The Cross of Christ is His Love Letter to Us
I heard a story once about a group of mischievous boys. They would go into a nearby confessional and invent ridiculous sins to tell the priest, wasting his time. The tired priest eventually told one of the boys to go to the Corpus Christi and tell Jesus something along the lines of “You died for me, and I don’t care!” The boy stood before the Corpus Christi and shamelessly said, “You died for me, and I don’t care!” At first, he could keep a smirk on his face. The second time he said it, however, something began to pierce his heart. The third time he said it, he began weeping and left the church.
I sometimes worry that I’ve become desensitized to the cross and that the joy of Easter will grow underwhelming. But, the readings during mass lately have pierced my soul. I thought about Christ being spat on, beaten, stripped and humiliated. I thought about the grief he experienced on the cross and how even Pilate was surprised at how quickly He had died (Mark 15:44). Death by crucifixion could take as long as 2-4 or even 9 days depending on circumstances. It was a slow, painful, and horrific way to die.
Jesus’ heart was not only spiritually but physically broken as He hung on the cross (John 19:34). Jesus quite literally died of a broken heart. It was not due to suffocation, exposure, or blood loss - as was usually the case - but His very heart being destroyed when He uttered His last words.
It seems strange to talk about Jesus, our king, with such sentimental language. Surely a king should be triumphant and powerful! A king isn’t supposed to be killed by his enemies! It doesn’t seem very “masculine” for Jesus to die in this way. In fact, St. Paul notes that the Gospel of a crucified Messiah or king was a stumbling block for everyone during his day - Jew and gentile alike (1 Cor. 1:23). It would seemingly take several leaps in human logic to arrive at the idea that the crucifixion is something to be celebrated.
And yet, there is a profound logic to the cross. The film Unbroken depicts the life of Olympic distance runner Louis Zamperini. While serving in WWII, Zamperini became a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp where he was abused and tortured. There’s a scene where he is eventually forced to lift a heavy wooden beam and is told that he will be beaten profusely if he drops the plank. Hours pass and he remains standing. The prisoners grow more hopeful because of his endurance, causing the guards to panic. He is struck once and then collapses. He nonetheless rises again and ultimately survives the war.
Similarly, we know that only the Son of God is powerful enough to lift our pain and humiliation, our darkest sins and secrets. We know that the devil keeps track of our faults and tries to rob us of hope. And yet, at the moment when Christ made Himself weakest, Jesus provided the most public and thorough refutation of Satan and his empire of sin. Even when evil had the absolute upper hand, it ultimately ended up destroying itself.
The goal of the Christian life is therefore not to desperately win something for ourselves but to live well in light of having already won through Christ.
Hebrews 4:15 teaches us that “we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things just as we are, yet without sin.” We must trust Jesus with our shame and brokenness, because He knows our weaknesses. He is the only one who truly loves and knows how to love our soul, because He created us for Him. As St. Augustine said, “Our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
The cross of Christ teaches us that we cannot be afraid of sin, or even our own darkness. We have to boldly confront the evil in and around us - not because we have to prove ourselves but because we know that evil does not have the final word. Christ is our reassurance that whatever our struggles are now, they will not define us. “We are the sum of the Father’s love for us”, as Pope St. John Paul II said.
Let us pray that we become better lovers of Christ through understanding more intimately the meaning of His life, death, and resurrection. In the process, we will become better at loving others and ourselves. Go to confession. Read the passion narratives in the Gospels. Take to prayer every secret you have been hiding from Him. Let Him love you.
Suan Sonna is a philosophy student at Kansas State University and a protestant convert to Catholicism.