Just a few days ago I was sitting in the adoration chapel. I had the window seat, and so as I sat with Jesus, my eyes moved over to the green space. There I observed as a cardinal came to visit me, and then I began to wonder which of my deceased loved ones was paying me a visit.
Then I saw some other birds coming along to the ground. They were up to something, I could tell…and as I looked more closely, I noticed they were gathering sticks, no doubt to build a nest, It must have been a large nest they were building because it took a lot of them and they had their mouths full of little sticks.
Thinking about the wood of the birds’ nest…my mind turned to another thing made out of wood: the Cross. I began to reflect that our ultimate nest—the ultimate place we belong, and where we are truly at home on this side of heaven—is on the Cross.
There’s a lovely book out there by a man named Mark Salzman called Lying Awake. It tells the story of a Carmelite convent of nuns. The story tells how one of the nuns, Sr. John of the Cross, would begin each day by lighting a vigil candle and prayerfully facing the plain wooden cross on the wall of her tiny convent cell. It had no Corpus on it, the book notes, because she felt she belonged right there – on the Cross – taking Christ’s place to help relieve his burden. She knew her home was on the Cross.
Good Friday, my dear friends, is the day that Jesus calls us to embrace the Cross with Him, to take up our home on the Cross! It is fitting that we kiss the Cross today, that we touch it with our lips. Jesus embraced his Cross and so must we. Did he not tell us: “He who wishes to be my disciple must take up his cross and follow me”? There is no other way to following Jesus than the Cross.
What crosses are there in your life? On this side of heaven, if we’re honest with ourselves, our home is the Cross! We work hard, we toil long hours often with little reward, we labor to keep the faith and pass it along and stand for what is right, we deal as gracefully as we can with the many sorrowful circumstances that life deals out to us. We do great things for God even though it costs us a lot. We suffer the torments Christ told us we would suffer. We take care of each other, in sickness and in health, in joys and in sorrows, in good times and in bad. We nurse each other, take care of each other, love each other – when oftentimes we would rather be left alone. The price of love is high: it is the Cross- and we should not sugarcoat that. Love is messy, it is sacrificial, it is a real and heavy Cross. And life on the Cross is not easy!
But could it be that the necessary message of Good Friday is this: that there is nothing worthwhile at all without the Cross? That on this side of heaven we must take our home on the cross! No Cross, no Glory! No Cross, no love! No Cross, no life! After all: Were it not for the Cross of Jesus, there would be no Resurrection.
The temptation, of course, is to try to resist the cross, to flee it, to run away from it. A young man struggles to beat his PR; easier to quit than to put in the necessary effort to succeed. A woman is overworked and feels underappreciated; easier to drown her sorrows with nightly doses of alcohol than to visit the chapel. A man – perhaps even a leader of a country – is upset with another; easier to fight than to try and work it out civilly. A woman finds herself with child; easier to abort than to say YES to life. A 25 year old is clueless; easier to play video games in the basement instead of getting ajob.
Fleeing from the Cross always ends in destruction and devastation – and the spiritual collateral damage is real. Better, indeed, to follow the words of Jesus: Take up your cross. Kiss it. Bear it with love and it won’t even feel like a Cross. It will feel like home. “To suffer with love is no longer to suffer,” as St John Vianney said.
I began this reflection with a comment about a bird’s nest made out of wooden sticks and noted that our home is the Cross, also made out of sticks. But that is our home only on this side of heaven! The cross is not destination. It is not the goal. The Cross is the necessary conduit, the necessary way. Not the end. Never the end. Sometimes we can get caught up in the very dourness of the cross that we lose sight of the larger picture. The Cross is a conduit, a means, a necessary means but only a means! What is the end? Joy – Real, true, eternal, lasting Joy!
Because our ultimate home is not made out of sticks, it is not the Cross…the Cross is how we get there, and so we kiss it today–but it is not the end, it is not the home at the other side of things…and that is eternal life. The bird will nest itself here in its wooden nest…but then it flys high. So it is with Jesus. So it is with us.