I find it powerful and transcendent that Lent is a moving journey toward the Cross and beyond. This “moving” however, comes in three distinct contexts. Each context has its place in the Lenten message.
The first context of moving evoked by Lent may certainly be the strong, somber emotion of following a friend through great suffering. The closer that friend, of course, the more intimate and proximate to ourselves that suffering should be. While we may be moved by attending the funeral of a friend’s relative we never met, we would expect to be even more moved in attending the actual friend’s funeral. In the first instance, our love for our friend moves us to feel compassion and sympathy for that friend’s suffering. In the second instance, that same love moves us to suffer at the loss of a loved one. The more something touches us, the more it moves our emotions.
As followers of Christ, therefore, we should be moved by Our Lord’s great suffering leading up to and through his ultimate loving sacrifice for us. We should be moved by being so loved while falling so short loving in return. We should be moved by the way we have contributed and continue to contribute to the suffering of a such a loving Lord every time we offend him.
The Crucifix as the Proactive Cross
Our image of the cross is as static and fixed as to be a mirage. We barely discern a difference between a cross and a crucifix. The cross is love promised and the crucifix is love proven. Christ accepted his cross out of love for us and proved his love by turning that cross into the ultimate sacrificial altar. As Catholics, we should see the cross as the setting for love and the crucifix as that love actualized.
The cross sets the table and the crucifix provides us with the meal of Our Lord’s body and blood. Without the corpus on the crucifix, the cross remains a passive symbol. It may evoke our reaction in some way, but that reaction pales in the face of what happens when we add the corpus of Christ.
The crucifix, on the other hand, turns the passivity of the cross into the action of loving sacrifice opening our path to salvation. Through the cross, our reactive passivity is transformed into proactive love. The symbol becomes the signpost. Our Savior on the cross redefines love from simply emotion or reaction into action. It is fine and good to love, but true love demands we act on that love. If we truly love Christ, then we will want to authentically follow him in actions and not merely words.
In this second context, then, Lent implies moving out of our comfort zones and acting on the love we have for Christ and others. Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are made of dust but Lent calls on us to turn that dust into a windstorm of love and sacrifice.
A friend recently lamented that this year Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day, as do Easter and April Fool’s Day. His concern was that people might forget to receive ashes in their haste to buy flowers and candy. In fact, his teenage daughter who usually proudly wears her ashes to school was going to get them after school because she did not want to “mess up” her Valentine’s celebration in school !
Likewise, many may fear that Easter will receive a greater dose of secular mockery since it falls on the day when fools are celebrated. The irony is that Lent truly should begin with love and call us to be fools for Christ in the eyes of this world. In a way, this year’s odd coincidences merely parallel how we should view Lent when confronting this world’s values and priorities.
It is fitting that Lent varies from year to year because following Christ is not about comfortable and predictable routines. The true follower of Christ is like a bride or groom promising love in the face of an uncertain path to a treasured goal. While Christ should be our fixed target, the world around us often provides a moving context which we must overcome. The ultimate message is that Christ is our fixed GPS through the changing contexts of this world.
As we move through Lent this year, let us be moved to move out of our comfort zones and help move others toward Christ.
2018 Gabriel Garnica