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The Colors of the Cross: Second Meditation
The Color of Love
- The Cross as the New Tree of Life
- While We Were Yet Sinners
- The Secret of Trust
- St. John Gualbert
- Conclusion & Further Reflection
The Cross as the New Tree of Life
The Cross was central to Christ’s mission, because he reversed the pride of sin with his act of absolute humility. And if the Cross was central for him, it also must be central for his followers — for you and me.
Jesus doesn’t leave any room for doubt on this score. St. Luke tells us that Jesus, speaking to all of his followers (not just The Twelve), said:
If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
– Luke 9:23
Through his own cross, Jesus opened the path of eternal life. Through our crosses, we follow that path.
The Fathers of the Church called the Cross the new “Tree of Life,” taking the place of the old tree of life in the Garden of Eden, which was forfeited by original sin.
It is easy to see that we all have crosses — no one is exempt from difficulties and sufferings in life. But it is not so easy to see how these crosses can increase the life of grace in our souls. How does that work?
While We Were Yet Sinners
The answer is found in the second color of the Cross: red — the red of Christ’s blood, poured out on the cross, staining the wood of the cross and revealing to us for all time the real motivation behind Jesus’ redeeming self-sacrifice: love.
Red is the color of blood, and blood is the symbol of life itself. And the meaning of life, as God has revealed it to us in Christ, is love: self-giving, self-sacrifice, self- forgetfulness.
As Jesus put it during the Last Supper:
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
– John 15:13
On the cross, Jesus not only reveals the horror of our sin — the fruits of our rebellious pride — but he also reveals the totality of his love.
Jesus didn’t redeem us because we deserved to be redeemed, or because he had to; Jesus redeemed us, gave his life in atonement for our sins, because he loved us.
God wanted to reveal the totality of his love, and so he ordained that Jesus must suffer not just a little bit, but immensely, profusely, to the extreme.
The intensity of Christ’s suffering on the cross is a direct reflection of the intensity of God’s unconditional love for us — unconditional because he didn’t wait until we were worthy of such a gift; he poured it out freely.
This is what completely amazed St. Paul:
For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly… But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
– Romans 5:6,8
And if we are ever tempted to doubt that love of God for us, we have only to go to Mass, or to kneel in front of the Tabernacle — there we find the same gift still being given: Jesus, while we are still here one earth, still full of selfishness and sin, gives himself to us completely in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
There is the second color of the Cross, flickering quietly but surely in the sanctuary lamp, reminding each one
of us that God’s love for me is full, total, without any conditions.
The Secret of Trust
In the deep red color of Christ’s love we find the secret to carrying our crosses. Our fallen nature resists
the cross — we just don’t like facing difficulties and sufferings, confusion and rejection and disappointment and betrayal.
These are our crosses and they hurt. Yet, God permits them. Certainly he protects us from many sufferings, but not from all of them. Why?
Because he knows that we will only find the happiness and meaning we yearn for if we continue to grow in friendship with him. And every friendship is built on trust.
So, to grow in our friendship with him requires that we grow in our trust in him. And the moment in which we can most fully exercise our trust is when obeying or accepting his will is hard — when we feel the weight of our crosses.
This is why God permits crosses in our lives; so that we, like Jesus before us, can say to God and really mean it: “Let your will, and not mine, be done” (cf. Matthew 26:39).
And where do find the strength to do that? Only by meditating on the crucifix, because there we discover that Jesus is truly and utterly faithful.
His blood-stained cross proves for ever that he will never abandon us, that he really is worthy of our trust; that no matter what we might do to him, and no matter what might happen to us, he will keep on loving us; he will bring resurrections out of our crucifixions, just as he did with his own. That’s his promise, and it’s a promise we can count on.
His total love for us, shown so brilliantly in the red- stained wood of the Cross, frees us to love him totally by trusting him even while we suffer the pain of our own crucifixions. And that trust is what allows his grace to flow more and more freely in our souls, bringing us the abundant life that we were created for.
St. John Gualbert
Christ’s love, revealed on the Cross, enables us to trust God, and to love as Jesus loved.
The story of St. John Gualbert is a powerful example of this.
John was the founder of a monastery outside the city of Florence, Italy, in the eleventh century, a monastery that has been a factory of holiness ever since.
But John didn’t start out as a saint. He was a young nobleman who thoroughly enjoyed all his aristocratic privileges. Besides pleasure, his main passion was revenge.
His brother Hugh had been murdered, and John felt it was his duty to put the killer to death — not a very Christ-like ambition.
For a long time he searched for the culprit, becoming angrier the longer he searched. One Good Friday as he was returning to Florence from a short journey, he was making his way through a narrow pass in the road when his prey entered the same pass from the other side.
There was no escape. John drew his sword and prepared to avenge his brother’s death. But the killer cast himself on his knees, spread his arms out in the form of a cross, and begged for mercy.
At that moment, his sword poised over his enemy’s neck, the man’s posture made him think of Christ, hanging on the cross and loving his enemies. He couldn’t bring himself to carry out his long-contemplated plan. Instead, he sheathed his sword, embraced his brother’s murderer, and forgave him.
After the encounter, he went to the nearest church
to pray. He knelt before the crucifix there, and as he prayed, he saw the head of Jesus on the crucifix bow and nod in approval of his deed of mercy. That’s when he discovered his vocation and began the adventure of becoming a saint.
By pouring out his lifeblood for us on the Cross, Jesus shows us his love, and that enables us — as it did St. John Gaulbert — to abandon ourselves to that love, to trust him, and to follow his will instead of our own.
Conclusion & Further Reflection
Jesus knows that in this fallen world, where so many things are upside down, and where suffering lurks around every corner, it’s often very hard for us to trust him, to obey or accept his will when it hurts.And he knows that we can only do that if we are truly convinced that he is worthy of our trust, that he truly and fully loves us and will never abandon us.And he never will — no matter what.
That’s the message of the second color of the cross: the red stain of the blood of Christ.
Let’s take some time now to allow the Holy Spirit to remind us of this truth, and if necessary to convince us afresh that God is trustworthy, that his will is always connected to his love — a love so personal and so total that Jesus suffered to the extreme to prove it to us.
1. Why did Jesus have to suffer so much to redeem us from our sins? Why wasn’t it enough for him to suffer just a little bit?
2. How deeply am I convinced of God’s personal, total love for me? When have I experienced that love most powerfully? Gazing at the crucifix, remember those experiences and talk to Jesus about them.
3. In the past, when have I found my trust in God put to the test, what did I learn from the experience? In the presence of the Eucharist, or looking at a crucifix, ask the Holy Spirit for light, then write down all the reasons that come to mind for trusting God no matter what.
￼￼￼￼Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
– James 1:2–4
Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love
of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us. For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
– Romans 5:3–8
My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes keep to my ways…
– Proverbs 23:26
Trust in the LORD and do good, that you may dwell in the land and live secure. Find your delight in the LORD who will give you your heart’s desire. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will act.
– Psalm 37:3–5
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers. Rather, the law of the LORD is his joy; and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields its fruit in season; its leaves never wither; whatever he does prospers.
– Psalm 1:1–3
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.
– Romans 8:18
We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
– Romans 8:28
What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also
give us everything else along with him? Who will bring
a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn? It is Christ [Jesus]
who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
– Romans 8:31–39