Saturday 17th November 2018

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The Triumph Of The Cross Over Evil

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By JAMES MONTI

It is in mid-September each year, and with particular urgency in this year of 2018, that the Church suddenly makes us revisit for two days the mystery of Good Friday with the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and its immediate sequel, the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows (September 14-15, respectively).
The Introit for the Mass of September 14 establishes the theme of the first of these two liturgical commemorations by borrowing the opening words of St. Paul’s exhortation, “But far be it from us to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).
The apostle’s words encompass the two dimensions of the Mysterium Crucis, the glory of the cross, and the wellspring of this glory — the salvific, sacrificial, and very real suffering of Christ. It is the latter dimension that in our time has come to be obscured by misguided liturgical theorists who have deemed it too lugubrious for an “Alleluia people.” The Paschal Mystery has come to be seen as all a matter of Easter joy and glory.
What has been pushed aside is the reality of where the glory of the cross comes from — the reality of precisely how that glory was achieved.
Certainly the prophetic words of our Lord that when He shall be “lifted up” (John 8:28; 12:32), “you will know that I am he” (John 8:28) and He shall draw all men to Himself (John 12:32) identify His Passion as a glorification, but this must be understood in the context of what He said while “lifted up”: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46), words spoken beneath a sky turned black in mourning by the hand of God.
In her “Prayer Before a Crucifix” St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) takes in the full import of these astounding words from the lips of our dying Savior:
“I love thee because of the cry that was wrung from thee: ‘My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?’…Almost every night the sacrifice of Calvary has been renewed before me, so that in spite of the lapse of centuries, that moment, when in the darkness the Creator expired before the eyes of all creation, is present to me in all its reality…whereon thy white form stands out, illumined by the light of love, while the rest of my cell is plunged in sepulchral darkness. Thou and I, Lord, and no one else” (quoted in Fr. Raoul Plus, SJ, The Folly of the Cross, London, Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1927, pp. 40-41).
Yet to affirm that the cross means suffering in all its brutal reality in no way denies that it is at one and the same time the sign of victory par excellence, the highest symbol of the triumph of Christ over sin, death, and the Devil — His triumph over evil.
In Barcelona’s late medieval rite of Baptism, demons were confronted with a threefold sign of the cross over the infant about to receive the sacrament as the priest said, “I exorcize thee, unclean spirit, in the name of the Fa + ther, and of the Son + , and of the Holy + Spirit, that you may go out and depart from this servant of God [Name]. For He commands thee, accursed damned one, He who walked on foot upon the sea, and who stretched out His right hand to Peter sinking” (text in Amadeu-J. Soberanas, editor, Ordinarium Sacramentorum Barchinonense, 1501, Biblioteca Liturgica Catalana, volume 1, Barcelona, Institut d’Estudis Catalans, 1991, fol. 16r-16v).
In the Celebration of Mass, the processional cross serves likewise as a herald of Christ’s victory over Satan. To explain the carrying of a cross at the head of the entrance procession with which the Mass begins, Pope Innocent III (+1216) cites the second verse of Psalm 67, “Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered: and let them that hate him flee from before his face,” for the crucifix scatters the enemies of Christ who “flee from before His face” (De Sacro Altaris Mysterio, book 2, chapter 12, Patrologia Latina, volume 217, col. 805).
Citing the opening words of the hymn Vexilla Regis, “The standards of the King go forth,” the bishop and liturgist William Durandus of Mende (+1296) observes that the “royal standard” of the cross is “a sign of the victory of Christ…by which the demons have been conquered,” the sight of the cross making them flee in terror (Rationale Divinorum Officiorum, book 4, chapter 6, n. 18, in A. Davril, OSB, and T.M. Thibodeau, editors, Guillelmi Duranti: Rationale Divinorum Officiorum I-IV, Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis, volume 140, Turnhout, Belgium, Brepols Publishers, 1995, p. 279).
Ironically, the modernist mentality that seeks to empty the cross of its sorrowful symbolism and celebrate it almost exclusively as a sign of joy and glory also seeks to downplay the very things that make the cross an expression of victory by denying the existence of Satan, eradicating the sense of sin, and emphasizing the here-and-now as if there were no afterlife, no resurrection from death.
If there is no Devil, if there is no danger of sins that could send us to a place called Hell, if our faith is only about making this world a better place and not about saving souls, then the cross is a sign of victory over nothing at all.
The Way of the Cross to which we are called in our time requires an indefatigable perseverance in the face of seemingly impossible odds, steeled by the divine promise that “with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37). In the words of the Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary as composed by the Servant of God Frank Duff (1889-1980), our service to God “must be one of holding on, of absolute and obstinate refusal to lose heart….Fighting failure…fighting on, and wearing it down,” for “If there be but faith enough, God will utilize us to conquer the world for Him” (The Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary, Dublin, Concilium Legionis Mariae, 1940, pp. 9, 10).
It was shortly after arriving at the Nazi prison camp of Powiak in the late winter of 1941 that the Franciscan priest St. Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941) was confronted by an SS officer. Enraged by the sight of the prisoner’s Franciscan habit, the officer seized the rosary beads dangling from the friar’s cincture and holding up the crucifix before him, demanded, “Imbecile, idiot, filthy priest, tell me if you believe in that.”
In a serene, unflinching voice, Fr. Kolbe replied, “Yes, I believe.” He was thereupon dealt two heavy blows to the face. “Well, do you still believe?” Again, the priest answered, “Oh yes, I believe.” This brought down upon Fr. Kobe a torrent of blows, repeatedly felling him. “And now will you tell me that you still believe?” “Yes, I do believe.”
The prisoner was now beaten until he was left for dead. Upon regaining consciousness, the badly battered priest said to his fellow prisoners, “My friends, you ought to rejoice with me; it is for souls, for the Immaculata!” (Maria Winowska, The Death Camp Proved Him Real, Kenosha, WI, Prow, 1971, pp. 157-158).
In the Acts of the Apostles we read that after Saints Paul and Silas were imprisoned at Philippi, as they were praying and singing hymns in the night, an earthquake suddenly rocked the prison and threw open all the doors and loosed all the prisoners’ fetters.
Despondent at the prospect of all the prisoners escaping, the guard on duty drew his sword to commit suicide, but Paul immediately shouted out to him, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here” (Acts 16:25-28).

This Is Our Hour

With the present crisis of scandal within the Church, it seems we are all hearing stories of those who say they will now abandon the faith on account of it, but this is largely the talk of those who have little faith to begin with. Among those who have taken their faith seriously both in word and in daily practice, the reality is that nobody is going anywhere.
At the major seminary where I work as a library clerk, the seminarians are back from their summer vacation to embark upon another semester of preparation for the priesthood — back at their “battle stations” as it were, determined to embrace a life of fidelity to Christ and our Lady, of fidelity to the Church and her imperishable doctrines, of faithful chastity for the Kingdom of God.
At daily Mass in my parish, there actually seems to be an uptake in the number of people attending. And among the many home-schooling families that I have the very happy pleasure of knowing, the parents are keeping calm and carrying on with the business of forming their children in sound doctrine and authentic piety.
The words from a hymn of the Knights of the Holy Grail in Richard Wagner’s religious music-drama Parsifal say it all: “The faith endures.”
The great Carmelite mystic St. Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880-1906) observed, “The Divine Master called the hour of the Passion ‘the cause for which He had come’ and for which He had longed. When some great suffering or insignificant sacrifice offers itself, let us think at once that this is our hour, the hour in which we are to prove our love for Him” (quoted in The ‘Praise of Glory’: Reminiscences of Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity, London, R. & T. Washbourne, 1913, pp. 180-181).
For all of us now living, for the Church here on Earth, this is our hour — a time of unprecedented trial that summons us to prove our love. It is the hour to make Christ’s prayer in the shadow of the cross our own, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39).
On Good Friday each year, the Church throughout the world comes together to venerate the cross. In the more traditional form of this liturgical rite, the ceremony begins with a crucifix that is entirely veiled. The current sorrow of the Church is indeed a veiled cross. None of us really knows what is coming, but what we do know is that when at length it is unveiled we will find Christ Crucified waiting for us, to lead us on.

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