One of the great myths about Vatican II is that it did away with crucifixes. Instead, says the Spirit of Vatican II, it should be the risen Jesus on the cross. Two small problems with that:- one, the Risen Jesus was never on the Cross; and two, Vatican II never asked for that. What the Church did ask us to do, through the post-conciliar General Instruction to the Roman Missal is, and I quote (#308): There is also to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, either on the altar or near it, where it is clearly visible to the assembled congregation. It is appropriate that such a cross, which calls to mind for the faithful the saving Passion of the Lord, remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations.
It is for the same reason that Jesus chooses the words he uses with us today. In each reading today Jesus reminds us that he was tortured and murdered on a cross. I need not go past the first words of the First Reading: The Lord has been pleased to crush his servant with suffering. Not for himself. That was for you. God allowed himself to be crushed to save you! All the other readings are the same
Why does the Lord speak to us of his suffering today? There a few good reasons. Number one: to remind us just how expensive our Christianity is. Christianity cost the life of God. Just let that sink in a minute.
This brings us quickly to number two: Christianity is not normal. Normally, after Eden, we would suffer in separation from God for all eternity. That is normal. Now there is only one reason you and I may not suffer that: because God himself, having no need of us whatever, provided through his own body a way out.
And so the third reason to be considering God’s suffering: to consider his suffering now. Now of course, in a real sense, God cannot suffer: suffering is to experience the deprivation or negation of some good. And obviously God, the origin of any good, does not lack any good. But God puts himself out for us. For example, he makes himself a perpetual prisoner of love in the Blessed Sacrament. God does not stay in the tabernacle because he needs to. He restricts himself to this limited space because we need him. All of the sacraments, all of her body and hierarchy, every parish and tiny chapel, the most feted of popes and unknown of the sickly elderly are each the pierced hands and feet of God staying with us.
And this is what makes his current suffering so much greater: despite this gift of sheer overwhelming presence – our lack of gratitude. As Jesus said to St Margaret Mary whose feast we celebrated this week: It was then that He made known to me the ineffable marvels of His pure love and showed me to what an excess He had loved men, from whom He received only ingratitude and contempt. “I feel this more than all that I suffered during My Passion. If only they would make Me some return for My Love, I should think but little of all I have done for them and would wish, were it possible, to suffer still more. But the sole return they make for all My eagerness to do them good is to reject Me and treat Me with coldness.
So which of these are you? It’s not me asking: this corpus on the cross asks each of us today: is Christianity something you play around with just to avoid hell? Or, actually, do you love me? Let us pause in silence to choose how we’ll live our life.