Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Kissing the Cross
A funny thing happened to me on the way to the convent; I got laryngitis. Actually, it hit me in the parlor while meeting with one of the Mothers just after my arrival. I'd been sick before I left and thought I was over it, but no, apparently not. And oddly enough, I didn't have a sore throat, I felt fine, just had a cough which wasn't even, at least initially, that bad!
Yes, yes, break out the jokes about how it was God's way of telling me to "shut up and listen", which really was an unnecessary message as I LOVED all the silences and sought them out whenever I could. As it was, though, that was the joke of the week with the Sisters and I was in on propagating it!
I think though, that God used it to impart to me a very different message. Not the harsh "shut up" but rather, a lesson in the Cross, in surrender, and embracing suffering.
The Novitiate at the convent had in their refrectory a relic of the True Cross, which I was invited to kiss while Mother K. was giving me the tour. At the time although my laryngitis hadn't fully manifested, I knew it was there and wasn't looking good. So my initial prayer as I kissed the Cross was that Our Lord, in His Mercy, would stave off this particular illness. I knew that the Sisters would be asking me questions, that I would have questions, and of course, I was mortified by the idea that upon my arrival in the convent I was sick! This was one of my nightmares!
I later learned there was another relic of the True Cross in a little shrine near the chapel, this one in a more ornate reliquary with a lit candle near it, and I often visited both relics and kissed them during my time there.
Yet it was on that first day and the following that, because of my unexpected and seeminly illogical illness, coupled with the grace of being able to kiss the Cross that made me meditate on that action, Our Lord's suffering...and what it meant.
What is a kiss but a sign of sincere love? It is intimate, it is intentional, it is physical, a motion that begins interiorly and is expressed exteriorly.
In kissing the relic of the True Cross, upon which Jesus hung in His act of Redemption, my kiss was intended to be an act of true love and devotion for Him, and in that, a recognition of His own love for me. I did not intend to be a Judas, offering a kiss in exchange for the blood money already held.
Later, in the chapel while I had some time to really meditate, I first spent some time praying that I wouldn't lose my voice, that God would remove this particular cross so that my week of discernment would be done in health and not this very inconvenient illness. And of course, my prayer was interrupted with a coughing jag. And even then I lamented my condition and begged even harder to be delivered from my suffering.
That's when it hit me; I had just kissed the Cross.
In contrition for my presumption, I gazed upon the crucifix that adorned the altar and took in our Savior twisted and contorted in torment, realizing that this is what He calls me to do as well. It is impossible to be united with Jesus without also being subject to suffering.
To kiss the Cross means that we love the Cross and we love Our Lord who died for us. To kiss the Cross is to love suffering. It is to love humility and mortification. The greatest act of love is imitation, therefore if we truly love Jesus, we must be willing to imitate Him...even unto His suffering and death.
My prayer then, was both arrogant and a betrayal. I kissed the Cross and asked for comfort. I made an act of love and then denied it by refusing to be conformed to the One I profess to love. Who am I to question the will of God, who cannot be taken by surprise and who KNEW I would suffer this illness through my retreat? I knew I should see it as a gift helping me to be more united to Him, and not an irritation that separated us.
It is my own actions, my own unwillingness to surrender to God's will that separates me from Him. Not a mere illness.
In fact, it was that illness that brought me face-to-face with Him and reminded me of the value and necessity of the Cross and the real meaning of love.
Upon this realization, I bowed my head, knowing God was with me, and said to Him, "Thy will be done. Not mine. Yours." In that moment, I embraced my suffering, which, as I've written, was not limited to the physical but became a spiritual struggle that never abated for a single moment.
From then on, each time I kissed the relics of the Cross, I made an act of surrender, resolving in my love of Jesus to also love the Cross and everything that comes with it. To embrace my sufferings if not in joy, then at least in acceptance and docility.
We are not given Crosses in order to chase us away from God, but rather to conform us more perfectly to Him, for we cannot find Him unless we are willing to be subject to His Passion.
We have to ask ourselves, each time we make the Sign of the Cross...do we mean what we pray? Do we understand what we are doing and how it must change us? Are we willing to imitate Christ only if it is comfortable to do so?
When we kiss the Cross, is our action a betrayal or a true act of devotion and love for Jesus?