The Passion and the Cross by Ronald Rolheiser (Franciscan Media, 128 pages, paperback, $13.46).

On the cross, love triumphs over hatred

By  Maria Di Paolo, Catholic Register Special
  • May 7, 2016

Both the passion and the cross are visceral images for Christians. The cross confirms our identity. It is a sign of both blessing and suffering. It is an essential part of our holy spaces, marking our membership in the community of Christ. Without the passion, there would be no Resurrection, and no Christian faith. Christ died on the cross for us so our sins would be forgiven. It is the cross, and the brokenness of the person who died on it, that are the secret of the Gospels, Oblate Father Ronald Rolheiser writes in his latest book, The Passion and the Cross.

How can a human being’s betrayal, how can His cruel and violent death be crucial to our salvation? Some interpret this ultimate sacrifice in an extremely physical and literal way: Mel Gibson’s graphic and brutal film The Passion of the Christ is one example. But the focus on the physical brutality misses the point and overlooks the real distress that Jesus experienced in His last hours. It was the loneliness, desertion, humiliation and betrayal that caused Him to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” not the flogging He received from the Romans. It is this intensely human suffering that makes Jesus one with us because we also suffer the same loneliness, desertion, betrayal and humiliation. Rolheiser, a popular Catholic Register columnist, describes Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane as “that of a lover who’s been rejected in a way that is mortal and humiliating” and “the black hole of bitter misunderstanding, rejection, aloneness, loneliness... of sensitivity brutalized by callousness, love brutalized by hatred.”

What is Jesus’ real dilemma at Gethsemane? According to Rolheiser, Jesus’ choice is, simply, will He die as an angry, bitter and unforgiving person, or will He die with a warm and forgiving heart? Rolheiser asks us to think about what our choice would be. Do we let go of love in the face of hatred?

The cross for us is as real today as it was for Jesus 2,000 years ago. Where do we find our cross to carry? Rolheiser evokes the image of Simon of Cyrene, an otherwise inconsequential person who is known for one thing, and one thing only — he helped Jesus carry the cross. The image is of a person who “being victimized by circumstance so that he or she, simply by being at a given place at a given time, is conscripted to do a task that is unwanted, unplanned for, humbling and disruptive of his or her own agenda. And yet this unwanted thing becomes in the end the most important thing he or she will ever do.” When we care for our aged parents or for a disabled child, when our plans and dreams are sacrificed because someone else’s are considered more important, we become Simon of Cyrene, carrying the cross with Jesus.

More than once Rolheiser reminds us that Jesus’ actions are not something that we should just sit back and admire. We are the body of Christ and the Word continues to dwell amongst us. Our task, as Christians, is to do in our own lives what Jesus did and to keep Him incarnate in the world today. The Resurrection needs to be a daily event in our lives so that our vanquished dreams can be kept alive. Love, togetherness, peace and forgiveness need to triumph over hatred, loneliness, chaos and bitterness.

The title itself may suggest that The Passion and the Cross is a book that should be saved for Lent, but that belies the reality that the cross is part of our daily lives. Although fairly short at just over 100 pages, The Passion and the Cross is rich in content. Rolheiser’s approach is refreshingly pastoral and practical. This is, undoubtedly, the best book I have read on the subject.

(Di Paolo is a Toronto freelance writer.)

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