Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Can You Be Bothered?

In 1996 there was a gathering of Christians and Buddhists at the monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky. At the meeting were scholars and monks from both traditions, as well as the Dalai Lama himself. After days of intense conversation and shared prayer, one of the Buddhist participants spoke to an urgent point. What had been bothering him throughout the conference was the prominent display, in almost every room of the monastery, of a suffering man pinioned to a cross. To his mind, the crucifix represented the agony to which the meditation and practices of his religion were the solution. And thus, he asked his Christian interlocutors, what precisely was the point in showing this terrible scene over and over again? Those who were there say that this question--blunt, direct, and challenging--changed the tenor of the meeting for the better, forcing representatives of both sides to cut to the heart of the matter.

I love that man's question. More to the point, I love the bother that prompted it. Christians have become so accustomed to seeing the crucifix--in churches, in schools, on seasonal greeting cards, worn as jewelry around people's necks--that they have long since lost any sense of how awful and strange it is. But to the first Christians, the cross of Christ was that and more. Paul called it "a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Cor. 1:23), insinuating that it was sure to bother just about everybody. For the first several centuries of Christianity, artists were reluctant to depict the death of the Lord, because it was just too terrible. They felt, perhaps, something of what the Buddhist commentator at Gethsemani felt. And yet, Paul can say, "we proclaim Christ crucified" (1 Cor. 1:23), and the entire Christian tradition--from Augustine, to Francis of Assisi, to Dante, to Ignatius of Loyola, to Trappist monks in the hills of Kentucky--has echoed him. Somehow, they knew, that writhing figure, pinned to his cross, is the whole story.

--Fr. Robert Barron, The Strangest Way.


Blogger Liam said...

I have been told the reason one never sees a cross in Mormon buildings or art is that they consider it nothing more than a device of execution -- "it would be like wearing an electric chair around your neck," one Mormon told me.

It's true, the cross is a challenge -- as is the Eucharist and everything that is most powerful about our faith. It's good every now and then to have an outsider notice, so that we reconsider how intense, vital, and even desperate the story of salvation is, and how challenging the idea of taking up one's cross can be.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Br Lawrence, O.P. said...

That's a wonderful tale to recount, especially in Passiontide. I think what disturbed many people about Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ' touches on a similar point - the Lord's suffering is depicted in all its pain and gore - such that one has to turn the face and not look, as Isaiah's Song of the Suffering Servant prophesied.

Thank you for this post.

2:53 PM  
Blogger Patti said...

I love the fact that Catholics wear crucifixes and not crosses. The cross can be too pretty. But with Jesus on the cross. You are reminded of what he has done for you.

6:14 PM  
Blogger angelmeg said...

I love Fr Barron. This is what I tell the RCIA when I introduce myself and show them the crucifix I wear around my neck. I wear it to remind myself that that much love existed in the world just for me.

It is a supreme act of love, and the fact that we are reminded of it each year is a stumbling block to many.


11:34 PM  

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