A sketch by St. John of the Cross

Good Friday is always an important moment to be reminded of the significance for us of the death of Jesus on the Cross. I want to share an excerpt from chapter 7 of book II of the Ascent of Mount Carmel:

The cross is a supporting staff and greatly lightens and eases the journey. Our Lord proclaimed through St. Matthew: My yoke is sweet and my burden light

[Mt. 11:30], the burden being the cross. If individuals resolutely submit to the carrying of the cross, if they decidedly want to find and endure trial in all things for God, they will discover in all of them great relief and sweetness…I would like to demonstrate how this [path] is patterned on Christ’s, for he is our model and light….[The Cross] was the most extreme abandonment, sensitively, that he had suffered in his life. And by it he accomplished the most marvelous work of his whole life, surpassing all the works and deeds and miracles that he had ever performed on earth or in heaven. That is, he brought about the reconciliation and union of the human race with God through grace.

St John of the Cross is not giving this as a treatise on Christology or soteriology, rather it’s in the context of his description of how our own choice of the cross leads us to the greatest freedom and merit possible. The cross is not like some extra burden that we take on ourselves in order to be good disciples, so as to have happiness in heaven eventually. No, it’s the only path that makes sense. Even right now it is relief and sweetness. It frees us from all the illusions of what we think will make us happy, and shows that letting go is the greatest work we can do for God. And this constant choice of letting go of attachments and the vain things we seek, will bring us to the supreme happiness of love. It’s the only way out of our ‘self wrought miseries’ as one lenten hymn puts it.

A little of this joy of the cross is glimpsed in the revelations of Julian of Norwich. On Good Friday 700 years ago, Our Lord came to her and asked:

 ‘Are you glad that I suffered for you?’. I answered him: ‘Yes, good Lord, and I am most grateful to you;…Then Jesus, our good Lord, said: ‘If you are glad, so too am I. Having suffered the passion for you is for me joy, happiness, eternal bliss; and if I could suffer more I would’…

This is the secret of the Cross. Once we discover that it is the only way to everything we want, we don’t have to fear it, but only to embrace it as each occasion presents itself. By the grace of Jesus’ death on the cross we can say with him: “If I could suffer more I would, this is for me joy, happiness, eternal bliss”, amen.