The Crucifix, our living book
Christ is the center, not only of our religion, but of our spiritual life. By whatever path the soul may be led, active, passive, ordinary or extraordinary, He is the one guide and pattern, the chief subject of its meditation and contemplation, the object of its affection, the goal of its course.
He is its physician, shepherd, and king; He is its food and delight. And there is no other Name under heaven given to men, whereby they may be saved, or come to perfection.
We must stir our hearts to love him, for the love of God and the love of God made man are one and the same thing. Let this love be the food of your soul; let it be the object of all your spiritual exercises, in order that you may grow in that love from day to day. If any man love not Our Lord Jesus Christ, says St. Paul, let him be anathema. To love Him in a half-hearted manner is to be but a poor Christian. The true Christian longs and strives to love Him more and more, knowing that He can never be loved as He deserves to be loved, or in the measure of His love for us.
But to love Him without imitating Him would be both vain and sterile. Therefore, be imitators of Christ. He is our model, perfect in every detail: a model for all states and for all conditions. To all men, in every conceivable circumstance, Christ in His mysteries, His virtues and in His doctrine, gives us the examples and lessons He proposes for our imitation. His teaching furnishes us with the most powerful motives, whilst His grace and the sacraments provide us with the most efficacious means.
But above all, meditate on His Passion; cling to His Passion. Reproduce in your own life those virtues of which His Passion presents the most living picture.
Seek in your prayers to draw love from His salutary wounds, above all from His pierced Heart. Remember that His sacred Passion is the foundation of the whole of our faith: that He came on earth to die upon the Cross; that it was by this sacrifice He made satisfaction to the Father and expiation for our sins; opened heaven to us and merited all the graces that will bring us there. Remember that the sublime sacrifice of our altars, which is the central act of our faith, is but the memorial, the renewal and extension of the sacrifice of Calvary.
Remember, too, that it was He Himself Who committed to priests and laity the duty to offer His Body and receive It as food, in memory of His crucified love for men.
The Crucifix is, and always will be, the dearest book of devout souls. It speaks to the senses, to the mind and to the heart. No other language is so eloquent or so touching. It is within the understanding of the most simple and ignorant, yet is, at the same time, above the comprehension of the greatest intellect and the highest learning. It says all, teaches all, answers all. It provokes the greatest efforts, consoles and sustains in times of the most bitter sorrow, and changes the very bitterness into sweetness.
The Crucifix invites sinners to do penance, causing them to realize all the malice and enormity of their crimes. It reproaches them with as much gentleness as force; offers them the remedy, assures them of pardon, and excites in their hearts feelings of contrition as loving as they are sincere. It encourages the just, making the way to virtue easy. It persuades them to renounce and fight their passions, rendering them deaf to the cries of self-love, which dreads poverty, suffering and the afflictions that mortify the mind and flesh. Above all, it humiliates and destroys human pride, the source of all vice and sin.
The Crucifix draws us to a state of recollection and prayer, to the interior life. It speaks to us of gentleness, patience, pardon for injuries done to us, love for our enemies, charity towards our brethren, even to the offering of our lives for them. It provokes us to love God by revealing to us the extent of His love for us, and how truly He merits to be loved in return. It impels us to submission and to the perfect conformity of our will with the divine will, whatever the cost, and to confidence and abandonment in times of the greatest desolation. In a word, it engages us to the practice of virtue and the avoidance of vice, in a way so gentle and persuasive that it is impossible to refuse.
Say not that the sight of the crucifix does you no good; that it leaves your heart cold and insensible; that, however much you try to express your love, you have no words wherewith to do so. If you cannot speak, you can listen. Stay silently and humbly at your Saviour's feet. If you persevere, He will not fail to instruct, nourish and fortify you.
And if you feel nothing of this at the time, you will perceive it in your conduct, in the gradual change in your disposition. We are impatient, and our senses cry out to be satisfied, and, for this reason, we abandon the most profitable practices just because they do not succeed immediately. Persevere, I say. You have greatly abused the love of Jesus, let Him now try yours a little. He will crown your perseverance with success, and the gift of prayer will be your reward.
Our Lord's Passion has always been the particular devotion of those saints who have been renowned for their hidden life. Such were St. Bernard, St. Francis of Assisi, St. John of the Cross, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Gertrude, St. Teresa and many others. And any numbers have written on the subject. Yet if these great mystics tell us that there are states in which one loses sight of Our Lord, they will always add that these experiences are the expression of stages in Christ's own life, and that it is He Who impresses on the soul His own dispositions as He grew from childhood to His death.
Step by step Jesus leads us to pass through these various stages, commencing with sensible joys, and passing to exterior and inner sufferings both of body and soul; humiliations, contradictions, calumnies and persecutions on the part of others; temptations on the part of the devil, and trials and interior aridity on the part of God.
During these trials, we do not see that it is Our Lord Who is crucifying us, for that would be too great a consolation. For our own good, it is essential that we should be unaware of His part in all this, if we are to exercise our faith and trust and so reap the full benefit of our sacrifice. When Jesus thus hides Himself from us, we suffer more, it is true, but we merit more. And should we have to pass the whole of our life in darkness and aridity, our trust and obedience will grow all the stronger.
Thus we are never more truly and intimately united with Our Lord than when there seems to be a thick veil between Him and our soul, which we would like to lift but cannot.