I was once asked, many years ago, why Catholics spend so much time focusing on the Crucifixion. At first I felt a bit ashamed, as if Catholics didn’t appreciate the joy in the Resurrection to the extent that the outside world understood our gratitude. I did my best to share our belief by relying on a fairly common Catholic response: without the Cross there can be no Resurrection.
Somehow, though, this didn’t seem enough. The question lingered in my heart for many years and made me painfully aware of the way in which I, personally, was guilty of replaying the Crucifixion over and over again in my mind. I have always loved attending Stations of the Cross and when I taught middle school I made it a requirement for my classes. I wanted to share with my students the way in which meditation upon the Crucifixion can bring about a contemplative state of mind and heart in which the Holy Spirit can work and transform us at our very core.
But I wondered if, by focusing so much on the Crucifixion, I was not sufficiently moving past it to embrace the joy of the Resurrection.
Recently, that haunting question made its way back into my life. In the days before Holy Week, I happened to be reading an article about the way in which team Obama is already carefully spinning their words, and ultimately history, so that if the stimulus package fails, the blame will be placed on Bush. Painstaking efforts have been made by team Obama to make all efforts by any politician who opposes the stimulus bill to appear “partisan” and only those in full agreement, as evidenced by their vote, were considered “supportive” of the efforts to revive the economy.
Then, on Palm Sunday, I read a poll in which almost 50% of those asked believed that if the economy did not recover it would be Bush’s fault. Wow, another win for team Obama.
So what does all this have to do with seemingly too much focus on the Crucifixion?
Blame. Finger-pointing. Spin. Lack of personal accountability.
Too often we are encouraged to shirk personal responsibility for our actions. We can find a dozen reasons why something isn’t our fault but is the fault of another. It is almost second nature to point a finger at someone else and say, “He did it,” or “She made me do it.”
In our minds, there seems to be so much to lose. A child worries about losing his or her parents’ love or trust while an adult worries about losing his or her credibility or reputation. A politician worries about losing an election. A president worries about losing his cult-like popularity.
We’re all becoming master spin-doctors learning how a simple turn of a phrase, or emphasis of a word, can keep us in the clear: “No, I didn’t leave the stove on,” someone might say to the fireman inquiring about the blaze.
But focusing on the Crucifixion can cure the blame ailment within all of us. We cannot, in all good conscience, focus on Christ’s death and point an accusing finger at anyone other than ourselves. Nor can we, try as we might, attempt to put a spin on it, to make it less horrific than it is — and what it had to be — because of our own sins. There’s no rewriting how Christ suffered that can make us less culpable. Calvary forces us to recognize and acknowledge — unlike anything else — how we contributed to Christ’s death.
Focusing on the Crucifixion is completely counter-cultural. The Crucifixion forces us to own up to our dirty deeds and our own sinfulness. We can’t possibly participate in the Stations of the Cross and not come away contrite and humble. Jesus suffered for each of us in a very personal way.
When Catholics focus on the Crucifixion, they are focusing on their own lives in a way in which personal responsibility must become real and where blame, finger-pointing, and spin have no place. Then, and only then, can there be the joy found in the Resurrection.