1Cor 12:12-14, 27-31a; Ps 100:1b-5; Jn 19:25-27
Why do we leave the corpus on the cross? Why do we gaze upon the twisted body of a condemned man? Sometimes we are asked by non-Catholics these questions that we seldom think about, perhaps because we take it for granted—it’s a part of our culture, our art, our church and home decoration. Perhaps that’s why we need this memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, and why we need to celebrate yesterday’s solemnity of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Most medieval churches in England had a Rood Screen. The Crucifix and the Beloved Disciple and the Blessed Mother were on either side on a beam that joined the sanctuary to the nave of the church. The gospel for today’s mass was silently proclaimed by the architecture of every humble country parish church. What is it about suffering that attracts our attention? Are we simply reacting like those who rubberneck to catch a glimpse of an accident? Perhaps there is something more profound going on here, something that has existed since Calvary, down through the ages, and even to our own day in these two celebrations, the Exaltation and the Sorrowful Lady. Perhaps it has something to do with delighting in the law in the depths of the heart. The law of the cross of Christ is the law of love, passionate and complete.
Diversity of opinion is not the same as variety of gifts. We can easily become divided over our egocentric notions about church and matters of theology. The problems of being the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic church are the same today as they were in the early church. So, we heed Saint Paul as he exhorts his beloved Corinthian community about the source of their unity, Christ the Lord. We are parts of this One Body. Indeed, it is in the Holy Spirit that we were all baptized, borne into the Body of Christ. Even the socially acceptable divisions of his world were not to be sources of disunity. Both Jews and Greeks, and slaves and free persons were welcome and filled with the sober intoxication of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit does not make distinctions; he pours himself out upon all who believe in Christ, or even want to believe in Christ. Indeed, as he will preach in another letter, “No one can say, Jesus is Lord, except in the Holy Spirit”. Just like the natural body so too the spiritual body, the body is not a single part; it is made up of many parts all of which are unique and necessarily different so that the whole body can function as one body. The very first unique part of the Body of Christ is the Apostles. This is no mere alphabetical arrangement. Saint Paul is saying, by placing the Apostles first, that their authority is primary, their witness is constitutive for who we are as church. Even with a variety of gifts and roles within the Body of Christ we are united in our striving for the greatest spiritual gifts. Our only necessary competition in the Body is to out do one another in charity. Becoming more holy than another member of the church only encourages every member of the church to grow in holiness, to become what Saint Paul calls us, saints.
The Fourth Gospel would have us take this icon of the Passion into our homes and into our hearts. Not just as some medieval art piece, it is at the very heart of our faith. Indeed we stand by the cross of Jesus with his mother, the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, and the Beloved Disciple. Upon this remnant the Crucified Lord gazed with tenderness. From the depths of his human heart, the core of his divine person, the Lord Jesus pours out his love. In his words of love to his mother and friends the Lord Jesus reveals the mystery of his blood and water that gushed forth from his wounded side. His physical and painful self-sacrifice invites us into the depths of the mystery of God, who is love. It is the Father who gazes upon his Son from the heights of heaven, and He speaks in the silence of this terrifying moment, “precious, indeed too costly, is the death of my faithful son.” Yet, his Son pays the price in his loving sinners, not just those at the foot of his cross, but all of us who have been plunged into the waters of death to rise up in baptism to the new life of the Risen Son. Indeed, we have not remained standing in awe and wonder at the foot of the Crucified One. We have not always drawn close; we have run far away indeed. We have fled from the moment of passion and lost ourselves in a passing love. We have given ourselves over to the lie that association with the Crucified One is too dangerous. What if those who rejected him, tortured him, crucified him, come after us? What will we do? Where can we hide? We have given ourselves over to the lie that anything and everything is better than suffering, especially unjust suffering. Yet, the injustice of the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus is the very thing that brings us to justice. In his suffering we share like those at the foot of the cross. In his suffering we realize our own part in the redeeming love; by his death he destroyed death. The Mother of Sorrows is caught up in the redeeming love of her Son; this is her greatest joy. A sorrow and a joy in which all of us can share here at this Eucharist and every day of our lives.