Dave Gregory on the Cross as our only hope
March 20, 2013 § 1 Comment
Dave Gregory contributes another beautiful and eloquent essay, this one on finding meaning and hope through dark times.
Perfection and Crucifixion
March 20, 2013
By Dave Gregory
“When the All Holy enters this world, evil suddenly crystallizes…. It makes a fist and nails the All Holy to the cross. It releases all its anger on the person of Jesus, unto his death; but in the death of Jesus, evil has expended all its energy and thereby lost its potency.
– Sebastian Moore, O.S.B.
Within the past month, two families at Xavier College Preparatory lost parents, and two colleagues lost their mothers. In the middle of writing this post, a senior suffered a traumatic brain injury from a skateboarding accident and currently lays in a coma. Lent for our community has been a particularly somber one, full of tears and questions unanswered, marked by intense vulnerability. The melancholy of recent events has led me to think of my past experiences with death and my contemplations from the Spiritual Exercises, and I’ve been wondering how to bring these reflections to my relationships at Xavier.
Almost two years ago, I was working as a nurse’s aid in a palliative care hospital located in the heart of the Bronx. Given that one of the “experiments” of the Jesuit novitiate is dedicated to serving the sick, I found myself cleaning the bodies of the dead and dying. I had never experienced – and I imagine I never will again – death in such an intimate manner. Those I washed knew they were dying without hope of recovery, that some disease had slowly gained conquest of their bodies. They had come to the appropriately named Calvary Hospital to spend their final days, and my primary ministry consisted of ensuring that these days were as comfortable as possible.
I found myself in the hospital chapel for Mass one day during Holy Week, and sitting a few feet away from me were a husband and wife, both somewhere in their fifties so far as I could tell. She reclined in a hospital chair, unconscious as intravenous bags filled her veins with medication. Her husband sat next to her, gazing at her adoringly, stroking her balding scalp. When the priest came around to distribute the Sacrament, the husband tapped his bride’s cheek, telling her, “Susie, wake up, Communion’s here.”
His words were to no avail. He received the Body of Christ mournfully. Body of Christ, save me… I sat transfixed. Throughout the liturgy, I could not remove my tearing eyes from this couple. I thought to myself, “Is this not how God loves us, in our slumber, in our brokenness, asking for us by name so that we could see Him, if just for a moment?” This image stuck with me that Triduum. It seemed to be some sort of perfection I had not yet encountered in my limited life of 22 years.
In the Third Week of the Exercises, as retreatants contemplate the final days of Christ’s ministry, St. Ignatius asks them to seek a very particular grace: to feel “confusion because for my sins the Lord is going to the Passion.” I am to behold Christ’s love for his disciples, their rejection of him, his suffering and death, and feel that all this remains inextricably intertwined with my own sinful life. He suffers this for me. Were I the only person to have ever existed, God would have suffered all this to demonstrate the profundity of His love.
While making the Exercises in late January of 2011, as I contemplated the crucifixion, I simply spent time in front of the cross, as Jesus lovingly looked at me, blood pouring from his wounds, his body rattling with desperate gasps, and never before have I felt more vulnerable. Blood of Christ, inebriate me… Evil works through confusion and hiddenness, cloaking its power, wanting to keep its form secret. However, upon the instrument of Christ’s death, evil crystallizes, it makes itself known, it attempts to destroy God. For whatever reason (perhaps guilt, perhaps grace, or perhaps some combination thereof), so do my own weakness and vulnerabilities. Without the Cross, I do not know exactly how God shows His Love, but with the Cross, in some strange paradox, Heaven’s gift manifests in a horrible yet beautiful revelation. Passion of Christ, strengthen me… Blood and love poured out simultaneously, yet another perfection I had not previously encountered.
We can offer all sorts of reasons for the crucifixion (Jesus was the target of Roman hostility, the Jewish leadership thought he was blaspheming, so on and so forth), but ultimately there is no satisfactory answer. With the Cross, we will never feel comfortable. Logic and reason break down. Rationalizations lead nowhere and the abyss still confronts humanity. In the hour of my death, call me and bid me come unto Thee… Nothing will bring complete healing to our students, and wounds will remain, just as Christ’s glorified body remained wounded in his resurrection.
Susie’s husband at Calvary Hospital didn’t seek her cure, only her response to his, and God’s, love. Our students ask piercing questions that rip into both the heart and the intellect, seeking answers which we cannot provide: “Why did Brian’s father and Jimmy’s mother die within a week of one another? Why is Greg lying comatose, his skull fractured in multiple places? Why does sadness force itself upon goodness?” We can’t “fix” these lives, and God won’t either. Similarly, as the retreatant understands in the Third Week of the Exercises, Christ doesn’t want us to remove him from the Cross or suture the gaping wounds inflicted upon his body. Within Thy wounds, hide me … He simply wants me to walk with him, to enter into his pain, to suffer with him.
Ultimately, being Church is an experience of suffering with one another. In our own communal and personal experiences of crucifixion, we live that mysterious threshold between death and resurrection. This is compassion (truly “suffering with”) in its depths. All we can do — all these Crosses and Calvaries call us to do — is suffer with one another, hold each other’s gaze, lovingly so, and hope for redemption. Wounds will remain, though transformed. This too is a sort of perfection.
Anima Christi (c. 1500s)
Soul of Christ, sanctify me;
Body of Christ, save me;
Blood of Christ, inebriate me;
Water from the side of Christ, wash me;
Passion of Christ, strengthen me;
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds hide me;
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee.
From the malignant enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee,
That with all Thy saints,
I may praise Thee
Forever and ever.
Dave Gregory graduated from Manhattan’s Regis High School in 2006 and from Georgetown University in 2010 with a double major in philosophy and theology. Prior to coming to Xavier, Gregory was in the Jesuit novitiate in the Maryland province of the Society of Jesus. Gregory’s interests include Ignatian spirituality and the practical implications of the Spiritual Exercises for secondary education. He can be reached at email@example.com.