The following reflection was written by a friend and fellow Catholic Spiritual Mentor, Lisa Schartz, from Abilene, Kansas. In her daily prayer and meditation on the Scripture, Lisa asked herself from what vantage point would she have watched Christ’s crucifixion had she been there. The result was this beautiful and touching reflection which she shared with me and I feel obligated to share with you. I know Lisa would truly appreciate any thoughts or comments you might have. And, I know she shares my hope that each of you have a truly blessed Holy Week!
Where are you at Calvary?
by Lisa Schartz
Imagine the scene at Calvary. Three men are crucified and suffering on their crosses. Blood drips slowly down from the holes in their hands and feet. In the center hangs a man covered in stripes of swollen and torn flesh from a recent scourging. At the foot of his cross stands a young man and several women weeping for the one hanging above them. Roman Centurions are there in force. A few are playing a game of dice off to the side. Others prowl about, keeping a watchful eye on the onlookers.
In the crowd are some who call out, mocking the man on the center cross. Others seem to be trying to hide the sorrow they feel as they weep behind their cloaks. Some are there merely to see the spectacle. It is not every day that you witness a crucifixion, let alone three at once. Among the crowd are men who appear to be priests or rabbis. Some of these men seem rather smug about the sight before them, but not all. A few of their number appear anxious as if they are waiting for something terrible to occur.
Picture yourself amid this scene. Listen to the taunts and jeers, the shouts of the soldiers, the cries of sorrow and lament. Where are you in this scene? Are you on the fringes of the crowd or are you watching from a distance? Are you among the group kneeling at the foot of the cross? Are you a soldier actively participating in the event? Where exactly do you fit into this scene?
I want to say that I would be kneeling with St. John and our Blessed Mother at the foot of the cross. Then, I consider that St. John was the only Apostle who had stayed with Jesus to this point. If the twelve who lived with and learned from Jesus for three years had abandoned him, would I not likely have done the same? Perhaps I would have stood and watched from a safe distance. Would I have been at the back of the group wanting to be there but reluctant to witness the scene before me? Or maybe, would I have been somewhere near the front of the crowd, watching and perhaps weeping but secure in the anonymity of the public?
What if I had been brave enough to kneel at the foot of the cross? Perhaps as I kneel there, I am close enough that a drop of Christ’s blood lands on my arm. I watch as the warm liquid seeps into my sleeve. I hear Jesus utter, “I thirst” (Jn 19:28). I ponder how the fabric of my clothes seems to drink in the blood that landed upon it, quickly absorbing it and appearing ready for more. Do I thirst for unity with Jesus in the same way He thirsts for a relationship with me? Does this drop of Precious Blood change me in any way? What if I inched just a little bit closer so that more of the Precious Blood fell on me? If I receive a larger share, will it penetrate my heart? Will I turn from my sinful ways and unite myself fully with the Divine Life of the One Who hangs above me?
If I am brave enough to stay there at the foot of the cross and watch my Lord expire before me, does it change my heart? Am I a different person, having witnessed His death and my salvation? I cringe as I hear the bones crack in the legs of the other two crucified men. My stomach turns at the thought of the pain just inflicted upon them. Then I watch as the Centurion comes before Jesus. He does not break Jesus’ legs since Christ is already dead. Instead, the Centurion grabs a spear and pierces the side of my Lord.
As he does, blood and water spray forth from his body, drenching the Centurion who falls to his knees. I am also covered in the spray of blood and water. Like the Centurion, I have been bathed in the blood of the lamb. I hear the Centurion utter, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mk 15:39). I know in my heart this is true, and I lower my head to the ground and weep. These are not tears of sorrow, for I know what Jesus has done for me and that he will rise again. No, I weep for the realization of my sins, my failure to love God as he has loved me.
I invite you to spend time with this reflection. Imagine yourself as a witness to this event from different aspects at the scene, and as various people who would have been present at Calvary when Jesus was crucified. Then, I invite you to take it one step further because, as our Catechism teaches us, you have been present at this event many, many times in your life:
When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s Passover, and it [Jesus’ crucifixion] is made present: the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever-present. “As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which ‘Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed’ is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out.’”(CCC 1364)
Our Catholic faith has it right. You are present at Calvary each time you attend the Sacrifice of the Mass. So, now, go back to that original question that I posed. Where are you in this scene? In my personal experience of Catholic Mass and the emptiness of the front pews, the reluctance of young men to answer the call to become priests, the hesitancy of men to act as altar servers, I doubt few of us can claim to be kneeling at the foot of the cross. Are you that person hanging out at the back of the crowd, sitting in the last pew, ready to bolt at the earliest convenience? Are you somewhere in the middle, perhaps wondering why you have bothered to come or when the event will be over? Maybe you could not be bothered to attend at all because of something in your life more important to you than your Lord.
Are you ready to hear God’s words and embrace His message for you? Are you prepared when the sacrifice is made fully present, and God’s grace is again poured forth? Where is your mind when Christ becomes present on the altar? Is your heart opened to receive God’s love for you? Are you changed when you are not only touched by the body and blood of Christ but allowed to consume your Lord? Or, are you perhaps distracted at the moment when Christ fully unites himself to you, more worried about what you will have for lunch or what time the game starts?
From the moment that Adam and Eve turned away from God to this moment when I turn from God, not much has changed in Salvation History. God still seeks us and longs for a relationship with us, with you, and with me. And I always find some forbidden fruit which, to my sinful nature, has a greater appeal than God. Where are you in your relationship with your Lord and Savior? Where do you stand at Calvary?
(Where are you at Calvary? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
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It is easy with 2000 years of perspective to place ourselves at the foot of the cross.
However, I bet I would have been hiding along with the apostles. No one could have fully known what was going to occur on Sunday morning. Even Peter and James, who were at the Transfiguration, abandoned Him.
I hope I would have been at the Resurrection and then came to believe and received the Paraclete.
Jerry Robinson said:
I’m with you, Joe. I’m sure I would have run and hid, too. Perhaps it’s the shame in this realization, aided by the safeness of the church, that helps me engross myself in the sacrifice of the Mass. Thanks for your comment, my friend.
Norm Chiado said:
Reflecting on this it makes me wonder if I would have the courage to witness. I would hope I would have fought for our Lord. I would hope that I would be at the foot of the cross.
Thank you Jesus for saving us!
Jerry Robinson said:
I’m right there with you, Norm.