“Stat Crux dum Orbis Revultur” – The Cross Stands as the World Revolves. With these words, the sons of Saint Bruno have, for almost a thousand years (since 1084), devoted themselves to a life of absolute silence and solitude. Seeking to leave no trace, they have for generations sought to immerse themselves more and more into the mystery of God, the mystery of Christ crucified and risen. God alone matters! Carrying in their flesh the death of Christ, they seek to live even now, the mystery of his resurrection (to echo Saint Paul), and to enter into the silence of eternity. This motto of the Carthusian order has come to resonate with many down the centuries, even those with radically different spiritual temperaments. This is so because the saying captures not just what is essentially Carthusian, but, more profoundly, what is essentially Christian. Thus, this motto, with its multilayered meaning, is indeed programmatic.
It is Saint Paul who offers us an unparalleled apologia for the cross when writing to the Corinthians:
For the word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us being saved, it is the power of God…where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God1 Corinthians 1:18-24
The cross stands as the world revolves. It is no doubt that for his immediate followers and contemporaries, the gruesome events of Good Friday, at least as at Good Friday and the day that followed, remained an inexplicable fact that made them call to question his figure and message. Yet Emmaus, the journey from darkness to light through the encounter with the risen Christ, becomes the great exegetical key to interpreting the Crucifixion. An enigmatic travelling companion prompts the two bewildered disciples, by his apparent ignorance–or should we say Socratic midwifery–to recall the facts of what had happened in Jerusalem over the weekend. Recalling these facts prepared them for their proper interpretation, which was nothing else but a fresh understanding of what had hitherto been overlooked in Moses and the Prophets – the Messiah had to suffer in order to be glorified. Only then does the breaking of bread truly fall into perspective, leading them to the recognition of the Risen Lord in the body that had truly been broken and given up, and thus to burning hearts. Indeed, the true illumination of the soul occurs when it comes to the realization that it was necessary for the Messiah should undergo these sufferings and thus enter his glory (Luke 24:25-26). The needed transformation of the world from the dominion of the powers of sin and evil to the reign of power of love and goodness is the mission of the Messiah.
This is precisely what “Jesus’ mission is, into which the disciples are taken up: leading ‘the world’ away from the condition of man’s alienation from God and from himself, so that it can become God’s world once more and so that man can become fully himself again by becoming one with God. Yet this transformation comes at the price of the Cross; it comes at the price of readiness for martyrdom on the part of Christ’s witnesses” (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, vol. II, p.101).
The cross stands as the world revolves. It is the truest and greatest revolution that ever happened in history. With the definitive conquering of man’s deadliest earnest, sin and evil, the world is forever changed. For all the empires that have arisen just to fall and be scarcely remembered in human history; for all the revolutions and wars mankind has seen in every age, for all the sages and wisdom which have endowed man’s world; for all man himself is able to come up with, just to feel so helpless, vulnerable and radically impoverished again and again; there remains the “old rugged cross” with stands, while all else in the world revolves and changes. This is so because the revolution – and thus the transformation – brought by the Cross is precisely what man cannot give himself but must only receive from the God who is love. The cross itself, a symbol of torture and the assertion of earthly power, now paradoxically sets the limits for every earthly power or sociopolitical systems, precisely because it points to the transcendent dimension of human hope. Since man is made for more, everything the world can offer, even when put together, cannot truly satisfy. The temporal order is necessarily limited and relative. In going to his death, Jesus witnessed in suffering to the limit of earthly power and all it could ever offer. Gradually, we come to understand that in the final analysis, “Christianity begins, not with a revolutionary, but with a martyr. The increase of freedom that mankind owes to the martyrs is infinitely greater that the on that revolutionaries could obtain for it.” (J. Ratzinger, Church, Ecumenism, Politics, p.168). This brings into perspective the final lines of J. Ellerton’s beautiful and cherished hymn:
So be it, Lord, thy throne shall never,
Like earth’s proud empires pass away;
Thy Kingdom stands, and grows forever,
Till all thy creatures own thy sway.
The cross stands as the world revolves. It seems to me that St Thomas Aquinas furnishes us with a reasonable approach to how the Cross can be concretely programmatic in the Christian life. He saw in the Cross not just symbol of our redemption but also exemplar of every virtue. He writes “why did the Son of God have to suffer for us? There was great need, and in can be considered in a twofold way: in the first place, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act. It is remedy, for, in the face of all the evils which we incur on account of our sins, we have found relief through the passion of Christ. Yet, it is no less an example, for the passion of Christ completely suffices to fashion our lives.” Thomas Aquinas argues that the Cross teaches us what Christ both desired and despised. He further explains that: “if you seek the example of love: greater love than this no man has, than to lay down his life for his friends. Such a man was on the cross. And if he gave his life for us, then it should not be difficult to bear whatever hardships arise for his sake. If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the cross…when he suffered he did not threaten; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth…if you seek an example of humility, look upon the crucified one, for God wished to be judged by Pontius Pilate and to die. If you seek an example of obedience, follow him who became obedient to the Father even unto death…if you seek an example of despising earthly things, follow him who is the King of Kings and Lord of lords, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Upon the cross he was stripped, mocked, spat upon, struck, crowned with thorns, and given only vinegar and gall to drink. Do not be attached, therefore, to clothing and riches, because they divided my garments among themselves. Nor to honours, for he experienced harsh words and scourgings. Nor to greatness of rank, for weaving a crown of thorns they placed it on my head. Nor to anything delightful, for in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” Frankly, I think we would have been suspicious of a Messiah that did not suffer our afflictions. We would have found it hard to relate to such a Savior. For us to have been healed by his stripes, he had to be wounded.
The cross stands as the world revolves. Someone has written that “Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world.” This is particularly so in the suffering members of the body of Christ. The many stories in our world that have no happy ending cannot fail to puzzle us. It ranges from the massacre of the unborn to the termination of the aged and unfit; children mutilated, abused or violated, sold into slavery; babies killed because of Down Syndrome; the men and women who are victims of senseless wars, and whose lives are gambled away on the boards of evil political ideologies; victims of natural disasters, but also of preventable violence; men and women enslaved in ever new ways thanks to the hysterical scientific-technological whirlwind of constant invention; nations reduced to ghosts of themselves for the selfish interests of “higher powers”; even the weariness of those who, speared from the violence of the cross, nevertheless endure daily life as one giant and endless cross. In a word, the realities of the world that seem to mock the existence an Omnipotent and Benevolent God. Even more painful is the silence of such a God – given that one musters enough faith to believe in his existence – in the face of all that is not of him. Victor Frankl ends his book Man’s Search for Meaning by observing that “our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who has invented the Gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who has entered these gas chambers upright with the Lord’s prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.”
Yet, God has not remained aloof to the predicament of his creatures. He has come to them, become one like them, taken up their every suffering and conquered it to its deepest roots. He has opened the vistas of eternity to a world closed on itself with its self-destructive patterns. In an issue of the magazine Cahiers sur L’Oraison, it is reported that before leaving for the gas chamber, a Jew wrote on a slip of paper: “Lord, remember also the men of ill will, but do not remember then their cruelties. Remember the fruits that we have borne because of what they did. And grant, Lord, that the fruits that we have borne may one day be their redemption.” One can hardly ignore the connection between this prayer of the Jew in Auschwitz and the cry of an earlier Jew on Calvary’s cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” At that decisive hour, to borrow a coinage from Karl Rhanner, his most human humanity and his godliest godliness was made manifest for all times. The Resurrection becomes the Father’s answer. It is the lone perspective that gives the scandal of the Cross its definitive meaning. The cross is a symbol of this transformation and is it only by the Cross that God truly “makes all things new” (Rev. 21:5).
– Rev. C.P. Waindim Jr.