April 11, 2017 by Father Seán ÓLaoire, PhD
He WAS UTTERLY incorrigible. They couldn’t bribe, threaten or cajole him. He was a very bright fifth-grade child who refused to work at school and was failing in every subject, especially mathematics. This little Jewish boy was very much loved by his parents. They tried their best to persuade him in every way they could to apply himself at school, but he wouldn’t. He was put in several different schools. He went to public, private and remedial schools and continued to fail. They sent him to the East Coast Academy for Young Gentlemen and he failed there too. Finally, in desperation, although they were Jewish, they put him in a Catholic school run by nuns.
He returned home the first day from school, went straight into his room studied furiously for three hours, came out at dinner time took some food and went back and studied for four more hours. This went on for the entire first week of school. Finally, on Friday, at the Shabbat meal his father said to him, “I’m really impressed and very happy with what you are doing, but what is so different about this school? Why are you applying yourself in this school when you didn’t apply yourself in the other schools? The boy said, “Are you serious? The people in charge of this school, they’re called, “nuns”, are ferocious. They don’t make idle threats. Every classroom has this huge color photo of another Jewish kid who was nailed to a plus sign.”
Did Jesus say that unless you get nailed to a plus sign you can’t be my disciple? What does the cross mean in Christian cosmology? What is the connection between wisdom and the cross?
When Jesus said, “Unless you are prepared to carry your cross, you cannot be my disciple,” what do you think he had in mind? Two thousand years later it is very difficult for us to figure out what he meant when he said; you have to carry your cross. Crucifixion is probably the single most vicious execution method every devised by human beings. It was devised by the Persians but reached its zenith under the Romans and it was in widespread use at the time of Jesus. There were two forms of crucifixion. One form had a seat on the cross for the criminal to sit on as he hung on the cross and this allowed him to die slowly from dehydration and exhaustion over a period of about seven days. There was another form, without the seat, so the person would hang with pressure on his hands or on his feet. When the pressure on the feet got to be too much, then he would try to shift his weight onto his hands and then his chest would get constricted and he couldn’t breathe. That is a very cruel way of killing someone.
Is Jesus advocating this kind of death for all of us? Is he so pessimistic about life that he is suggesting that this is what life involves? Is two thousand years of Christian misrepresentation telling us Jesus was advocating that everyone has to take this cross on his/her shoulder, proceed to Golgotha and get crucified? Of course, it has nothing to do with that.
He was not enjoining a masochistic addiction to pain and suffering. Rather, the cross means the embrace of the total human experience. It is only tangentially related to suffering. Of course, life sometimes involves suffering as it also involves successes and joys of various kinds. In any human life time there will be good experiences and tough experiences. Jesus is not advocating that we zoom in and embrace only the suffering. The cross represents the total embrace of being a human being on planet Earth and experiencing everything that incarnation brings with it. He is not just focusing on the negative or on persecution. He said at one stage, “I have come that you may have life and have it to the fullest.”
The horizontal beam of the cross represents our relationship to all living things and reminds me that I am connected to all sentient life forms; not just on planet Earth, but in the entire cosmos. It is my relationship to all that is.
The vertical arm of the cross represents my relationship with the transcendent; the ultimate ground of my being. The horizontal element connects me to all other beings and it connects me to the feminine face of God – as evidenced in creation. The vertical arm of the cross connects me to the transcendent aspect of God or His masculine. The intersection of these two pieces, where the vertical and the horizontal meet, is my connection to myself. I cannot be meaningfully in connection with myself unless I am in connection with God and in connection with all of my brothers and sisters. To attempt only one of these is to miss the point. People who attempt only a connection with each other and do not create a relationship with God are merely secular humanists; and humanism is fine, but it is not the whole picture. People who only have a relationship with God are on an esoteric ego trip unless it is balanced by the connection to everything else. Unless I am prepared to walk my talk in my relationship with my brothers and sisters, I have not understood what the cross is about.
When I bring these two meaningfully together, then and only then can I meaningfully believe in my relationship to my own core identity. We constantly misunderstand what these are about. We constantly focus on one or other element and forget that the two must come together. We then continue to reinforce this mistake by insisting that the cross means persecution or suffering. It has nothing to do with that. It is only tangentially related to the fact that every person will experience all the facets of what it means to be a human, including pain.
The cross is the ultimate illusion buster. The cross is the place that grounds me firmly in my physicality and my humanity and, simultaneously, allows me to reach for the transcendence of my inner divinity. It breaks through the illusion of a separate identity – that my brothers and sisters are ontologically discrete entities totally different from me. The cross is the ultimate breaker of all of these illusions because when I put the two pieces in place and I am truly in contact with my core essence, I find that the core essence with which I am in contact is the same core essence that manifested as you or the daffodils or the butterflies. When I am in contact with that there are no separations anymore and the illusions go.
April 11, 2017 by Father Seán ÓLaoire, PhD