The other day, my three-year-old son observed, “Churches have crosses on them.”
I looked up, surprised at the connection he had made. Daringly, I decided to push my luck and asked him, “Why do churches have crosses on them?”
Astonished, I heard his answer: “Because it’s a sign. It’s a good sign.”
I was partly surprised just because his answer made sense. At three, my son rarely, if ever, answers a “why” question with a relevant response. But, this time, amazingly, not only did his answer make sense, his answer was right!
The cross is indeed a sign, and a good one, especially for us during Lent. The cross is a sign of so many things – a reminder that we live in a world of sin and suffering and that we can only attain salvation by picking up our own individual crosses and carrying them with resignation and love. Lent, of course, is a time when we voluntarily add some form of penance to the crosses we already carry; a time when we struggle to recognize there is some value in suffering; that suffering makes us wiser, more patient, more understanding, more sympathetic towards others; more trusting in Our Father’s providence in our lives; more deeply in love with His crucified Son; and more open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and wills.
Our culture denies there is any value in suffering, offering pain killers for every ailment and euthanasia for the terminally ill. But, as Christians, we need to look beyond this shallow hedonism, and though blinded and weakened by our own pain, we must grope towards a clearer understanding of why a loving Father would allow His children to suffer.
There is no easy answer to the question of suffering. Our most illuminating glimpse into the value of suffering, perhaps, is that it was through suffering that Christ chose to communicate His love for us. Which brings us back to the cross.
For, ultimately, the cross is a sign of love, a sign of the incomprehensibly enormous love of Creator for creature, of the All-mighty for the helpless, of the All-good for the sinner. The cross is incomprehensible to us not only because we do not deserve such love but because we cannot grasp the immensity of such love — a love that impelled the Lover to endure hours of excruciating agony and a cruel, humiliating death; a love that still drives Him to forgive the most horrendous sins, to shower His ungrateful creatures with grace, and to wait ever so patiently on the altar for us to visit Him and to be united intimately with Him in Holy Communion. Surely, we should be amazed that He even yearns to be so intimately united with us, and yet He does — or else no one, not even the saints, would dare to approach this august Sacrament.
No, we cannot comprehend this love. We could spend the rest of our lives contemplating this love, and we would still grasp it only dimly. Let us, then, spend at least the rest of this Lent meditating on this tremendous love, striving, however feebly, to give love back for Love, to carry our crosses with trust and resignation, and to satisfy the ever thirsty Heart of our Savior with the only thing He desires — our own hearts.