, and to his love. He is the principal agent in the culture of death, and is the one at work behind the scenes of power, lies, hatred, war, killing, sickness, and death. Christ the Saviour underwent the death of the Cross “that he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14), “the god of this world who has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2. Cor. 4:4)
5) After the Fall God delivers man to death and the devil, as punishment for sin and in order to impede man’s quest for self-deification. “Thou turnest man to destruction and sayest go back ye children of men........but who understandeth the power of thy wrath?” (Ps. 89:3,11) The ways of God are inscrutable. Before the Incarnation and Redemption all humanity belonged to the devil, except a few faithful souls in Israel “seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (1 Kings 19:18). Even since the Redemption few persevere in baptismal grace and succeed in freeing themselves from the devil.
6) Man offends God because he refuses to live according to God’s law; he refuses to love. And he doesn’t love, because he won’t let himself be loved; he refuses the Loving Father who runs towards him, as in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15: 20). Only when he is at the end of his tether does man finally let God embrace him. Therefore, the Cross reveals God and man in conflict, and is the peace offering from God to man; “having made peace through the blood of the Cross, reconciling all things to himself” (Col. 1:20).
7) The Cross reveals the true image of God, his essence, which is love. “The shortest expression of the Trinity is the divine act of the Cross,” says the Jesuit Mathias Scheeben. The death of the Lord Jesus was integral to his life; the fullest expression of the Beatitudes. This is how the kingdom comes in this fallen world: lowliness, meekness, lamentation (i.e. penance), the thirst for justice, compassion, purity and truth, pacifism, and suffering love. Only the God who is identical to the Crucified One makes us certain of his love, and thus of himself. He defines himself in the Cross of Christ.
8) The Cross is life-giving because it is God’s life blood, his sacrifice of himself for us; and the death of Christ is the birth pangs of the coming kingdom, part of the lowly, hidden character of the kingdom. Therefore St. Paul calls the Cross the foolishness of God which is set against the wisdom of the world; because man in his puffed up pride distorted the truth about God and his intellect was made captive to his own vanity (1 Cor. I: 17-31; Rom. 1 : 18-32). Man demands to see God because he wants proof instead of faith. Christ the Son of God answers him: “He that hath seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9)
9) Jesus proclaimed the end of the old age and the beginning of the new, and the conflict between the two, e.g. the cleansing of the Temple. “Neither do men put new wine into old wineskins” (Mt. 9:17). He is the new Temple, from henceforth the new, and the only sacrifice for sins. At the last Supper the old age passes away and the new age is inaugurated as the sacrifice of the Cross begins. Thus the kingdom comes in lowliness and obscurity. Jesus demands a total break with the present age, with the zeitgeist. “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God. Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4). Henceforth, powerlessness, wealth in poverty, life in death, joy in tragedy, love in suffering, and abundance in nothingness is to be the raiment of the New Israel of God.
10) The Cross is the radical message of the kingdom, of the transforming power and love of God for the poor and the outcast. “Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Lk. 6: 20). “Hath God not chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom, which he hath promised to them that love him” (Jas. 2:5). The Cross is God’s decree and will, and at the heart of his plan. It stands at the centre of history from the beginning. The Blood of Revelation speaks of the “Lamb slain since the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13 : 8). St. Peter talks of the blood of Christ as of a lamb, who was foreordained before the foundation of the world (1 Pet 1: 19-20). The Son of God was put to death as a criminal, among criminals, outside the city; an outcast (Heb. 13: 12-13), and cursed by the law and rejected by the religious leaders because of his acceptance and compassion for those deemed outside the law: the poor, the godless.
11) The Cross is the final revelation of who God is and what the world is. It is the revelation of the eternal mystery of God. Anyone, therefore, who ventures to speak about theology or “spirituality” without speaking of the centrality of the Cross is deceiving themselves and deceiving others. The Cross is the self-emptying of God, his wisdom, his folly, his “love surpassing all understanding”. Christ was nailed to the arms of his Father’s will. Just as in eternity it is from the joyful embrace between the Father and the Son that the Spirit proceeds, and which is the gift of their mutual love, so now and for all time it is from the painful embrace of the Father and the Son on the Cross that the Holy Spirit flows; the gift of them both for us. Jesus bowed his head and gave up the Spirit (Jn. 19:30), blood and water flowing from his side, giving birth to the Church.
12) The early Church talked of the Passion of the Son and the compassion of the Father. Christ’s Passion is the historical revelation, an epiphany of the mysterious Passion of God’s heart. “My people, what have I done to you?” (Mic. 6:3) Love of man is God’s hell, says Nietzsche’s Zarathrustra . The Father receives, but also makes the sacrifice through the Son. God has prevailed by pursuing his weakness to the extreme, says the Lutheran Martin Hengel. He bears our burdens and the sufferings of the Cross affects the Trinity, in whose love it is grounded.
13) God reigns in heaven, and is the Lord of all, but he chooses to dwell with the weak and the lowly; he is the father of the orphan, the Father of the poor (Pss. 9,10, 11, 40, 71, 81....). At the Last Judgement it is those who have shown mercy to the poor, the weak, and the suffering who will be found acceptable (Mt. 25:31-46). “Blessed is he that considereth the poor and needy: the Lord shall deliver him in the time of trouble” (Ps. 40:1). The fellowship of the Cross is necessarily the fellowship of the poor.
14) Because of sin and the power of the devil the Incarnation has to take the form of the suffering servant; for only love can overcome evil (Rom. 12:21), love as weak and powerful as a babe in a manger, love as weak and as powerful as a poor man nailed to a Cross. Creation groans for the appearance of the true man, of redeemed man (Rom. 8: 19-23), the new humanity which comes through suffering with the Son of God, the Son of Man, so as to be confirmed to his likeness (Rom. 8:17). Old Simeon at the Presentation refers to the Christ Child as the “light of the gentiles,” as set forth in Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant in chapter 42.
15) The blood of the Cross is the life-blood of God. Therefore, so is the Eucharist, which is the Holy Sacrifice made present for the faithful. This is the sacrificial act of love that establishes the New Covenant. It is the forgiveness of sins through the reconciling power of the blood of Christ. “Unless ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, ye have no life in you, “ says the Lord (Jn. 6:53). Accordingly, what Christ has put together, let no man put asunder by denying the chalice of his blood to the faithful. “This is my blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26-28; Lk. 22:20). So the blood must needs be given to all for whose sins it was poured out, because it cleanses from all sin (1 Jn. 1:7). Otherwise Christ’s commandment is annulled by a similar pharisaism to that which rejected Christ in the first place.
16) St. John states in chapter 3 of his Gospel that Our Lord connects the new birth in the Spirit with the Cross, when he is “lifted up” ( Jn. 3: 5-15). Consequently, baptism is the participation in the death of the Lord, so as to share in the Resurrection. “There are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood; and these three agree in one (1 Jn. 5: 6-7). So the new birth is not through knowledge or miracles, healings or tongues, but though the sacrament of Baptism which initiates the disciple into the life of the Cross, where suffering is accepted and penance embraced. Away then, as anathema, Pentecostalism and Charismania, which are in reality a disguised form of power-seeking, health-seeking, and wealth-seeking; perfectly acceptable to the devil. Let the Christian understand that the Spirit proceeds from the glory of the Cross (Jn. 7:39). God reigns from the Cross. The mystery of the Cross is the mystery of God’s glory. Transfiguration through Crucifixion. On the Cross God is transfigured for man. Let the Eastern Orthodox Church understand this: Calvary, not Tabor, is where we abide.
17) The Holy Spirit is the agent of the Sacrifice, who urges Christ on, and brings his sacrifice to the Father. So the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the World through the blood of the Cross. Therefore the blood of Christ is the bond between God and the World. “All things are cleansed with blood” (Heb. 9:22). The white-robed army of martyrs are washed in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7: 9-14). The Word of God himself rides forth and conquers, vested as he is in a robe dipped in blood (Rev. 19: 11-14). Until then, the final victory, when Christ will be all in all, and God shall dwell with men, and they as priests shall dwell with him (Rev. 20:6), until then they have the sacrament of the Cross, the Eucharist, which is the sacred holocaust of the Holy Spirit. They have the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, they have the book of the Cross, which is the psalter, they have the garland of the Cross, which is the Mercy Chaplet, they have the day of the Cross, Friday, on which they should fast, and they have the rule of the Cross, the Sermon on the Mount / Sermon on the plain (Mt. 5,6,7; Lk. 6: 17-49).
18) Christ was folly to the wise, a scandal to the devout, and a disturber of the peace in the eyes of the mighty. That is why he was crucified. If anyone takes up his cross and follows Jesus (Mt. 10:38), then this world is crucified to him, and he to the world; he has crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts and no longer serves sin. He has peace with God through the blood of the Cross (Col. 1:20; Rom. 5:1; 6:6; Gal. 2:20; 5:24). He has been liberated from servitude to the conventions of a profane society, and its idols and taboos, its imaginary enemies and fetishes. In Christ he becomes alienated from the wisdom, conventional religion, and power politics of his society. The Crucified Lord became the brother of the outcast, the poor, and the oppressed. And this is why brotherhood with the least of his brethren is a necessary part of the brotherhood with Christ and identification with him. Thus the religion of the Cross stands over and against both bourgeois society and bourgeois Christianity.
19) The Cross is unique to Christians, but not to all Christians; for not all those who are baptized and attend Church regularly necessarily follow the religion of the Cross. Only those who actively take up the Cross and partake of the sufferings of Christ, for sake of the Gospel, belong to the fellowship of the Cross. “Whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:27), says the Lord. “The expression ‘Cross’ for the sufferings undergone in following Jesus takes its meaning solely from the Cross of Christ, not from natural or social sufferings which are general to all in a fallen world. The Cross is not the sort of suffering which is inseparable from this mortal life, but the suffering which is an essential part of the specifically Christian life. And the Cross of Christ, in the context of his life, is explained in the first instance by his mission, which provoked hostility, and rejection, suffering and death” (Jurgen Moltmann).
20) The religion of the Cross stands over and against the State and its amorality, its propaganda, its nationalism and its wars. Its rule is the Beatitudes, which stand as a direct contradiction to the principalities, powers, and dominions which govern this sinful age. (Eph. 6:12). It also stands in contradiction to a servile church which has prostituted itself to the vanities and villainies of the ruling power elite. Therefore the religion of the Cross cannot be used to sanctify the State’s belligerence, its aggrandisement, its wars, and its armed forces. The tragic irony of Cross-embellished war memorials which serve a pseudo-religious purpose is lost on those who mistake the profane for the sacred. In reality, the Cross of Christ casts down all idols, it stands alone by the wayside. If it admits any company into its presence, then that company is the saints of Christ; the soldiers of the Lord, whose kingdom is not of this world. (Jn. 18:36).
21) The religion of the Cross declares that there is an affliction of love at the very heart of God. To speak of his wrath is to speak of his pain and sorrow. “The Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him in his heart.” ( Gen. 6:6) Yet God is long suffering and of great compassion “Yea, like as a father pitieth his own children, even so is the Lord merciful unto them that fear him. For he knoweth whereof we are made; he remembereth that we are but dust” (ps. 102: 13-14). Therefore if God suffers, then suffering is the divinely ordained means of overcoming evil, rather than war, hatred, and revenge. Furthermore, the Cross means that the Holy Name of Jesus is the only name “given on earth among men, whereby we must be saved. Neither is there salvation in any other.” (Acts. 4:12).
22) The natural man flees from the religion of the Cross, because he wants God on his own terms; in fact, he doesn’t want God to be God, rather he wants himself to be God. In the Church itself “there are many enemies of the Cross” (Phil. 3:8), and Christians themselves, the people of the Cross, will be tempted by various forms of worldly philosophy masquerading as wisdom, but which are little more than the latest effusions of human vanity (Col. 2:8). In these our own times a veritable religious supermarket has appeared, offering an assortment of “spiritualities”, nearly all of which have little to do with the religion of Jesus Christ, but everything to do with self-pre-occupation, “self esteem”, and self-love; spiritual narcissism instead of spiritual circumcision. “Many deceivers are entered into the world,” says St. John, “Look to yourselves, that ye lose not those things which ye have gained, but that ye receive a full reward” (2 Jn.7-8).
23) During the fourth apparition of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary, Christ said: “Behold this heart which has so loved mankind that it has spared itself nothing, even to being spent and consumed to prove its love for men. And yet it has received in return from the majority of mankind only ingratitude, coldness, and neglect.” And yet here is to be found the only God there is: The God whose heart is aflame with love, entwined with thorns, and surmounted by the Cross. The Christian then, is the merchant in Christ’s parable (Mt. 13:46), who seeks the pearl of great price, the kingdom of heaven; and whose rod and staff on the journey in search of it, is the Cross of the Son of God, the Good Shepherd.
24) If all Christians are called to be Cross-bearers by their penitential life, they should also bear the form of the Cross, or Crucifix as a sign of, and witness to, the One True God, crucified for love's sake. Therefore, let them not be ashamed to adorn themselves with the Cross, to make the sign of the Cross, to display the Cross in their homes, to meditate upon the Cross. And would that we could adorn the land with wayside crosses and the public squares with Calvaries; that "all the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord." (Ps. 22:27)
In the Most Holy Name of Jesus. Amen