Pope Francis gave us all some homework during his weekly catechesis on April 16, just as we headed into the Triduum. Pope Francis challenged us all, “This week it will do us good to take the crucifix in hand and kiss it many, many times and say: thank you Jesus, thank you Lord.”
His words were on my mind at our Good Friday service as everyone began to queue up to venerate the cross. I somehow expected there would be more people kissing the cross than I had seen in years past. But as I watched, what I observed was not an ardent desire to kiss the cross; rather, I witnessed an awkwardness and uneasiness around many who approached it. And as I thought about it, I realized that this was actually very fitting in its own way.
What is the cross to us who believe? Among many other things, it is a sign of our lowest point, our sufferings joined with Christ’s; it is great pain, sadness, and brokenness. The cross reminds us of just how unworthy we are and what that unworthiness physically cost our dear Lord. As Pope Francis expressed in his catechesis that day, it is Jesus taking upon himself all human suffering as he reminds us, “He clothed himself in this suffering.”
If that is the cross, then the uneasiness I saw as my fellow Catholics venerated the cross was really a profound recognition of that very suffering. We tend to be uneasy around suffering and brokenness. We don’t know what to say or what to do to make it all go away. Our first inclination is not so much to kiss it as to fix it somehow.
But we can’t fix it. Just as in the contemplation sitting in the garden with our Lord before his hour had come, we are left only to stay with him, witness the moment quietly, and accept it along with our powerlessness to change it. The cross indeed should make us uneasy and awkward. I think that’s respecting the great sacrifice our Lord made for us. In the end, whether we kiss the cross, awkwardly approach it and then shy from it, gaze upon it from near or far, or touch it with love, we took that time to just be with Jesus in his suffering. It’s moments such as those—awkward or otherwise—that bring us closer to Christ.