Drawn to Christ on the cross

Little Lucette was inexplicably drawn to the man on the cross. Inexplicably, because she had no idea who He was or why He was crucified. Her parents had banished from her life any knowledge of or reference to God. But a gift catalog had slipped through their defenses, and Lucette found in those pages a little crucifix. By an interior grace she knew that He had died for others - for her. She secretly tore out the page and would often gaze devoutly - and covertly - at the man on the cross. Over the years her devotion matured into love, she learned who the man on the cross is, and she gave herself to Him in religious life, dying not too long ago as Mother Veronica Namoyo of the Poor Clares.

As amazing as the story is, told by Mother herself in A Memory for Wonders (Ignatius Press), it seems to be just what Our Lord promised: "And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself" (Jn 12:33). For two weeks in a row Mother Church puts before us this curious phrase: "lifted up" (cf. Jn 3:14; 12:33). In John's Gospel it is the phrase Jesus uses to describe His Crucifixion: "He said this indicating the kind of death He would die" (Jn 12:33). Being nailed to the cross and then raised is indeed being "lifted up." The original Greek word has the sense of being raised up in order to be seen - of being exalted (exaltatus in the Latin). As we heard last week, He is exalted "so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life" (Jn 3:15).

His Crucifixion is indeed a form of exaltation. Like the raising of a trophy or medal, the "lifting up" of Our Lord announces victory. It proclaims God's mercy and the sacrifice that reconciles us with Him. Christ upon the cross reveals the God powerful enough to allow Himself to be pierced, powerful enough to be merciful. We encounter Jesus' greatness not so much in His miracles and teachings as in the sacrifice to which they point and from which they derive all meaning and power. Thus the apostle resolves "to know nothing ... except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor 2:2).

By this exaltation, He promises, "I will draw everyone to myself." And so indeed we are drawn to Christ crucified. We place the crucifix on our walls and wear it about our necks. Despite the horror of public execution and of that particular form, we find the crucifix attractive. Something about Christ on the cross draws us, makes us view it as good and beautiful. What draws us, of course, is the self-giving and self-sacrifice we find there. In looking upon Christ crucified we see His words embodied and confirmed: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son (Jn 3:16) ... No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" (Jn 15:13).

Being drawn to Christ on the cross implies also being drawn away from something. One commentary observes that the Greek word for "draw" implies a certain forcefulness, that this drawing is also a snatching away from someone. Indeed, Our Lord on the Cross - in the power of His humiliation - snatches us away from the evil one. The exaltation of Christ crucified is a strong weapon against vice and the devil. The more we gaze upon the one who died for us, the more we leave sin behind and cling to Him.

And on the cross He draws everyone to Himself. Christ crucified is the unifying principle of our faith, what makes the church one. Impolite though it may be to observe, we do not gather at Mass because we are friends or even acquaintances. No, Christian unity goes deeper than worldly connections. We come together because we come to Him as sinners in need of salvation. Every single one of us must come to the cross of Christ. We come first in sorrow, placing ourselves before the judgment seat of Christ, where all our sins are laid bare. But then we come to Him in joy, giving thanks for the sacrifice that has set us free from sin and snatched us from the evil one.

"Behold the wood of the cross, on which hung the salvation of the world." We will hear those words in a few weeks, as the cross is lifted up - exalted - in the Good Friday liturgy of the Lord's Passion. Then we will be drawn to Christ on the cross, crying out, "Come let us adore." Let us pray now to be freed from what still ensnares us so that we can be more fully drawn to Him.

Fr. Scalia is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde's delegate for clergy.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015