by Father Mark Goldasich
As we start Holy Week, this holiest time of the church year, our attention quite naturally turns to the cross. Two images — one touching, one haunting — come to mind for me.
In his book, entitled “More Than a Carpenter,” author Josh McDowell writes about an incident that took place several years ago in California, which can illustrate what Jesus did on the cross for us. A young woman was picked up for speeding. She was ticketed and taken before the judge. The judge read the citation and said, “Guilty or not guilty?”
After the woman answered, “Guilty,” the judge brought down the gavel and fined her $100 or ten days in jail. Then the most amazing thing happened.
The judge stood up, took off his robe, walked down around in front, took out his billfold and paid the fine.
McDowell then explains: “The judge was the young woman’s father. He loved his daughter, yet he was a just judge. His daughter had broken the law and he couldn’t just say to her, ‘Because I love you so much, I forgive you. You may leave.’ If he’d done that, he wouldn’t have been a righteous judge. But he loved his daughter so much, he was willing to take off his judicial robe and come down in front and represent her as her father and pay the fine.” (Adapted from “Paying the Price,” found in “Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, & Quotes” by Robert J. Morgan.)
I’m touched whenever I read this story. It captures so well both the justice and the incredible mercy and love of our God.
One of the most moving celebrations of the Triduum for me is the veneration of the cross that occurs at the Good Friday service. After venerating the cross myself, I’m privileged to sit in the celebrant’s chair and watch the rest of the congregation as they approach the cross. On that day, more than any other, we realize the full weight of our sins; how we’ve disappointed and hurt our God, our neighbors and ourselves. And yet, there is a sense of gratitude and peace as well, as people — young and old — venerate the cross with a kiss or a genuflection or a bow or simply by touching the wood. The faces of people as they approach the cross mirror what that daughter must have felt in court with her father, the judge.
The second image of the cross is more haunting. This story, also from Morgan’s book, tells of an interview that he did back in September 1994 with Rosemaria Von Trapp, one of the famous “Sound of Music” children.
Here’s what Rosemaria had to say: “Only yesterday I talked to high school students — sophomores — who were doing research papers on the Holocaust of Hitler in Germany. They wanted me to talk about the Nazis. I told them that Hitler gave us a symbol of a cross with hooks on it. But our Christian faith gives us a symbol of a cross that brings freedom and resurrection. The world, you know, offers us a glossy cross with hooks on it. My father and mother had to make a choice. They chose the cross of Christ.”
I’d never thought of the swastika as a cross before — “a glossy cross with hooks on it.” When something has a gloss, it’s just a veneer that hides what’s really underneath. In a sense, sin can be described as a glossy cross. Its initial attractiveness and promise conceal the deadly hooks beneath. For example, something like abundance can become a glossy cross that hooks us into constantly wanting more, never feeling satisfied, and being less willing to share what we have with the poor.
I’m always humbled as we get to the end of Lent. Despite my good intentions and sincere efforts to change my life, I realize what a long, long way I still have to go on the road to holiness. I’m better than I was on Ash Wednesday — but just by inches, not by a mile.
Holy Week is an invitation for us to do some choosing. First of all, let’s abandon our glossy crosses for the simple, rough-hewn, true one that brings freedom and resurrection: the cross of Christ. And, like the young woman in the opening story, let’s also choose to see God, our judge, in a different light — not as a heartless tyrant who wants to throw the book at us, but as a patient, merciful and compassionate friend, who has paid the price for our sins.