When I was young, during Lent, every Friday, I went to church and took part in the Stations of the Cross with the congregation, feeling deep sorrow for Jesus. As I grew older, I became afraid of the Cross.
When we are sick, in hospital, and especially when going through treatment for cancer, it helps to have family members and friends visit, but deep down, we may feel very lonely. They visit for an hour or so, and leave. We go into operating theatres on our own. Even when family and friends are physically present, they may not be mentally and emotionally present. Consciously or more likely subconsciously, they may be afraid and do not want to go into our sufferings.
Jesus suffered alone in the Agony in the Garden. Even though some of his disciples were there, they fell asleep. They could not be with him in his agony, either because they could not understand or because they did not want to go there. Few people are able to enter the sufferings of another. I heard the sister of a patient who was suffering from cancer say, 'Thank God, it's her and not me!'
When I did the Spiritual Exercises as a retreat in daily life in 2010, I did not want to go through the Third Week, which involves suffering with Christ Crucified, but wanted to stay in the Second Week or skip through to the Fourth Week, the Resurrection. I wanted Jesus, the strong, powerful healer, not the weak, suffering Jesus. Did I really need to relive the Crucifixion for him?
Franciscan priest Richard Rohr writes, 'I believe we are invited to gaze upon the image of the crucified Christ to soften our hearts toward God, and to know that God's heart has always been softened toward us, even and most especially in our suffering.' In Sadhana, Tony de Mello taught me to gaze at Christ crucified as a way to be released from resentment and hurtful memories. Still, I stayed away from the Cross.
In January 2017, I spent a week at Campion Retreat Centre, revisiting the Spiritual Exercises. Perhaps it happened because I was in a prayerful environment for five consecutive days or because I felt assured that there were people around to hold me up if I fell, but I was able to admit to myself and to God that I was afraid of the Cross.
I could not bear to suffer with Jesus, to look at him suffering. I wanted the strong and powerful man-God who can heal me. I did not want him to die.
In my reflections during the retreat, I was taken into the foot of the Cross in a way I could never have imagined. I found myself at the foot of the Cross with Mary and John, then on the Cross looking at my beloved three-year-old daughter and six-year-old son.
Jesus on the Cross looking at us who are suffering. It was powerful beyond words, beyond imagination. Running away from the Cross did not protect me from the inevitable crosses of life. On the contrary, it made the crosses heavier to carry.
I wanted Jesus, the powerful miracle-worker, to heal me. I did not want the suffering, vulnerable, crucified Christ. Yet it is through the Cross that God heals us in a most powerful way, and brings us to Resurrection.
Jesus says, 'Take up your cross and follow me.' By sharing in Jesus' sufferings, I can take him with me into my own sufferings. Suffering is the only way to resurrection. We cannot arrive at the glorious joy of Resurrection without going through the sorrow of the Passion, the Crucifixion.
Susie Hii is a writer and author of Happy, Healthy, Holy.
Image: St Luke Painting the Crucifixion, an artwork 120x90cm, mixed media by Michael Galowic, 2004 (finalist in the Blake Prize in 2004). The artwork is part of the permanent art collection of Riverview College, Sydney.