He Died on a Cross, So I Take Up Mine

[If I could preach on Sunday, I would say this…]


Take up your cross, and follow Me, says the Lord Jesus. [Spanish]

We all live according to fundamental facts. Like: Where was I born? Where did I grow up? What’s my native language? Who are my parents?

Fundamental facts like these give meaning to our lives. They shape us. Reflecting on these basic facts helps us know who we are.

What about the fundamental facts that we all have in common? Is there a fundamental fact that gives meaning to the existence of the entire human race, considered as a whole? Yes.

Almighty God became one of us. And He suffered unjust condemnation, and died by unjust execution, during the time of the Roman empire, then rose from the dead.

divine-mercyThe Romans had special contempt for certain criminals. They executed those particular criminals by hanging them on wooden crosses, in full view of everyone. Almighty God died this way. He died a human death, as the most honest, most gentle, most kind human being ever to walk the earth. Jesus of Nazareth died on a Roman cross as the divine sacrificial Lamb.

The eternal Word, through Whom all things were made, submitted to this for His own sublime reason. Namely, mercy. God’s death on the cross unfolds for us the full reality of who we are, we human beings. Sinners, upon whom God has showered His mercy. Divine Mercy. He died, because none of us has any “right” to go to heaven, but He wills to give us heaven anyway, as a gift.

The fundamental fact of the life of the human race: God died on a Roman cross to atone for all the wrong we have done, and to open the door for us to a good, holy life. God loves me this much, just as I am, right here and now. He did this—died on a cross—for love of me, to give me holiness and heaven.

Ancient Roman fountain in Corinth

All I have to do is: believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him back.

To grasp this fundamental fact of human life = to receive the Christian faith. I behold God crucified for us, and my heart moves with God’s divine love.

All my failures to love—all the ways I have wronged the God of truth and mercy, Who loves me, plus all the ways I have wronged my fellow redeemed sinners—all those sins on my part: they pain me and weigh on me, when I see them from the point-of-view of Christ crucified. I long to kneel at His feet, and confess them all, so I can make a fresh start. Then all I want to do is: imitate this crucified rabbi.

So I “take up my cross.” I embrace life as a pure gift given to me by Jesus. I must use it well—use my life just as Jesus used His—in order to follow Him to heaven. I greet every day as an opportunity to do penance for my sins and to serve.

“Take up your cross” has become a cliché among Christians. A nice, little gold cross can serve as a lovely adornment on a necklace.

But a resident of the Roman empire would see such a necklace and gasp. We have to let the Lord bring our minds back to the hard first-century facts, related by the New Testament. A resident of the Roman empire would gasp at the sight of a gold cross on a necklace because: That’s how the Roman army tortured and killed the criminals they hated the most.

And: It’s also the way to heaven.

On His cross, Jesus desired one thing: To rest His soul on the bosom of the Father. The crucified rabbi reigns as King of the Universe precisely by having only this one desire. Namely that the Father’s eternal plan of love would come to fulfillment.

To follow that path, behind Him… How totally must we abandon ourselves? How much trust must we have?

St. Paul put it like this: “Neither death nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth, can separate” us from Him. “Think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.” “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.”



Guilty but not Condemned


We have reached the time of year when we study with singular focus the holy death of Jesus Christ.

Of old, these opening weeks of spring meant focusing on the death of the Passover Lamb, whose blood marked the homes of the chosen ones. The people of the Passover marched across the bed of the sea, to freedom. Then, the water swallowed up their enemies, to the glory of God.

That was the annual rite in the days of the Old Covenant. But we hear the prophet exhort us, in the name of God: Remember not these old exploits of mine. Don’t dwell on what I did for your ancient fathers. After all, I will do great things for you! I make a way through the desert for you to walk, and the very jackals and ostriches will chant like a choir as you pass down the highway I have laid down, to the Promised Land.

The highway opens before us. It invites us, beckons us, with beautifully obscure clarity, with shimmering darkness, with enticing terror. Because the highway to heaven is the cruel and agonizing death of Christ.

Continue reading “Guilty but not Condemned”

Spiritual Movie, Spiritual Death

Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil. (I John 3:8)

Will it sound too grim if I wish you all well–during another year of strife? Will it sound even grimmer if I remind you that not all of us will be on earth on New Year’s Day, 2013?

I do not wish you unnecessary struggles. After all, at every Mass, the priest prays on everyone’s behalf that the good Lord would deliver us from all distress. The priest prays that He Who promised peace to His Apostles would fulfill his will in us and grant us peace.

But why did St. John have to write his letters? Why, after all, did all the human authors of the New Testament documents feel the need to write?

In this world, we will have troubles, says the Lord. “But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

God took our human nature to Himself, became man, set His feet on the earth, showed signs of His divinity with miraculous wonders—and we proceeded to crucify Him.

The Apostles wrote because the beautiful and simple Word of Truth had been, in certain quarters, distorted and maliciously misunderstood. They wrote because a battle ceaselessly rages between the pure love of God the Father and the agonizingly confusing destructiveness of the Evil One.

Continue reading “Spiritual Movie, Spiritual Death”

Death, our Friend

Very few people relish the prospect of death. Yet the time will come for us all.

As we know from the beginning of the Bible, death comes for us because we descend from Adam and Eve, the original sinners. The Creator made us to live; the Devil tricked us into choosing to die.

Death, then, naturally does not appeal to us. It attacks us like an enemy, thwarting our greatest good, which is to live.

But: This is a case where it pays for us to listen to the Lord when He says: “Love your enemies.”

Death looms like an enemy. But we can learn to love this enemy. We can make this enemy a friend.

Christ did not want to die. The prospect repelled Him utterly. But He took up the cross with serene hands, because His death opened the way to paradise for all the sinful children of Adam. Christ made death His friend, so that He could use death to conquer the real enemy, Satan.

We can do the same.

Our dead loved ones lie not in the hands of an enemy, but in the embrace of this friend. By praying for those we love, we stay closer to them than any other means of communication could possibly allow us to be.

It would be great if we could meet our dead loved ones this month, give them a hug, and then relax and enjoy some Thanksgiving football. But when we pray for them at the altar, we come even closer, because we lift their souls up to toward heaven with our prayers.

There will plenty of time for relaxing when, please God, we make it to heaven by way of our friend, death. In the meantime, our job is to pray.

[BONUS: Click HERE if you would like to read a catechesis on the Four Last Things.]

Sorrow of Mary

The sufferings which Christ endured atoned for all the sins of the human race. God suffered as a perfectly innocent man. And He suffered in body and soul more deeply than we can imagine. The Son offered to the Father the dereliction of His apparent abandonment.

God made the Virgin Mary the mother of the sacrificial Lamb. She raised Him with sublime tenderness. Then she had to witness the agony by which He consummated His mission. The Virgin Mary shared in the most intimate way in the dereliction of the crucified Son of God.

More than anyone else, she knew the purity of His innocence and the injustice of His death. More than anyone else, she sympathized with her Son’s intimacy with the heavenly Father. She stood closest when the Lord cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Can anyone doubt that she would have preferred to die, rather than hear this?

But our Lady of sorrows gives us hope precisely because she knew such indescribable motherly pain. She has faced everything that we must endure; none of our sufferings are foreign to her. She greets them all with her patient faith.

She trusted in God even as she held her Son’s dead body in her arms. In the end, things turned out okay.

Prov’dence don’t fire no blank ca’tridges, boys.

Speaking of sleeping in a casket: How about spending the next seven minutes of your life reading chapter LIII of Mark Twain’s Roughing It?

Click HERE.

Reminds me of the time when Grandpa Simpson told this yarn to Mr. Burns:

Like the time I took the ferry to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for my shoe, so I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on them. Give me five bees for a quarter you’d say. Now where were we… The important thing was that I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time. They didn’t have white onions because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones.

Chapter LIII of Twain’s Innocents Abroad also fascinates. He recounts his visit to Jerusalem. To my mind imprudently, he dismisses the authenticity of most of the sites to which he and his fellow pilgrims were conducted.

But he eloquently and adamantly defends the accuracy of the location of the chapel of the crucifixion in the church of the Holy Sepulchre.


Touching the rock of Calvary. Photo credit Nicky Morrison.

“That day will assault everyone,” says the Lord (Luke 21:35).

The Lord Jesus is saying that the day of judgment will assault everyone.

But let’s ask ourselves this question: Do the days already assault us now?

Does the alarm clock make an unwelcome sound? Does the morning news assault me? Is pulling out into traffic like being assaulted? Am I thoroughly pummeled by mid-morning?

An assault leaves the victim stunned, paralyzed, dazed, passive. An assault knocks the wind out of you, sucks the energy out of you, bewilders you. An assault can make a person lose his way, lose track of where he was headed. Immediately after an assault, it is impossible to focus on one’s goals; it is impossible to focus on the future. There is just pain and confusion.

The roughest part of everyday life can be boredom. The assault can be the oppression of deadening routine. Life comes at you slow—so slow that it hurts with a dull pain, like after a body blow.

What happens when even the special, fun things feel old? Like when you don’t feel like doing any daggone Christmas shopping?

“That day will assault everyone.”

Continue reading “Assaulted?”

Ray, Jason, and St. Simon


ray romanoI.
Not sure how to watch the “Golf Channel.” But if I could, I would definitely tune in for Raymond’s golf lessons

Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room. Let’s stop taking around things. Let’s stop living in a fantasy world.

The problem has a name.

He is tall. He is handsome.

But he is not a good NFL quarterback. He never has been, and he never will be.

The problem IS: Number 17, Jason Campbell…

In honor of Friday, the day our Lord carried the cross, we present a beautiful meditation submitted by an anonymous reader:

Simon says… Blood, Sweat, and Incense

A great gift was given to St Simon of Cyrene; a gift he didn’t want at first. He didn’t want to become involved in Our Dear Lord’s Passion. He probably would have preferred to be an anonymous face in the crowd. He was merely a strong man in the right place, at the right time. Simon was pressed into service; forced to assist our Dear Lord in His struggle. But, through this forced burden, Simon became a great saint.

Continue reading “Ray, Jason, and St. Simon”

Holy Sacrifice

The Lord Jesus said: “I am the Bread of Life.” And He gave us the Holy Eucharist.

The sacred ceremony of the Holy Mass is the perfect act of religion, the perfect act of obedience and devotion to God. By God’s design, the Holy Mass is both the sacrifice of salvation and the feast of faith.

The Blessed Sacrament of the altar is the source of eternal life. It is the divine Body and Blood, the flesh animated by the undying life of God.

How do we mortals share in Christ’s immortal life? Through His death.

Continue reading “Holy Sacrifice”

Credo in Deum Omnipotentem

John A. Wilson District Building
John A. Wilson District Building

Perhaps you recall: The transformation of the capering Prince Hal into the formidable King Henry V is the new “defining motif” of this humble weblog. (Scroll down if you click the link.)

falstaffThis same tranformation, however, broke the spirit of Prince Hal’s fellow-caperer, Sir John Falstaff. After the King broke off their friendship, Fallstaff’s dissolute life finally caught up with him, and he died.

In Henry V, when Falstaff’s friend Bardolph hears that the jolly knight is dead, he declares:

Would I were with him, wheresome’er he is, either in
heaven or in hell!
(Act II, Scene 3)

As the statement of a Christian, this sentence makes no sense. In hell, it is impossible to enjoy each other’s company. But as the lament of a friend, it is heartbreakingly beautiful.

John Wilson was a member of the D.C. City Council when I was in high-school. When I was in college, he became the chairman.

Continue reading Credo in Deum Omnipotentem