The way of the cross

Tony Magliano

Writing a column on social justice and peace offers me plenty of timely issues to choose from. And I always truly sense from God the exact issue he desires that I write on.

I’m not claiming here any special revelation. God’s active, guiding presence is available to everyone. All we need to do is deeply trust, quietly listen and patiently wait.

Now in my case, God knows I’m on a deadline. And almost always his Spirit graciously gives me plenty of lead time. But regarding this particular column, the Spirit seemed to be silent, that is, until I visited a parishioner at the Little Sisters of the Poor’s home for the elderly in Baltimore.

On their grounds, amidst a lovely wooded area, stand 14 Stations of the Cross depicting Jesus’ grueling walk to Calvary. At each station stands a rough, life-size wooden cross with a stone craving revealing a different scene along the Lord’s painful route to his crucifixion.

On that day several inches of snow covered the path along the stations. But I decided that a little snow down my shoes was a small price to pay for the deep spiritual reward that awaited me.

And so I made my way to the first station of the cross: “Jesus is condemned to death.”

There I meditated on the stone carving depicting our innocent Lord standing humbly before Pontius Pilate. Washing his hands as though that empty gesture could clean him of guilt, Pilate cowardly turned Jesus over to those who would kill him.

How often do we in our lack courage, in our comfortableness, in our self-centeredness, in our silence, wash our hands of our responsibility to do the right thing — for peace, for the war-torn, for the unborn, for the poor and hungry, for the sick, for the homeless, for the undocumented, for the prisoner, for the earth?

Next stop, the second station: “Jesus takes up his cross.”

He, who was without sin, took on all the ugly sins of the world, nonviolently purified them, and gave them back to us as unconditional love.

Here, we are starkly reminded of Jesus’ words: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

When all else has failed, our suffering, our cross, can lead us out of selfishness to selfless love — the essential virtue needed to experience the salvation won by Christ.

Therefore, carry our cross we must! There’s no way around it.

The late, highly esteemed theologian Father Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote, “It is to the Cross that the Christian is challenged to follow his Master: no path of redemption can make a detour around it.”

Authentic discipleship also demands that we earnestly help carry the cross of our suffering brothers and sisters near and far; knowing that in the process we are also mystically helping to carry our Lord’s cross.

Next, I prayed at the third station, the fourth station, and onward until I reached the 12th station: “Jesus dies on the cross.” Looking back I saw the path my steps in the snow had made, and deeply felt that to a certain degree I had made the way of the cross with Christ.

And, more fully, I realized that his journey did not end in death, but of course in the awesome joy of the resurrection!

But also, I understood more deeply that in our Christian journey toward the resurrection, the cross must always come first.

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist.