A Labor of Love
Walking in the streets of Italy one day, a woman came up to me and asked, “Why do you wear a crucified man around your neck?” Taken aback by the question, I replied to her that I was a Catholic and the crucifix was symbol of my faith. Now, it turned out that the woman was a Jehovah Witness who was on a mission of her own that day, but the question has always struck me as an excellent one. I’m afraid that often times the familiarity we have with the image of Christ on the Cross has dulled us to the strangeness of it all. We’ve turned a symbol of torture into a pious platitude for Hallmark greeting cards. Consider the words of St. Paul: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1: 22-24). So, why did God choose such an ugly and painful way to save the world?
I think the answer is written in the very fabric of the laws of nature. Real love always entails suffering. A great example of this is the pain and suffering that comes with bringing new life into the world. For human life to come into existence a man must physically give himself away and a woman must accept the sacrifice and suffering that comes with allowing a human life to grow within her. For nine months she will carry this little person and only with much pain and agony will this new life be brought into the world.
While all analogies limp, there is a parallel here. Jesus Christ literally gave himself away for his Bride, the Church, so that new life would be born within her. In the sacraments of the Church, when men and women give themselves away for love Christ, when sinners find mercy and compassion, when lives of virtue are sustained and nourished, here we see the new life for which Jesus died.
Real love isn’t cheap, it costs and it hurts. On the Cross we see the fullness of real, divine love. We see that for love to be authentic there must always be an element of real sacrifice. Like every good father does for his children, on the Cross our Heavenly Father modeled for us what this looks like. I think this is the “wisdom of God” that St. Paul is talking about in his letter to the Corinthians. Standing against a culture that equates love to feelings and makes choices based on pleasure, this is the genius of our Catholic faith. That, to be followers of Jesus Christ is to live lives marked by love. That whatever our state in life, it is to use every opportunity to give ourselves away as gift. Not only out of our abundance but even until it hurts.