Lift High the Cross
I arrived at Sacred Heart Church in Colorado Springs last summer in 2013 to become pastor of the Tri-Community in Colorado. I served in that community previously in 1984-87, shortly after my ordination, but had not returned to the parish in over 25 years. As I walked into the simple, Spanish-style church again after all those years, I noticed first the very large, realistic crucifix.
The old mission crucifix had been placed into its own niche left of the sanctuary since my years there. For years it stood on its own near the sanctuary with fake rocks made of plaster at its base to look like Calvary. The life-sized crucifix dominated the worship space for years.
I remember as a young priest not liking the over-sized, dominant and realistic dead Christ. I thought death was out of proportion in that worship space for the Eucharistic celebrations of that community. I was young and had not yet faced real suffering myself.
However, as I entered the building again, I felt very comforted seeing the familiar crucifix. I even felt relieved that now it had a visual place of its own. Even the steps were removed in the niche so people could now walk up to view and touch the very large image of Christ’s suffering. After Mass, I went up the crucifix that is twice my height to touch the wood of the cross after all these years.
Seeing the old mission crucifix again, I realize my aging, my own sin, disappointments and grief over the years. I bring so many more experiences of letting go of relationships, of surrendering to life and the tugs of the Holy Spirit. In other words, I now understand more fully why the over-sized crucifix still dominates the worship space, I too, need a visual place to rest my own suffering.
I also noticed something else. The crucifix in my previous community in Portland was small and in proportion to the windowless room. The contrast of the two crucifixes and the two communities is startling. The people who came to that chapel often carried their belongings on their backs and reeked from living outside. Mental illness was visible from occasional outbursts. Addictions were obvious because people slept in the back pews. Their suffering was not hidden but exposed for everyone to notice and encounter.
In my new community in Colorado, suffering is much more hidden among families and in the hearts of people and yet the realistic crucifix dominates our prayer. The oversized dead Christ seems to express the hidden pain and suffering of our worshipping community.
I realize now that my ministry is to learn about the hidden suffering of people here so that healing might be obvious and real. My presence here is to allow people to see that their hidden suffering needs to be lived honestly and openly in the Paschal Mystery, the dying and rising of Christ Jesus.
As I reflect on the Sunday Gospels from The Exaltation of the Holy Cross through the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, I hear Christ’s call to enter into the wounds of our people and not to be an instrument of condemnation. There is always room in the Kingdom of God for the laborer who comes at the last minute. Every parish community must open up a place in our pews for the person who does not feel worthy of being among us in the first place. We never know the hidden suffering of a person who feels lost and last among the eager and talented.
Jesus reminds us that tax collectors and prostitutes view their need for God often before the rest of us. Their hearts cannot contain the poison of sin for long. The rest of us, in any sort of parish community, can easily hide our secrets and shame well into adulthood. We may run from the Christ who offers us a place, a home in the promise that love is near us.
Violence and greed are not the ingredients to a rich and fruitful relationship with God or our neighbors. No person can hide the violence among us, even the abuse from our pasts or the neglect we have inflicted upon our neighbors. We are inheritors of a great promise that love heals, forgives and calls us into new relationships.
God invites us as we are to a feast that is more than satisfying. We ourselves are both the good and the bad; we hold the tension of our sin along with our love within every hidden heart. However, every person is welcome to feast, to fill our souls on the wonder and mercy of God. We can even put our feet under the same table as our enemies.
Jesus tells us to love God with our entire beings, our souls and bodies. This love is revealed in our hearts and actions by how we love and serve others. The Holy Cross is lived everyday even when our own pain seems bigger than life. The cross reveals itself in how we love others no matter how we hide our suffering. I look forward to entering into this community once again to view how love is manifest and how love calls us to live the Holy Cross in loving service.