Learning From the Cross
By Richard Rohr, O.F.M.

Those of us who studied theology may remember the medieval Latin statement: Crux pro bat omnia...The cross proves everything. The doctrine of the cross is the great interpretive key that makes everything clear.

It is no accident that Catholics and many other Christians have made the cross the image that we look upon. In the revelation of the cross the great truth becomes obvious: The mystery of the rejection, passion, death and rising of Jesus is the fuel of human history. We are wounded, and we are transformed.

For the first 1,100 years of Christianity an idea was popular that Jesus needed to die for us. As many saw it, Jesus gave his life as a ransom. That ransom had to be paid, and some even thought it had to be paid to the devil. In the 11th century St. Anselm introduced the notion that it was to the Father that Jesus made satisfaction. By dying, Jesus returned the love God deserved from the human race—the love that Adam and Eve and their descendants had failed to give.

I believe that human consciousness is now finally ready to accept that Jesus' sacrifice was made to transform us, to reveal a God who is self-giving, suffering love. As our own Franciscan scholar John Duns Scotus taught, Jesus did not need to die. There was no debt to be paid. Jesus died to reveal the nature of the heart of God.

By his death on the cross Jesus does not project the evil of human history onto anyone. He becomes the forgiving victim of human history. It is for good reason that we have dated history from Christ's entrance onto the human stage. Something turns around with Jesus' arrival. Something is different.

Winning Message
The perspective of the cross is that of the victim, the rejected one. This new perspective is what St. Paul finally calls the mind of Christ and what we call the paschal mystery. After we have gone through our own Passover we come out on the other side, not only alive but also changed. We learn who it is that really sustains us. We find ourselves living a life that is not our own: "Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). It's a new kind of life we are living, a life of compassion.

For too many of us, the message of the cross seems neither practical nor relevant. We see it as something Jesus did to prove God's love for us. Jesus becomes the heavenly Hercules who endured unimaginable suffering. But that is only half the mystery. What the mystery of the cross reveals is a different way of living, a way of transformation.

The cross is about how to fight and not become a casualty yourself. The cross is about being the victory instead of just winning a victory. It is not about passivity, giving up or giving in. It is a way of winning that tries to bring your opponents along with you. It is refusing the simplistic win-loss scenario and holding out for a possible win-win solution. The cross is refusing to hate or needing to humiliate the other, which only continues the pattern that the world has always followed.

Jesus' Calling Power
This is why the cross has turned around human history and given us a new story. The cross utterly reframes the human question, forcing us to redefine success and victory. The way of the cross resets the agenda to the way of nonviolence.

When we stand in the mystery of Jesus we can never stand in a righteous way. We have taken on the mind of Christ. We preach Jesus but, more important, we become Jesus. We recognize that Jesus has calling power over us. In return, Jesus asks that we follow him on the journey of transformation. Your job and my job is to be Jesus. And yet I admit I don't know how to be Jesus. He has to do it in me, through me. All I can do, all we can do, is get out of the way and let the mystery of the cross transform us.

RICHARD ROHR, a Franciscan priest from Our Lady of Guadalupe Province in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque. His newest book is Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

Listen to a RealAudio excerpt of Father Richard Rohr

(Taken from New Great Themes of Scripture, 10-part audiocassette series available from St. Anthony Messenger Press, A7090, $49.95.)

Questions for Reflection: What positive ways have you found effective in dealing with feelings of hostility or anger?

Talk about a time you experienced forgiving another or being forgiven.

Responses to this month's
Questions for Reflection


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Using Our Words
By Judith Dunlap

I sat on the porch and watched my daughter-in-law comfort her three-year-old as he screamed and kicked his frustration. "Use your words," she kept saying in a calm voice, her arms around him, rubbing his back. Given the time to express his hurt and anger, Nicholas settled down and the story came out. His playmate had punched him, and he wanted payback. After a few minutes of listening and some quiet soothing, Deborah was able to counsel her little one into a more appropriate response.

My grandson's first reaction was fairly common. It seems a natural response to strike out when we have been struck, to hit back harder, to yell back louder. Yet, as Christians we are called to follow Jesus, learning from the cross a lesson which rejects the proverb "an eye for an eye" and sets a new agenda for the world. We are asked to do to others as we would have them do to us.

My daughter-in-law set a wise path for her youngster. It is one we can all follow and foster in our families: Take time to settle down before responding in anger or frustration, and then "use your words."

Sometimes that means going to the offending party and talking things out. It might mean finding a good listener to help counsel. Finally, it is always a good idea to ask God's help.

As I watched Deborah comfort Nicholas, I thought of what a beautiful image she was of God, the loving parent—always there to listen, soothe, counsel and love.

For Family Response: During Lent, read or tell the story of Jesus' last days. Highlight his words from the cross, "Father, forgive them...." Ask family members to talk about someone they need to forgive. Pray together for forgiving hearts.

Responses to this month's FAMILY CORNER.

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Cast Away
By Frank Frost

What's the hit movie Cast Away really all about? According to the notices, it's about a man who survives a plane crash only to be stranded alone on a barely hospitable island. He's ingenious. He survives. He gets himself rescued.

Yet the movie opens with a shot of a very landlocked road stretching to infinity on a vast open prairie. It pans to reveal an intersection with another similar road. Crossroads. Is this what it's really all about?

Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) engages life with the energy and spirit of a winner. A Federal Express executive, he lives his life by the clock. Time is so precious that he presents his fianc—e Kelly Frears (Helen Hunt) with an engagement ring while dashing to the airport at Christmas. And it's appropriate that her present to him is her grandfather's pocket watch, with her picture inside the cover.

The watch/locket plays a key role in the story. Chuck's plane goes down somewhere in the South Pacific, and he survives to be washed up alone—except for a handful of Federal Express packages that wash up with him. He checks his watch. Time has stopped for him. But the picture of Kelly survives to become his inspiration.

Chuck sets about the inevitable relearning experiences a high-tech citizen must undertake to survive with only nature to count on. Humor and ingenuity carry this Robinson Crusoe part of the story. What becomes clear is the importance of water, food and light. When Chuck finally manages to ignite a fire and builds it into a bonfire in the night, he stands and shouts and beats his chest: "I have created fire!"

More than four years later, when he is back home, Chuck ignites a charcoal lighter at the click of a switch with new eyes. He finds the overabundance of food on a buffet table revolting. And he lies in wonder on a soft hotel bed as he slowly flicks on and off a wall switch providing light effortlessly.

Each time he turns on the lamp it reveals his locket picture of Kelly, whose image gave him the will to survive. But he cannot simply re-enter life where he left off. In the intervening years Kelly has come to terms with her own loss and now has another life.

So indeed, Cast Away turns out to be a movie about personal crossroads, and to drive it home the filmmakers leave Chuck Noland in the final scene at the remote intersection of country roads where the movie began. The camera moves in close as he stares ambiguously into the camera. Whatever the future may hold, Chuck Noland has a new outlook on life.

Cast Away is also a movie about the importance of hope, perseverance and, above all, perspective on the true value of time. It's a hopeful sign that such large audiences sign onto these values.

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By Judy Ball

St. Patrick (415?-493?)
Scholars and historians are uncertain about the years of birth and death for St. Patrick. Many details of his life remain fuzzy. Stories about chasing the snakes out of Ireland and using a shamrock to teach the mystery of the Trinity may be more myth than history.

But one thing is certain: Patrick is a beloved saint whose name is celebrated far beyond the Ireland he Christianized in the fifth century. And well he should be. Here was a humble, self-educated man who achieved remarkable things against great odds.

Growing up in what is now Great Britain, Patrick was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Ireland as a teenager. For six years he was forced to tend flocks, but he was free to turn to God for consolation. Over time, he underwent a profound conversion. After escaping and returning home, Patrick became convinced through a number of powerful dreams and visions that he was being called by God to go back to Ireland and walk among the very people who had enslaved him.

He returned as a priest eager to spread the gospel message among a people who were still practicing human sacrifice and were the major slave traders of their day. Patrick found a way to plant the gospel in that culture, proving himself a missionary of great skill. He believed God had chosen him to convert the Irish. Drawing on his own struggles earlier in life, he preached in a way that had special meaning to a people who were downtrodden and commonly dismissed as barbarian.

St. Patrick found God in nature, in people, in the Church he loved and served. He is a saint for the Irish—and for all peoples.

Father Colm Campbell
The first time Father Colm Campbell left his native Belfast to visit New York City was 15 years ago. Negotiating the city by himself, he soon felt exhausted, lonely, overwhelmed and ready to go home. But he learned firsthand how the city could look and feel to an immigrant.

Those experiences would come in handy some years later, when Father Campbell completed several decades as Director of Youth Services in his home diocese and took up new work in New York on behalf of the Irish Bishops' Commission for Immigrants.

Since 1 992 Father Campbell has been helping newly arrived Irish negotiate the streets he once found so daunting. As the official chaplain to members of the Irish immigrant community, he seeks to be a welcoming presence and an ongoing support. "My goal," he told Every Day Catholic, "is to tell them that the Church cares about them and that I am here to help them integrate into their new world or to find their way back home. I'm here to walk that journey with them."

He uses ingenuity to reach the Irish community in a sprawling city. He celebrates a weekly Mass with readings in Irish and Celtic music. For the younger crowd, less likely to be churchgoing, Father Campbell, 65, leaves his business cards in Irish bars.

He is swamped with calls from young people who want to talk—about troubled relationships, health concerns, "the ordinary ups and downs of life." Many want an Irish priest to help them prepare for marriage or baptize their infants.

"These young people are on their own, so any help means a lot to them. I know what I'm doing is worthwhile and needed."

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