To Glory in the Cross of Christ | Rev. Peter M.J. Stravinskas | CWR
Every cross borne by any believer gains meaning and becomes life-giving when it is brought into a relationship with the Cross from which Jesus reigned as the King of Love and over which He triumphed in His glorious Resurrection.
During Lent, Mother Church focused our attention on the Cross and on Him hanging from it. Only the most hard-hearted are not moved to pity and sorrow. Our reflection on the mystery of the Cross, however, likewise causes us to glory in the Cross, acclaiming Jesus Christ as the “King of love on Calvary.”
At the same time, we must admit that this is at least, shall we say, a bit “out of sync” with modernity’s approach to suffering and death. Indeed, the late Father Pablo Straub of EWTN fame coined a word to describe the reaction of our contemporaries to the Cross; he used to say that our society suffers from “cruciphobia” – fear of the crucifix!
I thank God I was spared that disease from my boyhood. Permit me to share three personal anecdotes in that regard.
I had convulsions at birth, keeping me hospitalized for the first four months of my life. Everything went into remission until I was eight years old when I was hit in the head by an iron gate; that very night, the seizures returned, calling for daily medication and constant vigilance on the part of my parents, the Sisters at school, and the priests at church. An additional aspect of the monitoring was a quarterly electroencephalogram (EEG, for short), administered at St. Michael’s Hospital in Newark, the same place where I had been born. As some of you may know, in those early days of treating epilepsy, the EEG required that a kind of cap be secured to the patient’s head with medical thumb-tacks to penetrate the skull to obtain the brain waves. Believe me when I say I knew first-hand the meaning of excruciating pain, quite literally. I dreaded those quarterly but necessary hospital visits.
On one such occasion, my mother took advantage of the fact that the technician on duty that day was a Sister, whom she pulled aside to inform a bit about me and to ask if she could comfort me in any way. When Sister came back, she said: “Peter, your mother tells me you want to be a priest. A priest is a man of sacrifice – like Jesus the Priest. I know that when I place this cap on your head, it’s going to hurt a great deal, and I’m very sorry about that. But I want you to do a couple of things. I want you to look very intently on the crucifix on my habit as I press those pins into your scalp. See how Jesus suffered for you out of His great love. Tell Him you love Him in return, that you want to unite your sufferings to His, and that you wish to offer up your sufferings for your priestly vocation.”
I did as that gentle, loving and holy nun urged me. It didn’t eliminate the pain, but it did make it more bearable because it was placed in a bigger context – one that involved divine love, the salvation of the world, and my future life as a priest. Thanks to that nun, whose name I never knew, I have never experienced “cruciphobia” for a single day since.
My second anecdote.