ASPECTS OF THE CROSS
THE Cross is the central point of the Revelation of God to a fallen world. It was shadowed forth by types and prophecy in the Old Testament. It was seen in Isaac bearing the wood up the hill; in the rod of Aaron which became a serpent and swallowed up the rods of the musicians: in the Paschal Lamb, thrust upon two spits at right angles; in the tree which sweetened the bitter water of Marah; in the brazen serpent lifted up in the wilderness. Prophecy after prophecy declared and set forth the incidents of the Passion. In the Holy Gospels, large portions of each are devoted to the ending of our Lord's Life. "Christ and Him crucified "-was the burden of the Apostles' teaching.
It has been ever the strength and delight of the Saints. O mighty work of Love.
"Death died when life died upon the wood. Blessed is the wood whereby righteousness cometh. It has been their hopeful prayer by the sign of the Holy Cross. Deliver us from our enemies, O Lord, O our God. They rejoiced in it in their hymns of praise."
Faithful Cross! Above all other,
One and only noble tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thy peer may be.
Sweetest wood, and sweetest iron,
Sweetest weight is hung on thee.
Bend thy boughs, O tree of glory!
Thy relaxing sinews bend.
For awhile the ancient rigor
That thy birth bestowed, suspend,
And the King of Heavenly Beauty
On thy bosom gently tend.
O God, Who in the wonderful life-giving Cross didst open the way to Everlasting life, grant that we, united to it by faith and love, may attain to the glory which Thou hast merited for us.
I. THE CROSS MANIFESTS THE LOVE OF GOD
We may contemplate the Being of God, wonderful in His Almightiness, His Infinity, His Eternity. Or we may review His moral attributes, His wisdom, sanctity, goodness. But what we most desire to know is His attitude towards us. We are surrounded by a world in which evil abounds, where wickedness in high places reigns, where sorrow, sickness, pain, death, are everywhere present, where the air seems heavy with the complaints of the children of men, where at times the heart sinks down oppressed by the sad spectacle. Faith enfeebled asks, "Is there a God? Does He not care? Will He leave the world to perish?" and an answer comes from the Cross, " God is Love." Man's miseries are to have an end. There is a remedy for all this present evil. God, foreseeing it from all Eternity, has provided one. He saw the sinfulness of His creature, and the miseries it would bring upon him. Yet while we were sinners He loved us. The Cross is the Revelation of that mighty Love.
II. THE CROSS IS THE MEASURE OF SIN AS AN EVIL
It teaches this in three ways. All men carry within them a moral law. Every violation of it brings an injury upon themselves. It is the greatest of all evils because it is an internal evil. It shows itself in an enervated and degenerated humanity, but its vicious malignity was made manifest on the Cross. The Cross was the climax of human sin. There we see the outcome of all sins. In that terrible tragedy we behold envy in the Pharisees, hypocrisy in the High Priests, sensuality in Herod, worldliness and moral cowardice in Pilate, avarice in Judas, fanatical hatred in the populace, cruelty in the soldiers, lying in the false witnesses, blasphemy and calumny in the accusers, weakness and instability in the Apostles. Sin culminated in the Crucifixion of Christ. We see the malignity of any sin by viewing its manifestations at Calvary.
Here, too, the worst effect of sin is revealed. We learn its character in the fall of the Angels, and in the result of Adam's transgression. But its most terrible effect is seen in the separation of the soul from God. Death is the outward symbol of that loss. It is brought home to us by the mysterious and terrible cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" Moreover it is an act in conflict with the moral nature of God. It is an outrage upon His Perfection. It is the wounding of One we are most bound to love. It is an outrage upon the Divine Goodness in preferring something vile, to God. It despises the wisdom of God, in breaking the law of God. It abuses the long-suffering of God. It prostitutes the power of God, employing the strength which He gives us, against Himself. It outrages the sanctity of God, as when the Sacred form of Jesus was exposed to taunt and ridicule. Calvary thus illustrates the outrages which sin perpetrated upon God Himself.
III. THE CROSS IS THE REVELATION OF ALL VIRTUES
Man needs not only merely noble precepts, but an inspiring example. To be effective the precepts must be embodied in a life. The Cross is the summary of our great Exemplar. There He displays in a conspicuous degree all virtue. There, too, shine forth those special virtues which only a dying Love could show. On other occasions we behold Christ manifesting manifold virtues. We see His compassion in feeding the multitude, but no fortitude is requisite. We behold His humility in washing the Disciples' feet, but no perseverance is an accompaniment. You notice thoughtful kindness at the marriage feast, but it does not involve meekness. But the Cross sums up all virtues. I see upon the Cross humility and obedience: "He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross." Patience is there: "He suffered for us." Meekness is there: "When He was reviled, He reviled not again." Resignation is there: "Not my will but thine be done." Natural affection is there: "Woman, behold thy son." Forgiveness is there: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Mercy is there: "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." Constancy in trial is there: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Poverty is there: "They parted my garments among them." Mortification is there: "They pierced my hands and my feet, I may tell all my bones." Perseverance was there: "Thou that savest others, save Thyself, come down from the Cross." Confidence was there: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." He had shown charity in going about doing good, but in the Passion by giving up His Life. He had shown patience and fortitude in bearing hardship, fatigue, and want, but now patience is tested by a death of intense pain. He had shown obedience to His blessed Mother and foster-father. Now, obedience is heightened by a surrender of Himself to a death of agony. The Cross was the mirror of virtues. In Christ crucified, the moral revelation reached its climax.
IV. CHRIST'S DEATH WAS A SATISFACTION FOR SIN
There was an idea that it reconciled the Father and the Son. The Father was represented as Justice, the Son as Mercy. But this were to make a division in the Trinity and in the one will of God. No reconcilation between the Divine Persons is possible, because there could be no division of will. The work of Christ, however, manifests the harmony existing between their divine attributes. God is Justice, and God is Love. By the Cross there was a combined revelation of the two. "Mercy and truth met together, righteousness and peace kissed each other." God upon the Cross reveals His Justice and Mercy in their entireness, the tenderness of His Love and His utter hatred of sin. It has been said that God might have redeemed the world in some other way. But God willed this plan of salvation, foreseeing that greater good would flow from it than from any other to the human race. God's love went forth to man when sinful. But He could not forgive him until he had acknowledged his guilt. A reparation was needed on the part of humanity which would thus remove the barrier to the free action of God's love to His people. How was this to be made? The creature, being sinful, could not make a worthy offering. Nor could he, even by perfect obedience in the future, make reparation for a guilty past. Some one must come who was sinless and needed not to make reparation for Himself; and Divine, that His action should have a divine and infinite value. Divine, and so adequate to satisfy God's Justice; and infinite, that His satisfaction might be available to all minkind.
V. THE CROSS IS THE SOURCE OF MERIT
Our Lord not only made a satisfaction for our sins, but obtained by His merits a claim for our reward. God will give to every Christian a reward for every good work done. An action to be meritorious must have three qualities. First, it must be good, Christ merited because all His actions were holy and good. "I do always those things that please Him." Meritorious actions must also be voluntary. Christ was capable of moral choice. He could be conscious of effort in directing His human will. He pleased not Himself, but said, " Not my will but thine be done." Moreover actions' to be meritorious must be done by grace. Now Christ had a supernatural as well as a Divine Life. He had the first because He in all things was like unto His brethren. He possessed therefore an habitual or sanctifying grace. His Divinity did not take its place. All His actions were thus done in grace, and voluntary and good. He gained thereby a reward. The mercy of God was its primary cause, but as due from the Divine Justice, it rested on Covenant. God has been pleased to confirm His promises with an oath.
As concerning the Priesthood of Christ He said, "The Lord sware and said,Thou art a Priest forever." Christ thus merited the reward that was His by reason of His human will corresponding to His Divinity. He gained thereby the fulfillment of His Father's promise to send the Holy Ghost, While He merited for Himself, the merits of His Passion pass beyond His own Person. He merited for all who are united with Him. Thus every good deed of a true believer being done in Christ, in Him will attain its reward. " God will give to every man according as his work has been."
VI. THE CROSS IS A SOURCE OF COMPUNCTION
God willed this public form of death that His death might be judiciously certified to and also might be a spectacle. His death was to become an object of contemplation for all mankind. At His foot stood the centurion, and also a crowd of curiosity-moved people. We see in each the effect on the mind and on the human heart. The centurion was not moved by feelings of pity. He had witnessed many a crucifixion. He was accustomed to such scenes of death. But this one differed from all he had ever witnessed. He had never seen such a sufferer. He heard the words of love and mercy. The loud cry of supernatural victory puzzled him. The sufferer differed from any of the human race. Conviction came into his mind. Surely this man was the Son of God. The people who had drawn near were heart-touched. Whatever their previous feelings, the spectacle of death had vanquished them. They felt the power of the Cross, and it had conquered them. They felt their own relation to the event. They had cried out "Crucify Him." As a manifestation of their own actions, they smote their breasts. It was a sign of compunction.
There are three signs of sorrow for sin. Attrition, contrition, compunction. The first arises from the discovery that sin brings its punishment. The second arises from the recognition that sin is an offence against God. In the last, sorrow for sin arises from the love of Jesus crucified. Compunction is thus the creation of the Cross. The compunction of the people was the result of grace. Those very persons who had rejected Him were visited inwardly with an unction from the Holy One. It was the beginning of that grace which has gone out throughout the world. For the Cross is not only a fact but a mystery. Jesus Christ, by word and Sacrament, is evidently set forth crucified amongst us. Our sins caused the Passion. Christ endured for each individual. The spirit of compunction, which began at Calvary, moves every penitent heart today.