Friday, September 14, 2012

Stripped of Fine Garments

The last petition [of the Our Father[ brings us back to the first three: in asking to be liberated from the power of evil, we are ultimately asking for God’s Kingdom, for union with his will, and for the sanctification of his name. Throughout the ages, though, men and women of prayer have interpreted this petition in a broader sense. In the midst of the world’s tribulations, they have begged God to set a limit to the evils that ravage the world and our lives.

Jesus of Nazareth 1, 167

Reflection – It is the feast of the Triumph of the Cross. This feast, celebrated since the fourth century and commemorating the event of the finding of the True Cross by St. Helen, mother of the emperor Constantine, is a sort of counterpart or echo of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Then, we celebrate with utmost solemnity the events of salvation history and their saving power; today we celebrate the enduring victory, the saving power itself of Jesus’ cross and resurrection.

A story that I have always treasured, perhaps legendary, is that at some point in the True Cross’s  journey through history it was brought to Constantinople and was to be carried into the cathedral by the emperor. But when he came to the cathedral doors in all his imperial regalia and finery—satins and silks and bejeweled robes—he found himself blocked by an invisible barrier from entering. It was only when he stripped himself of his fine garments and jewels and crown and was clad in the rough garments of a poor man that he was able to carry Christ’s Cross into the church.

Legend or not, the story is true. The Cross is at the heart of the world, a constant outpouring of love and mercy, saving power and majestic grace, but we can only enter this heart, this center, this love in great humility and poverty of spirit.

I guess I’m thinking this way, not only because of the feast, but because of the great upsurge in violence this week in the Middle East and the crisis this threatens for all of us. ‘Deliver us from evil,’ indeed! There has been and is great powers of evil at work in the world, both the obvious ones of mob violence and rage whipped up and manipulated by unscrupulous men, and hidden evils in high and low places, the choices to use, to exploit, to lie and rob and kill that wreak havoc in our world.

Great powers of evil in the world… and at the heart of the world, the cross of Christ. It is always a temptation in the face of evil and wrong to lash out, to return hatred for hatred, injury for injury. I’m not speaking here of the (perhaps) obligations of governments to defend territory or the lives of its citizens. I’m speaking of the grave temptation to hatred, to vengefulness, to wholesale and large scale identification of ‘the other’ as ‘the enemy’, whether that other is the Muslims or the rich or the liberals or the conservatives or… and the declaration, private or public, of total warfare, total enmity to that other.

Deliver us from evil. Deliver us, Lord, from the evil that comes against us from those who hate us or those who at any rate certainly do not love us. But deliver us even more from the evil that wells up in our own hearts—hatred and revenge, bitterness and judgment, the clenched fist and the closed heart.
It is the Triumph of the Cross. If we wish to enter into that triumph, we must be stripped of our garments, the signs and exercises of our own power, our own will to triumph, our own ideas and plans and sentiments.

If the Cross is to triumph in the world today, it will not be in a holy war, a Crusade that wields the sword against our enemies. It will triumph in and through men and women who choose to love in the face of hate, forgive in the face of injury, and humble themselves in service and compassion in the face of the world and all its mastery, violence, and arrogance.

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