Holy Land Pilgrimage

The II Station: Jesus Takes Up His Cross

March 3, 2022

The late novelist Anne Rice called herself a “Christmas Christian,” a Christian who is drawn to the mystery of the Incarnation. In the years since I first read that, I found myself identifying with it more and more to the point where “Christmas Christian” meant that I was not a “Good Friday Christian.” As a result, I have loved our pilgrimage so far. How could I add to what my classmates have said about the privilege of coming to adore at the Church of the Nativity every day in Bethlehem, or praying in the childhood home of Jesus, or finding myself before the intriguing words, Verbum caro hic factum est (the Word was made flesh here), at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth?

So, when we got to Jerusalem, I was a little apprehensive. Yes, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was here, but that same church contained Calvary, not to mention the Via Dolorosa leading to it, and the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city. Don’t get me wrong. As a seminarian and as a Catholic, of course, I know the value of all these places. But I wondered if it would become wearing being so immersed in this sorrow every day. Christmas every day in Bethlehem I could handle, Good Friday every day—maybe not.

One church, in particular, has begun to change my mind about that. The Church of the Flagellation sits right next to the First Station on the Way of the Cross. As I sat in the chapel, I looked up at the dome and noticed that the gold background was interrupted by white in the center of the crown of thorns. “Was the gold wearing off the ceiling?” I wondered. Then I realized that the crown of thorns was bursting into bloom. As I stared at the tabernacle, which showed Jesus’s face, bruised and bloody and crowned with thorns and a bejeweled crown above it, I reflected that His suffering was over and He has risen. Yet I was still gazing at His blood-stained face. Above me, although covered with flowers, was undeniably still a crown of thorns. “What kind of God comes to me like this?” I asked myself.

Then I realized that the tomb is empty, but we still suffer here on earth. Jesus still comes to us crowned with thorns not because He is still suffering but coming to be with us in our suffering and to transform that suffering from the inside out: “In my flesh, I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24). That is what it means to be a Good Friday Christian and ultimately to be a Christmas Christian, to allow Jesus to become incarnate in our lives and to live His mysteries in us, including His sufferings, so that we can rise to new life with Him.

Frank Pusateri
Diocese of Joliet

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