Lent – A time to find Hope in the Cross

Fr. Antony Akkanath (Rome)

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“What is your worst fear in life?” Someone asked me recently; I did not even take a second to answer. For me, I said, my worst fear is loneliness accompanied by sickness. Loneliness accompanied by sickness is a hard feeling to bear in the life of every person. The elderly, who live alone without anyone to look after them, always share with us priests, when we make a visit or carry Holy Communion to them, as to how hard it is to live such a life. We all go through such a feeling once or at some stages of our lives. In those extreme feelings of emptiness, loneliness, sadness, depression, uselessness, and worthlessness as well as of being forgotten, unimportant, and unloved - what will help us to move on with life? The Cross is the answer. The Man on the Cross has a lot to teach us in times of our suffering, extreme loneliness and sickness.

crossJust look at the Cross and we have the answer there for all our problems in life. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus on Cross, had the same kind of feeling of utter loneliness and rejection which we experience at times in our lives. Jesus could easily understand how hard it is for a human being to feel rejected and lonely. He is the one who gives them hope in hopeless situations of life. During his public ministry he reached out to the people who were rejected by the society and brought them back into the mainstream. We have a passage in the Bible which shows us how he reaches out to a leper - “When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4).

For us who live in these modern times, it is difficult to understand what it meant to be lepers in Jesus' time. Leprosy was considered, a physical illness as well as a spiritual disease. It was the belief that some people contracted leprosy because he or she had done something very serious, or had committed a grievous sin before God. So God punished the sinner in this manner. Only if one has repented, not committed sin anymore and did adequate penance, only then one could be healed. As long as the leper had leprosy no one could approach the person according to the customs of the time. The book of Leviticus chapters 13 and 14 prescribe purity regulations a leper had to go through. The sick person had to respect the rules prescribed by the law of Moses, was regarded as a living dead, was excluded from the life of the community, had to live out of the country, away from everyone, and could not even get into the Temple to worship God. He had to bring with him bells in his hands or feet in order to make it clear to everyone on the way that he should not be approached, and had to shout "unclean, unclean" as if to say "stay away from me." It was a very nasty infectious disease that affected not only the skin and nerves of the hands and feet, but also the eyes, mucous membranes of the nose, and severely disfigured people. Those who could get healed of this disease had to go to the priests who testified to the healing publicly and so they could return to their normal life.

From what has been said, we know very well that all healthy people were very careful not to approach a leper! But not so for Jesus. In addition to being sick, as we said before, he was also a person completely isolated and Jesus had compassion on him and “He reached out and touched him." No one had ever done before such a thing! Jesus did not avoid him like all others but he lets the leper come close to him and especially touches him! Jesus “stretches out his hand": a sign of divine power that is making the miracle, it is also a sign of deep love. With this gesture, the leper feels how great the warmth of humanity that others had taken away from him all these years is.

Jesus overcomes all the old rules and lives the new commandment: "Love one another as I have loved you."(John 13:34). He teaches us, by example, how to love the unloved, how to reach out to the unreached. Jesus always empathizes with the suffering of others, shares with them the infinite mercy of God and gives them hope to live for and helps them to come out of their loneliness.

The Cross is the best sign of Christian Hope. It is also a sign which helps us to be ‘alter Christus (''another Christ'') in the world of today. From the Cross Jesus invites us to be the instruments of his love and compassion in this world of today. Jesus on the Cross teaches us how to pray in extreme situations of rejection and loneliness, forgive the offender, and how to live gospel in the world of today.

A poem which has been attributed to St. Teresa of Avila from the 14th century, sums up the desire of Jesus for us;

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
No hands but yours,
No feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which is to look out Christ’s compassion to the world;
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.”

The world famous evangelist and preacher Billy Graham says; “We are the Bibles the world is reading; we are the creeds the world is needing; we are the sermons the world is heeding.”