Fr. Daniel Gifford
THE WEIGHT OF THE CROSS AND THE HELP OF A FRIEND
I can’t tell you why this Lent, upon beginning to reflect on our new Stations of the Cross, hanging in the Adoration Chapel, my mind quickly began to turn to various spiritual reflections of the great Christian author C.S. Lewis. But, once I started reflecting upon what I saw in these new stations, it just sort of happened. Regardless, personally, it's been like catching up with an old friend, which is fitting for Lent, since so many of us experience it as a chance to renew our relationship with our best friend, Jesus Christ. Well, since I have begun, why stop now? In the first week, we considered the weight of temptation, which led us to consider the weight of glory in the second week. This week, our focus turns simply toward the weight of the cross itself and the benefit of friends who help us carry it. With this in mind, we might be most inclined to think of the Fifth
Station (pictured here within the letter), in which Simon helps Jesus carry His cross. But, Simon wasn’t the only one who helped Jesus to carry His heavy cross, which He carries for us. It might be rightly pointed out that all of those He meets along the way, in different ways, help Him along that perilous journey, which He endures for us. In particular, I would like to consider the compassionate woman, Veronica, who comes to Christ in the Sixth Station (front cover) and offers Him her veil to wipe off His face. This act of kindness is rewarded with the image of His Holy Face being left upon her veil. Still, it might be rightly said that the first reward was the genuine vulnerability with which He accepts her gift. Upon gazing at the station, we can see both her tenderness and also - even without seeing His Face beneath the veil, as He leans into her gesture of mercy - we see Him unashamed to go to her with a very human need, not unlike His request of the Samaritan woman at the well for a drink, in this weekend's Gospel. And yet we know nothing more about this woman. By the simple fact that we know her name, it is mostly likely that she, at least, was a disciple known to the Church after this incident. But, what about beforehand? Did she know the Lord? Did the Lord know her? We don't know. However, since we can fairly well call her a fellow disciple, we can consider her a friend, as we consider all of the saints. It is in this sixth station that our “The Way of the Cross” reflection, which we use on Friday nights, quotes Sirach’s teaching on friendship (6:14-17): “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter…” Lewis considered the nature of friendship for an entire chapter of his book The Four Loves. His understanding of friendship is very specific (even to the point that some might consider it a bit narrow, but that charge could be both favorable or unfavorable, since it can be problematic to lower the bar of what we consider true friendship). But, one of the clearest defining qualities he identifies is that friends will be united by a mutual passion which they both share in common, but which is not shared by all, and thus sets them apart from the crowd. The mutual passion that we share is Jesus Christ Himself, the One who has called us “no longer slaves, but friends.” If we are friends of Christ, so also must we be devoted to one another. As Lewis says, “The little pockets of early Christians survived because they cared exclusively for the love of ‘the brethren’ and stopped their ears to the opinion of the Pagan society all round them.” Thus, by pursuing Christian friendship within the communion of the Body of Christ, we become a strength to one another, against the pressures of our increasingly corrupt secular culture. This strength we provide to one another can be so strong that it even makes us dangerous to the powers that be in our culture, because we are not easily deceived and cannot be controlled. Again, Lewis says: “Men who have real friends are less easy to manage or ‘get at’; harder for… bad Authorities to corrupt.” So, let us indeed consider the importance of real Christian friendship. Let us seek to support, challenge and strengthen each other. Let us be that sturdy shelter to one another. Perhaps the beginning of this process is noticing the weight upon our friends’ backs, so that we may lend our shoulders in whatever way possible. Is it the weight of temptation? Help them carry it by offering support, encouragement and accountability. Is it the weight of heavy personal burdens, which they need help carrying? Then, show the kind of compassion that Veronica showed to Christ, as He struggled beneath His heavy cross. She didn’t have much to offer to help lighten His load. But, she could offer her veil. So, she offered what she had. So also may we love one another as friends in Christ.
PARENTS COMING TOGETHER: On a related note, we recently had another opportunity for disciples to come together, to support one another and grow together in a mutual task they share: namely Christian parenting. Last weekend, we had a wonderful Day of Recollection for Parents, with the help of talks by Catholic speaker Kathleen Billings. I want to thank all who attended and helped contribute to it in any way. Most especially, I want to thank Julia Mead, who put so much work and so much heart into planning this day as a blessed opportunity for her fellow parents. May our parish efforts in Family Discipleship continue to grow and be guided by the Holy Spirit to create an environment wherein disciples of all stages and walks of life can find support from like-minded members of the same parish family.
MORE ON THE FOUNDATION OF THE FAMILY: Finally, in another related note, here is the continuation of the St. Paul VI (Humanae Vitae) quotation, which was read at the Holy Hour for Marriage: “(Married) love is above all fully human, a compound of sense and spirit. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive. It is also, and above all, an act of the free will, whose trust is such that it is meant not only to survive the joys and sorrows of daily life, but also to grow, so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment. It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner's own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself. Married love is also faithful and exclusive of all others, and this until death. This is how husband and wife understood it on the day on which, fully aware of what they were doing, they freely vowed themselves to one another in marriage. Though this fidelity of husband and wife sometimes presents difficulties, no one has the right to assert that it is impossible; it is, on the contrary, always honorable and meritorious. The example of countless married couples proves not only that fidelity is in accord with the nature of marriage, but also that it is the source of profound and enduring happiness. Finally, this love is fecund. It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being. "Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents' welfare."”