“…we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and a foolishness to Gentiles…” (1 Corinthians 1:23)
While I was a student at the University of Notre Dame, I had the opportunity to get to know the men in the Congregation of Holy Cross. Under the patronage of Our Lady of Sorrows, the motto of the congregation is, “Ave crux, spes unica,” which translates to, “Hail, the cross – our only hope.”
As a college student, I was captivated by that rallying cry. It is a call to arms that defies the logic of the world we live in. Not only does it declare the cross to be a cause for hope, but it claims it to be our “only hope.” (And no, this is not an allusion to Star Wars, my fellow fans.)
In a society where Christianity is established and accepted, it is easy to forget just how radical it is to claim the cross as the symbol of our faith. The cross was a method of torture, death, and punishment. There was a shame associated with crucifixion, and as a symbol, it was as beautiful as an electric chair or syringe (the symbols of modern day forms of the death penalty). In the ancient world, no one in their right mind would use the cross as a symbol for victory and exultant joy. Yet, that is exactly what Christians did, and continue to do.
The cross is a paradox.
However, the cross of Christ is no mere cross. It is the cross that conquered sin and death. It is the means by which the Christian can taunt, “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” And yet, it is a paradox, nonetheless.
Crucifixion was a horrendous way to die. It was a shameful way to die. It was a death filled with suffering and immense pain. Yet, it was the death that Christ freely accepted. By his acceptance of that suffering, the suffering became transformed. Death and suffering no longer are the final word. Cruciform love is the final word.
This is especially pertinent in light of a recently popular hashtag: #lovewins. Every time I see it, I cringe internally, because the love it is referring to isn’t true love. The proponents of that hashtag aren’t referring to love so much as self-satisfaction, physical and emotional fulfillment, etc. They are referring to the ability to have desires met, regardless of how those desires affect others. These aims couldn’t be farther from the original “love wins.” Cruciform love wins precisely because it isn’t concerned with the good of itself, but rather with the good of another.
We exalt in the cross primarily because it was the means by which suffering, sin and death were conquered. “But wait,” you may ask, “isn’t there still suffering, sin, and death in the world?” There is, but it no longer has the final say. The love of Christ on the cross has the final say. What that means is that any suffering, any pain, and even death itself, when united to the suffering of Christ on the cross, is no longer meaningless. Suffering, offered up in love and united to the suffering of God made flesh, is transformed. Suffering and death can be a means by which love can conquer. It is in this sense that cruciform love truly wins.
What is it that we mean by “cruciform love”? Cruciform love is love conformed to Christ, the divine bridegroom. It is the love of one willing to give a total gift of self for the sake of another, not counting the costs. It is the love of one who is more concerned with the good of the beloved than with the happiness of oneself. It is the love of one who is willing to suffer, and even die, for the beloved. It is a love that confounds our society’s sensibilities. It is not about self-fulfillment, but about self-gift. Each time our love even hints at that kind of love, we see an example of the love of God. The cross changed everything.
No longer is suffering mere evil, but, when offered to the suffering of Christ, it can be an expression of cruciform love. Childbirth – once merely the curse of Eve – can now be offered up in love by women. The labor and work of man – once the curse of Adam – can now be offered up in love by men (and women). Sickness, injury, persecution – as Paul so aptly says, “None of it can separate us from the love of Christ.” It can all be united to Christ’s own suffering and transformed into an act of love.
We exalt in the cross of Christ, because it is by it that love truly wins.