Saturday, October 2, 2010

Carrying the Cross a Matter of Patiently Bearing the Tension Between the Real and the Ideal

The Cross has become one of my favorite symbols not only of Christianity but of how I try to approach life itself. More and more I imagine the Cross to be a "divine compass": pointing the way into a deeper entry and participation in the life of the Lord whose passion continues to unfold in the history of God's people and the Church alike. I remember vividly the day when the Cross stamped it's impress on my mind and heart not merely as a symbol of the death and Resurrection of the Lord but as a way of seeing and being in the world.

I was walking into a building on the beautiful campus of St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and was going up a flight of stairs I had been up and down innumerable times when I was dumbstruck by the fact that the small tiling that made up the floor was in the shape of the Cross. I realized at that moment that my life, and life itself, is bounded and surrounded by the Cross. What I mean by "bounded" and "surrounded" is that the Cross, a rich symbol with deep and abundant meaning concerning the love of God, Father, Son, and Spirit, is the norm of what it means to live a truly creaturely and human life (and, of course, by extension a Christian life). The dark, "crucified side" of the Cross, perhaps better than any other symbol, points to the reality of the travail, struggle, and suffering of the world. It reveals how life, when lived in an authentic and fully (or at least mostly) human manner brings both great hope and great disappointment (just think of Jesus' anguished cry from the Cross, "My God my God, why have you forsaken me?"). The light, "resurrected side" of the Cross is the promise that our hope in God ultimately will be fulfilled.

The Cross places before us the "ideal" of how life and love are to be lived (in the manner that God as Trinity lives) but also demands that we accept the "real" situation that such love this side of heaven often meets with sacrifice and even crucifixion (figuratively or even literally). For me, carrying the cross is a matter of patiently bearing the tension between the real and the ideal. Another way of putting it is that the Cross points to a God who loves so much that he doesn't allow the ideal to get in the way of the real nor the real to compromise the ideal. For example, Jesus in his life and ministry proclaimed unfailingly and uncompromisingly the Reign of God. He put the "ideal" of God's love out there for all to see, hear, touch, and feel. However, while he proclaimed that ideal in uncompromising fashion, he still embraced the reality that for many of his hearers, this "Kingdom of God" business would take some time to warm up to. He dined with the full spectrum of that "reality": sinners and self-righteous alike. Jesus, you might say, didn't let the "ideal" get in the way of also expressing God's love for the reality of a sinful, broken, wounded, and wounding world. The "flip-side" of this is that Jesus also didn't allow the "real" to compromise the "ideal." Take for example Jesus' tender embrace of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:11): on the one hand Jesus tells her he does not condemn her, on the other hand he tells her to go "and sin no more" (i.e., go and live a transformed life in God's love).

We live in a world that is seemingly "under siege" by reactionary persons and movements that proclaim in so many words, "it's my way or the highway." In other words, they impose an ideal on the real in a way that brings animosity, contempt, and even violence. This is not the way of the Cross. Carrying the Cross implies proclaiming the ideal of God's love for the world but than being willing to pay the price of that love by facing, and even embracing, the real in all of it's difficulty and complexity - remembering the words of John, "God did not send his son to condemn the world but to save the world through him." (John 3:17). Pat, TOR