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April 2, 2017

Cross training

Bishop Timothy Doherty

My title for this column is intentional. It is a play on a phrase that you can spy in any athletic goods store, particularly in the shoe department.

Easter is two weeks away. If you have not already done so, I recommend that you mark Holy Week on your calendar. It runs Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday. These days bring us, with the whole Church, closer to Christ and, via the cross, to ourselves.

The in-church Holy Week liturgies pierce our faith consciousness. I invite you to participate in them. They work like a “sorting hat” (sorry, J.K. Rowling) that can tell us whether we stand with the mere admirers of Jesus, or the adherents to a philosophy, or among the committed disciples of Our Lord. Of course, the Christian worthy of the name wants to be counted in the last category.

If we remember that sacramental baptism is a going down to death with Christ, so that we might rise with him, we know full well the importance of our Good Friday meditations on the cross. The cross, rather than the crucifix with a bodily figure, is the object of the Church’s attention.

Religious writers tell us that we do not have the steam to make our way up to God. It is not in our power. So God came down to us, to the vulnerability of childhood, and finally to the limitations of suffering and death. Meditating on the cross — individually and together with others at Stations, let’s say — reminds us about the reason Jesus reaches out to us. And about the price he paid, and we pay, for embracing our limited and temporary human existence. As Fleming Rutledge briefly put it, “If we can’t look at the cross, then we can’t look at ourselves either.” Taking time to account for our flawed faith and vulnerable existence both expresses mature discipleship and enhances it.

The liturgical punch of the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday are felt more deeply against the background of Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper and Good Friday’s solemn Communion service. There is no Mass on Good Friday. And while Easter is renewed in each Sunday’s worship, its terrible beauty requires that we embrace the cross of Christ, and our own (Matthew 16:23-25). The person who refuses to carry his or her cross forces someone else to carry all or part of the burden. God knows I am tempted often to take a break. But I am admonished whenever I see those road signs that proclaim: “Cross traffic does not stop.”

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