At the daily Mass celebrating the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, I was enthralled by the way Fr. Chris Kanowitz began his homily for this day. This newly ordained priest has a gift. One I have written about elsewhere.
Wordlessly, he strode to the back of the church and touched a button which resulted in a large screen rolling down from the ceiling. Since the screen is normally used for financial appeals or reports, he had peaked our curiosity. We were awake.
Explaining that he loved the paintings by the Spanish painter, El Greco, he learned of the El Greco museum in Toledo while in Spain a few years ago. There, in person, he was able to see El Greco's, Christ Carrying the Cross which is pictured at the beginning of this article.
Fr. Chris pointed out the three most salient features of this painting:
- Christ's posture,
- His eyes,
- And the expression of serenity on His face despite the drops of blood visible under the crown of thorns.
Rather than the weakened, emaciated, crippled figure which we expect, El Greco's Christ stands tall, his head raised. His eyes are wide open, clear; His attention is riveted upward, directed at His Father with whom He is One, elegant hands and fingers embracing the cross.
Suffering. We see catastrophic suffering everywhere we look: Earthquakes in Italy, Mexico City, flooding of an apocalyptic nature. What seems like senseless killing is almost common place in much of the world. ‘Signs of the times’...we are told to read them like we do the change of the seasons.
What do we do when we feel too overwhelmed to pray?
For the last several days, I have been pondering this El Greco painting of Christ carrying the cross. And I understand why Father Chris stood gazing at this painting so long that this face of Christ has become part of him.
Our Catholic faith inculcates us with the belief that there is meaning in our suffering. If we can accept our pain, loss, betrayal with a peaceful trust that there is some use to it. That God wastes nothing. If we can but trust, like Peter, keep our eyes on Christ as He keeps His gaze on the Father.
The problem with the Catholic Church is the crucifix.
That was the first sentence of an article published shortly after my conversion to Catholicism. That there could be meaning in suffering was a concept which both beckoned and baffled me. My career in academic medicine and doctoral studies had been aimed at preventing or at least mitigating suffering. Consequently the Catholic spotlight on the Cross, and St. Paul's exhortations throughout Corinthians ...
...But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles
fascinated and repelled, yet felt eerily logical.
As a lifelong writer, finding the search for the right word has been maddening at times, epecially when writing and speaking about matters of faith. Mark Twain credits his mentor, William Dean Howells with an unerring ability to come up with that elusive and shifty grain of gold: the RIGHT WORD.
But are there some concepts, ideas, or events which are too huge, splendid, majestic or mysterious to fit in words? Even for those of the finest craftsman?
My mid-life conversion to Catholicism was perplexing to my friends. One man, a former Catholic declared after listening to my explanation, "The problem with the Catholic Church is the crucifix."
Bob was expounding on his decision to leave his childhood Catholic faith and embrace evangelical Protestantism. The Catholics emphasized the crucified Christ rather then the Resurrected Savior like the Protestants, a far more positive faith rather than the negativity represented by the crucifix, he believed.
Christ does not promise what He cannot deliver: A life without suffering. Instead, He gives us a roadmap.
I understand the priest’s fascination with this image of Christ carrying his cross. The Savior is alone. We see no evidence of His Father. Exactly like we are alone in our darkness. But unlike Peter, Christ’s gaze is unflinchingly fixed on His Father.
And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are....
“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one,