Love Incarnate, Love Crucified
Apr. 2, 2021
Take a moment right now and think about someone you love deeply. Consider your relationship with that person. Keep that relationship in mind, because we will revisit it shortly.
Growing up as a Catholic, I saw plenty of crucifixes, but didn’t pay attention to the “decorations.”. In middle school, I thought it was strange to display images of Jesus beaten and half-naked. In high school, I was teaching 3rd graders about Jesus’ Passion, and they would ask many great questions. I would tell them what I had heard others say, namely "Jesus did it because He loves us." Saying it didn't mean I understood it.
When I was 19, my pastor preached a homily about his first profound encounter with our Crucified Lord. He was in seminary, kneeling before the altar, looking up at the cross. This day something new struck him. Not just comprehending, but also believing how much Jesus loved him, and he was moved to tears. It struck me that a man would admit to crying, and all from looking at a crucifix! Thanks to that homily, I realized there must be something I was missing when I looked at Jesus on the cross.
Okay, do you still have that loved one in mind? That relationship didn't just instantly become what it is today. Rather, it grew over time. In that time, it is likely that you have been vulnerable with one another. This is a person with whom you feel comfortable stripping away the masks, the facades. That vulnerability opens the door to love. That is how Jesus loves us. He never puts on any masks, He spends time with us, He takes on our sins, is as vulnerable as is humanly possible, and gives His life for us. Likewise, we are called to love Him by being completely vulnerable and spending time with Him.
Meditation on Christ’s Passion is a way that I have come to better understand, appreciate, and live out His love. I encourage you to use the following meditation, which I often pray with, as a way of entering more deeply into His Passion. Let Him guide you through His Sacred Heart and through your own heart. I will type it in the first person in the hope that you can better place yourself in the story.
"He who is without bounds, bound Himself with the cords of our humanity. He was victim and high priest—yet He was God." St. Gregory of Nazianzen
St. Gregory says it well. Nothing we do can stop or change God. However, Jesus, in His own Divine Will, chose to take our sins onto the cross with Him. The sins which would ensnare us if not for the cross. Our sins… my sins.
Jesus was celebrating the Passover meal with His disciples. He looked at me, He saw me. He always sees me. He knew I, a disciple who followed him closely for several years, His friend, would betray Him. His look, I was familiar with. A look of love.
Jesus was praying in the garden and asked me to stay awake with Him. He spoke as if it were urgent. We were in the garden alone, what harm could come from a nap. I chose to betray His trust and sleep awhile. I awoke and see Him covered in drops of blood.
He looks up into my eyes and says, "I love you."
I'll be paid for turning Him in. I will kiss Him. With that sign of affection it will hide my betrayal. Again, He saw me as I approached. With that same look of love, surely knowing what I was about to do.
I know He speaks in such peaceful manners, but they tried to arrest Him in the garden. I cut off the ear of the guard closest to me. Then I met Jesus' loving eyes and realized I have once again set aside all He has taught me.
He was placed before the crowds, including me. I have come to see Jesus of Nazareth brought to justice. At the earliest chance, I yell "crucify Him." He looks out and it's as if He sees each one of us. He wasn't surprised by my response. When Pilate asks again I yell it louder, "crucify Him." His Mother cries. Jesus looks back as if to say "I love you."
I scourge Him. With every lashing, He looks up and says "I love you." He spoke in a voice that somehow seemed both shaky and unwavering, as if He were human and Something More.
I spat upon Him, mocked Him, drove the crown of thorns upon his head. With every insult, with every one of my cruel actions, He looks back with love in His eyes.
He carries the cross upon His torn up flesh. He fell several times as His body grew weaker. His legs gave out, but He never gave up. He didn't give up the cross, and He told me He wouldn't give up on me.
We reach Golgotha, and lay Him on the cross. While the others hold one arm, I drive the nail in. At no point does He resist.
Instead He yells out "I love you!"
I couldn't hold the hammer any longer. I handed it over and held his other arm. Now, being even closer to His face, I see the dirt, the sweat, the blood, and most clearly I see that same penetrating look of profound love. I wanted to look away, but was too astonished by Him. Love Incarnate has been crucified. He looked down from the cross as He spoke briefly seven times. If I summed it all up, He was saying "I am Jesus, and I love you!"
Take a moment of silence.
Let us pray: Thank You Jesus for loving me through all of my sinfulness. You took on the cross because of my sins. You did so out of love. Then You rose from the dead, and now You stretch out your hand to bring me with You. As we approach Easter, teach us how to die of ourselves so that we may rise with you. Amen.
"He became as one, among the dead but He rose from the dead, raising to life also many who had died before Him." St. Gregory of Nazianzen.