Luke 9:24 – “Pay attention to what I am telling you. The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.”
(The Preaching of St. Francis Xavier, Gesu Church, Rome)
Whoever desires to enter the Society of Jesus, first and foremost, has it in his heart to “serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the Cross.” In this straightforward statement at the beginning of the Formula of the Institute, we see the heart of the Pauline character of the Jesuits, a group that is not afraid to preach Christ and Him crucified, even to the ends of the earth. It is towards the Cross that Christ consistently sets his gaze, predicting his passion three times before it occurs. It is the gospel message of the cross that St. Paul takes with him to Corinth, where both Jew and Greek can discover in it only a foolish obstacle. It is the physical representation of the cross, the crucifix, that St. Francis Xavier carries with him to India as an image with which to preach the gospel. And it is before the cross that St. Francis Borgia kneels after the death of Empress Isabella, crying, “No, no, my God. Never again shall I have a master whom death can take from me.” The cross, in short, is the game-changer, the meridian of time that alters the course of human history.
The cross is a gruesome instrument of torture, a gallows, an electric chair, a guillotine, and yet it serves as a symbol of hope for the Christian world, for from the side of Christ on the cross pour forth the water of baptism and the blood of the Eucharist that give new life to the world. The cross is not a symbol of defeat, unless we speak of the defeat of sin and death. Rather, the cross, Good Friday, is the truest sign of inspiration because it cannot be separated from the Easter Resurrection that awaits us on the other side of death. As Pope Francis simply states in Evangelii Gaudium, “Christian triumph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a victorious banner” (para. 85). The one, eternal sacrifice takes place at Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. At that spot Jesus accomplishes the work of salvation, taking from us every burden, every sin. Do we see what has happened? Do we, with St. Alphonsus Liguori, know that we have but to look upon the crucified Christ to see the depths of love that God has for us, to see that our God is such that He lays down his life for his friends? We witness immense hope for the world in the example of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a spiritual father who exchanges his life as a ransom for one man and his family; if so, how much more can we find solace in the God who puts himself in the place of all, the billions and billions of souls, at the moment of His passion. And now, the enemy conquered by Love is more than just an evil political regime but the very author of evil and the father of lies himself.
Returning to St. Paul and our Holy Father, we can triumphantly exclaim, “O Death, where is thy victory? O Death, where is thy sting? Now the sting of death is sin: and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who hath given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55).
My earnest prayer is that we, as Jesuits, will always turn to the cross of Christ for our salvation, since from the cross comes the Resurrection, and from the Resurrection comes the very source of our hope and joy, the gaudium et spes, the joy of the Gospel.
David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.