In a few short weeks, Easter will be here; the jubilant Christian celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. I’ve found this high point of our faith tends to be all the more glorious when I’ve been plunged more deeply into Lent.
Though we’re at the end of Lent now, it’s not too late to walk—or, better yet, run—to the cross.
Catholics are often asked why we focus on the crucified Christ. But what better model for suffering, which all humans experience? That’s why, in every Catholic Church, you’ll find a representation of Christ’s bruised, emaciated body on or at the back of the altar. And on Good Friday, we venerate the cross with a kiss or bow; a symbol of love for our Lord and our pain at recognizing the deep suffering he experienced on our behalf. It’s a moving commemoration.
In 1 Cor. 1:23, St. Paul said, “But we preach Christ crucified.” Uniting our suffering with Jesus allows him to enter into our affliction with us, and redeem it; to bring good from it.
In “I Believe in Love: A personal retreat based on the teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux,” Fr. Jean C. J. d’Elbée beautifully articulates suffering. Yes, suffering can be beautiful! I started the book with my faith sisters well before Lent, but we reached the chapter on The Cross just as Lent was intensifying.
Fr. d’Elbée calls those who have chosen Jesus and his cross on earth “thieves of happiness,” because, in focusing on heaven, they have plunged themselves “with delight into the infinite justice and love of God.”
St. Andrew seemed to get it, for, as Fr. d’Elbée writes, as he looked at the cross to which he was to be nailed, he cried, “Dear cross, welcome! Good cross which is going to permit me to die like my beloved Master!”
We might scratch our heads here, but consider Fr. d’Elbée’s words that suffering “helps us detach ourselves from the earth, to look higher, to remember that earth is a place of passage.” Which is why, he writes, the poor and suffering are so often closer to the Lord than others. “Sorrow lifts us up; sorrow makes us grow; sorrow liberates.” More from Roxane B. Salonen
In affluent areas, he notes, people often become materialistic, egotistical and indifferent. “They have, so to speak, their reward on earth.” But those who suffer, “provided they do not rebel against it, look toward heaven and think about eternity.”
A great cross, he said, “is very often the prelude to a great grace, even for the unbeliever.” Why? “Suffering ripens the soul, sometimes very quickly. A great trial can, with one stroke, detach a soul from all that is created; it can be the source of a total conversion.”
He includes a thought-provoking writing, “Poem of Hope,” by Marietta Martin. Look it up. And the next time you pass by a crucifix, do not grow sad. Know that within it, freedom is found.
Embrace the cross—the bridge to eternal bliss.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on March 20, 2023.]