Pandemic may have many of us relating to the Cross in a new way
by Sister Elise Cholewinski
When we gaze upon Jesus nailed to a cross, we see a picture of total poverty. Hanging there naked in public, accused of being a criminal and enduring capital punishment, He experiences the greatest degree of trauma and shame. His body is drained of blood, His lips are parched, He is covered with cuts and bruises, He is shivering, and He is struggling to breathe. He is completely exhausted; He had been standing or walking for hours, since the time He was escorted from the Mount of Olives. (Given the kind of dungeon in which He was kept overnight, it is very unlikely that He would have sat or knelt when He was there.) Jesus is the object of sarcasm and ridicule. Only a handful of disciples stand near the cross. He must bid His mother goodbye. Feeling abandoned by His Father, He prays the first verse of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But in this depth of poverty it is quite likely that He continued praying the rest of the psalm. As He came to its conclusion He would have prayed: “... and to Him my soul shall live.”
It was the desire of St. Francis of Assisi to imitate the poor Jesus as closely as possible and to become identified with Jesus in His sufferings. Toward the end of his life Francis was given the gift of the stigmata, when his body was imprinted with the five wounds of Jesus.
During this Lent we have experienced a deep kind of poverty. We have been called to let go of family, friends, activities, places, and even church services. Can we embrace this poverty with the same trust that Jesus had on the cross? Through our physical distancing and being confined to our homes, can we rejoice in carrying the wounds of the Lord? Do we desire to glory in the cross?
I visited St. Joseph Cemetery today, where my parents, youngest brother, and godfather are buried, all next to each other. It wasn't only THEIR graves, however, that I visited. I walked the grounds, stopping at each headstone, reading the name, dates of birth and death, inscription, gazing upon the image of an angel or angel's wings, deer running through the woods, cross, fields of flowers and butterflies, that graced the tombstones or stood in loving solidarity with the deceased. There were a couple of worn St. Francis statues, a good number of angel statues, as well as other more personal items left in loving remembrance of the relationship that existed between the deceased and the mourner who placed it there.
As I stood before each grave, I let the person/s tell me their story. I "listened" with an open heart and mind to how this particular person's life -- and death -- impacted my own life. There were Linda and Lorraine, sisters, nine and eleven, who drowned in the nearby quarry when I was just seven years old. There was a young man, two years older than myself and with whom I went to school, who committed suicide at forty-six young years of age. There were two childhood cousins who died the same year -- a four year old blonde girl, Lisa, who died of leukemia, and a two year old blonde boy, Jeffrey, who drowned in a ditch of water. Their grandparents, as well as Jeffrey's Dad, Nick, another young man I went to school with, were nearby.
My GraMa "Nellie" Van Schyndel, who I only knew through stories and rare pictures, who died at the young age of thirty-nine, pregnant with her tenth child, leaving GramPa John with nine children, ages 18 - 2. My Dad was sixteen when he lost his Mom. In more recent years, the family purchased new and alike headstones for both GramPa John and GraMa Nellie, but their graves remain apart, each one in a different location. At the time of GraMa's death, as grief-stricken as everyone was, and with so much work to be done, and no money, it would have been impractical to purchase a second plot next to GraMa for when GramPa died.
There are soooooooooo many people in that small cemetery that I know -- or remember their family story from my childhood and growing up years. I stand in holy wonder of how their life - and mine - 'connected.' The Great Mystery of the Universe saw that it was fitting for this to be so, in my life. I am humbled. I am deeply grateful.
Each and every one of these persons carried a cross - in some form, shape, or manner. And in that sharing in the Cross of JESUS, Our Christ, so, too, did each one share in his Death and Resurrection. This is an Incredible and Awesome Mystery for me. That lives are woven together, even when apart, is surely evident.
On my drive home, I ponder how vast is time and space -- and all that ever was and will be. Our lives are but a 'moment in time,' as the saying goes -- such a very short span. Yet, here we are ..... given this particular 'time,' and this particular 'space .......' for whatever number of days our particular life fills. I consider if I have wasted any of it; and if so, how? I consider how 'tricky' this particular reflective question can be, because the productivity of the world, as we know it, considers 'down' or 'quiet' or 'idle' time to be a waste, whereas the productive work-of-the-Spirit often happens in these 'down' or 'quiet' or 'idle' times.
I find myself facing a choice. Do I want to give my life toward what the world considers to be a 'productive life?' Or do I want to give myself to what the Spirit considers to be a 'productive life?'