Night and the cross

“And it was night” (Jn 13:30). The Gospel notes Judas’ departure from the Last Supper to go off and betray Jesus with these words. John is not giving a “time check.” He is referring to what was going on Spiritually in Judas’ soul and in the entire world that night, as Jesus was about to be betrayed and killed.

At the Colosseum for the Stations of the Cross in 2014, Pope Francis used that image of night and linked it to the reality that many face today. “God placed on Jesus’ cross all the weight of our sins, all the injustices perpetrated by every Cain against his brother. It was a heavy cross, like night experienced by abandoned people, heavy like the death of loved ones, heavy because it carries all the ugliness of evil.”

The pope then gave his listeners hope. “The cross is also glorious like the dawn after a long night, for it represents all the love of God, which is greater than our iniquities and our betrayals. In the cross we see the monstrosity of man, when he allows evil to guide him; but we also see the immensity of the mercy of God, Who does not treat us according to our sins but according to His mercy. Before the cross of Jesus, we apprehend in a way that we can almost touch with our hands how much we are eternally loved.”

In the terrible “night” which the entire world is enduring at this moment, Christ is with us. He calls upon us to love Him in the sick. In that Good Friday meditation, the Holy Father insisted, “Let us remember the sick, let us remember all those who have been abandoned under the weight of the cross, that they may find in the trial of the cross the strength of hope, of hope, in the Resurrection and love of God.”

The sick and those who valiantly care for them are certainly walking “through the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps 23:4). The psalmist (attributed to King David, who dealt with a pestilence during his reign) does have hope — he says to God, “Your rod and Your staff comfort me” (ibid.). That rod and staff turn out to be the cross, in which Jesus shows us that He is always at our side — in our prayer, in the person who takes care of us, in the person for whom we are caring.

On March 27, Pope Francis led a special prayer service for the entire world from an empty St. Peter’s Square. His homily began with the words, “When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The pope was referring to the night when Jesus slept in the boat while the Apostles were terrified by a storm. We are living that now. “For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat — are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying ‘We are perishing’ (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.”

In other words, to deal with this “night” of the Coronavirus, we need to not contribute to the “night” of Holy Thursday — by turning away from our sinful selfishness, we can help save lives, for this life and for the life to come, including our own. “The storm” that we are living right now “exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities,” the pope said. “It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly ‘save’ us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.”

The pope kept on repeating Jesus’ words to the Apostles in the boat, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (Mk 4:40). After talking about how we consciously or unconsciously have thought we could manage life without God and now we are in this mess and beckoning for God’s help, Pope Francis explained that Jesus wasn’t questioning the Apostles or us as to whether we believe He exists, but rather do we trust God. Addressing God for all of us, the pope prayed, “You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of Your judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to You, Lord, and to others. 

We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people, who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches Salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: ‘That they may all be one’ (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility.

How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.”

Armed with them, we will come to the Easter “Morning Star,” Christ, in this life and in the life to come.



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