The Cross of Christ Transforms. . . Our Priorities
In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 1 JOHN 4:10–12
And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” MARK 12:32–34
A young girl dying of cancer befriended a famous archbishop. The bishop had a soft spot in his heart for children like her; his own niece had been diagnosed and he knew firsthand the agony both the patient and her parents faced. The archbishop had extended a standing invitation to the Protestant chaplain of the children’s hospital: If any Catholic child in the cancer ward wanted to see a priest, he should be summoned. So it happened that the archbishop was called to accompany this young cancer patient, Lorraine, in her last months of life. In time Lorraine came to trust the archbishop, and she shared with him her greatest trial. Her parents were angry with God because of her illness. She had been diagnosed when she was five years old, and had not yet made her First Communion. Would it be possible, she asked her friend, to receive the Eucharist before she died? After consulting with the parents, the archbishop prepared her personally for her first reconciliation, then celebrated Mass in her hospital room, confirming her and giving her First Communion. She lived only a short while longer. The archbishop said she had great faith but her constant worry was her parents. No doubt she was now interceding for them, that they might come to know the love that she had experienced in her suffering, that same suffering that had become an obstacle of faith to them.
This is the obstacle of the cross—when Our Lord died on the cross, some left believing that he was the Son of God, others left in utter disbelief. Yet the Scriptures tell us that Jesus’ death on the cross was a sign of God’s love.
Love of God
When the Scriptures speak of love there are three different words used that are all translated in English as “love.” There is eros, which is a romantic love; sometimes this word is used for the love that we should have toward God and that God has toward us. There is philia, the love of friendship; again, this is used both for the love that God has for us and for the love we are to have for God. Yet the most common form of love, the type of love of which Jesus spoke when he said that we should “love the Lord with our whole being” is agape, a sacrificial love—a tough love, a love that can almost feel like we are being crucified. In the spiritual life, there are times we find ourselves on a spiritual high, literally in love with God. There are other times we experience God as a trusting friend to whom we open our hearts, and with whom we feel solidarity on our life’s journey. Yet for all the other times, there is agape—sacrificial love! Agape love is tough. It’s how we love our children who are driving us nuts, how children love parents, or how spouses love each other, even when the other person doesn’t respond to every need. It’s the type of love we have for our enemies. It can even be the type of love we have for ourselves when we are immersed in feelings of despair and failure. It is the type of love we are to have for God all the time. Yet most of all, it is the type of love that God has for us. The kind of love that induced him to lower himself to our level, suffer at our hands, and love us through it all.
The School of the Cross
The cross is the school of love. It transforms how we look at God, the world, and everyone around us. Nailed to the cross with Jesus, we sometimes have faith enough to hear him promise, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” Others simply curse God for not taking them down off of the cross. If you are graced to be a student of the cross, it is your mission to pray with all of your strength for those who are truants of this school. The love of God compels us to love one another, 118 The Power of the Cross God has already lowered himself to our level, suffered at our hands, and loved us through it all. Jesus is the perfect example of being loved by God and loving God.
Realizing that God alone really matters is the first step to entering the kingdom of God. When that kingdom comes, everyone will acknowledge God’s priority. Until then, we live in a world where those who know must tell those who don’t, and oftentimes those who know best are the children. Fulton Sheen once said there will be only children in the kingdom, something that we adults might want to reflect upon from time to time.
The Power of the Cross is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.