Good Friday Stations of the Cross

In 1991, Pope John Paul II introduced a new Bible-based interpretation of the Stations of the Cross. This devotional guide invites readers to prayerfully walk in solidarity with Jesus on his agonizing way of the cross—from his last torturous moments in the Garden of Gethsemane to his death and burial.

Now with full-color station images from previously unpublished paintings by Michael O’Brien, this booklet creates an ideal resource for individual or group devotional use, particularly during the Lenten season.

Holy Thursday

Taking Up Our Cross. . . To Follow the Lord


Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. 1 PETER 5:6–9


 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now; but you shall follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why cannot I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times.” JOHN 13:36–38 

Father Benedict Groeschel spent a month on life support after a car struck him at a busy intersection in Orlando, Florida. He has no memory of that month but his fellow religious have shared with him the outpouring of prayers and sacrifices on his behalf during that time of uncertainty. Father Benedict was in Florida that weekend because he was scheduled to speak to 125 priests at a workshop the following Monday; instead he was confined to a hospital bed. Monsignor Andrew Cusack, who was in charge of that workshop, stood at the podium in Father Benedict’s place and prayed for the friar’s recovery. A month later, Father Benedict emerged from the hospital. At almost the same time, Monsignor Cusack was laid to rest. He had died suddenly upon his return to New Jersey. None of us knows what the future holds.


“Where Are You Going?”

When St. Peter heard that Jesus was going somewhere, he wanted to follow the Lord. Jesus refused, and told the apostle that he would follow later. Peter protested: He was willing to lay down his life for Jesus (again something that he ultimately would do later). Then Jesus dropped a bombshell: That very night, Peter would deny him three times. The final battle to following Jesus is the battle of self. No matter how pure our motives may seem, until we trust in God more than we trust in ourselves, we are doomed to fail. To truly follow Jesus, we must unite ourselves with him and trust him totally. The story of Peter’s ultimate sacrifice in Rome has long been told. When Nero’s persecution of the Christians broke out in Rome, Peter fled. On his way out of the city, he met Jesus on the Appian Way. Shocked to see the Lord, Peter asked, “Domine, quo vadis?” (“Lord, where are you going?”)

Jesus looked at Peter and said, “I am going to Rome, to be crucified again.” Hearing the words of the Lord, Peter turned back to Rome to face his own death. He was crucified upside down, declaring himself unworthy to die the same way as the Lord he had denied. “You cannot follow me now, but you shall follow afterward,” Jesus had told Peter. And he did, when the time was right.

The Greeks had two words for time, chronos for chronological time (clock and calendar time) and kairos for the “right” or “opportune” time. Jesus often made the distinction to his disciples, who thought more in terms of chronological time than of God’s time. When Peter first declared his intent to the Lord, it was not yet time; the kairos moment—God’s time—did not come until Peter had witnessed to the truth of the gospel in Rome. When the Jews celebrate Passover, the celebration begins with a question: “Why is this night different?” In this way they enter into God’s time—when God intervened, did something to change the very course of history.

On the night before he died, Jesus took bread and wine and declared it his body and blood. “Do this in memory of me.” Once again it was kairos time, God’s time, just as it is every time we interrupt the daily grind of chronological time to enter God’s time in the Mass. Everything happens when God wants it to happen. Following Christ is a matter of surrendering to God’s time, of leaving behind our own plans in order to be led by Christ. Our goals and plans are always secondary to what God intends for us. In a letter, Peter told the followers of Christ to be humble, and God would exalt them. No doubt he was thinking of all the times he had been humbled by Jesus’ superior knowledge of him. In time, Peter grew wiser, and came to understand that the only stance of the follower of Christ is “Lord, depart from me for  am a sinful man.” For it is only then that he will hear the Lord say, “Follow me.” “Be watchful,” Peter also tells us. The path is difficult, and our opponent seeks to overtake and devour us like a roaring lion. This is not a journey for the timid or the proud, but a journey for the humble. There is much to fear ahead, but we know of someone who can be trusted to lead us “through the valley of evil.” “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares for you,” Peter admonishes us. Like Peter, may we learn to listen when the Lord tells us to “let go and to cast your net on the other side.” No matter what perils face us, the Lord will always tell us the way to go.

The Power of the Cross  by Michael Dubruiel is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

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Wednesday of Holy Week

Taking Up Our Cross. . . In Reverence


Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. HEBREWS 12:28–29 


Jesus said, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” JOHN 12: 7–8

My three-year-old son has a tendency to be unruly at Mass. He seems to enjoy the power he can exercise over us in a crowded church. On one of his recent outbursts I took him to the back of the enormous cathedral, where, moments later, I felt for the first time that the Holy Spirit might have prompted his behavior. Had he not been acting up and had I not brought him to the back of the church, I would not have encountered two powerful images.

First I noticed the bishop, clad in red vestments, his hands extended in the orans position. It was the image of Christ on the cross. Now, I have been attending Mass all of my life and I know that the priest represents Christ, but I had never seen this as clearly as I saw it at that moment. There was something about the vestments and the outstretched arms that said to me, “This is Christ!”

A little farther back, I noticed something else: a young woman prostrate in the aisle of the church, her forehead touching the floor in adoration. To be honest, my first reaction was one of protest. I’ve been educated in Church circles, and know all about “correct” posture and behavior during Mass. I am also well acquainted with the “Judas game” some well-educated Catholics play at Mass, in which individual acts of worship are criticized for form rather than praised for intent. Instead of worshipping Jesus like Mary of Bethany, who reverently poured out expensive nard upon the Lord’s feet and dried them with her hair; they resemble Judas, who chastised Mary for not selling the ointment and giving the proceeds to the poor.

As I continued to watch the young woman’s prayerful prostration in the cathedral that day, it struck me that what the young woman was doing—whatever her motivation—was beautiful. In a certain sense, it was even prophetic, for it drew me back to what I was doing. In my heart I thanked her for her witness. Both the bishop and the woman in prayer made it possible for me to participate as fully as possible in the Mass that day, holding my son and offering myself with Christ to the Father in my own poor way.


 Reverence and Worship In Earthen Vessels

Benedictine Father Gabriel Bunge explains that the early church fathers recommended prostration—kneeling with the forehead to the ground—to overcome dryness in prayer. When the body expresses the humility and submission of true worship, the mind is better able to be in tune with God. I witnessed this again last year, while visiting a community of priests, brothers, and nuns called the Community of St. John. This community is attempting to revive this ancient practice. Attending Mass at their monastery in rural Illinois, members of  the community all prostrate themselves during the consecration of the Eucharist and again after receiving communion. It was without a doubt one of the most moving liturgies I have ever attended: Simple but reverent, in the presence of other people who were caught up in the consuming fire of God. We live in a strange time. Differences are elevated on one hand and tolerance of these differences is seen as virtuous. Yet this toleration does not often extend to those who wish to worship God, especially in the liturgy. I thought of this again while I was dining as a guest of another monastic community. During the meal, several monks knelt out for some community infractions. There was nothing in their non-unified act that made the dinner less communal. If anything, it made it more real—symbolic of the various roles we all play in community at one time. If we cannot let the smallest infraction or deviation pass—the casual attire of the younger crowd, the Cheerios and sippy cups of the toddlers, or those who come in late or leave early—we cannot worship God very well. Reverence for Jesus should be our instinctive response to his presence, whether in the Eucharist or in another human being. Those who claim to follow Christ, yet lose sight of both his message and his person, fall prey to worshipping an ideology rather than a Divine Person. If we are consumed with self, the consuming fire of God cannot touch us


 The Real Prayer of St. Francis 

St. Francis of Assisi taught his followers to reverence Christ and his cross wherever they might find themselves. The prayer attributed to St. Francis that begins, “Lord, make me a channel of your peace,” was in fact not composed by St. Francis; it was misapplied to him in a prayer book. The true prayer of St. Francis was one he taught his friars to pray whenever they would pass a Church or the sign of the cross made by two branches in a tree. They were to prostrate themselves toward the church or the cross and pray, “We adore you Christ and we praise you present here and in all the Churches throughout the world, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.” The cross reminds us of the true Christ, the one in the Gospels who was constantly misjudged by the religious figures of his day. If we are not careful, he will be misjudged by us as well. We need to worship him alone.

The Power of the Cross  by Michael Dubruiel is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

"michael Dubruiel"

Tuesday of Holy Week

Taking Up Our Cross. . . In Abandonment


 Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. ROMANS 13:12–14


 “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one ever sat; untie it and bring it. If any one says to you ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” MARK 11:2–3 

A young Israeli whose family immigrated to Brazil was studying to be a rabbi. The rabbinical school happened to be near a Benedictine monastery, where one day the young man heard the monks chanting the Hebrew psalms. Fascinated, he ventured closer. Wanting to learn more about the men who prayed the psalms so beautifully, one day the Jewish man introduced himself to one of the monks. As their conversation deepened, the monk told the young man of Jesus, the Messiah. Some months later, the student was in Rio de Janeiro when, passing by a large Catholic church, he was drawn to step inside. He walked in and made his way to the front of the sanctuary, where there hung a larger-than-life crucifix. Standing in front of the cross, he said aloud to the crucified Christ, “Tell me if it is true. Are you the Messiah?”

When he told me the story and I asked him what happened, the young Catholic priest replied, “I’m here.”

His family had disowned him, but he remained strong in his belief and trust in Jesus, who had answered him from that cross.

Most of us who were raised in Catholic households may not appreciate the price of believing. We take it for granted. When I read the stories of converts, I am moved at the distance some will travel in order to come to Christ.

The early church fathers, always seeking the fuller sense of Scripture, thought that the colt “on which no one ever sat” represented the Gentiles who had not had the Word of God preached to them. By mounting the colt that the apostles brought to him, the fathers saw Jesus as symbolically inviting the Gentiles to take on his yoke. Abandoning ourselves to Christ requires something more than throwing off our cloaks and cutting palm branches. It involves “drinking from the chalice that he will drink and undergoing the baptism that he will undergo.” This can lead to a radical redirection in our lives.

Going Wherever He Leads Us

In the case of my friend, abandoning himself to Christ involved the rejection of his family—as Christ had prophesied would happen to those who followed him (see Mark 13:12–13). For many of us this won’t be the case. However, when we truly open our hearts to the cross of Christ and plead, “Tell me if it is true. Are you the Messiah?” we can be sure he will answer us. I recently worked with fourteen women converts to put together a book, The Catholic Mystique, in which each recounted her entrance into the Catholic Church from other  Christian traditions. Each story entailed Christ pulling them along the path he had chosen for them. What is remarkable about their stories is the abandonment to Christ they share in common. Some of the women were ordained priests or ministers in the churches they had left in order to become Catholic. Many had left behind families and friends, just as my Jewish friend had done.

The person who is truly abandoned to Christ, goes where the Lord calls him or her to go—even if it is “where they would not go.” In a recent interview, British journalist John Bishop asked Father Benedict Groeschel about his future plans for the thriving community of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, which Father Benedict had co-founded. Father kept insisting that he had no plans except to be led. When Bishop pressed him, the friar answered all the more insistently, “No plans, just be led.” No one knows what the future holds. Abandoning oneself to the cross of Christ, one does not try to impose “my will” against “God’s will”; rather, one prays daily, “God’s will be done.”


 Lord, Save Us!

When the Lord entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he was greeted as the Messiah. On Good Friday, the same crowd offered him up as the sacrificial lamb. We tend to interpret this as the crowd turning on Jesus, and indeed from a worldly perspective that is what seems to have taken place. We can relate to this fickle response. But if we look at what happened to Jesus, we’ll see God’s mysterious plan being enacted. “Hosanna!” the people cried as Jesus entered the city. This is one of the few words in Scripture that is not translated into English (like Alleluia; Amen; and talitha, koum). How does “Hosanna” translate into English? In most English translations of Psalm 118:25, this word is translated “Save us!” It seems that it may have been this psalm that the people of Jerusalem were proclaiming as Jesus entered the city: “Save us, we beseech thee, O LORD! O LORD, we beseech thee, give us success! Blessed be he who enters in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD. The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar!” (Psalm 118:25–27). They were crying out to be saved by God and his Christ. Ironically, a few days later they cried out, “Crucify him,” bringing about that very act of salvation. At times we lose sight of how this mirrors the actions of their ancestors, the patriarchs of the original twelve tribes, who sold one of their brothers into slavery—and God used that act of treachery for his own end. Thus at the end of Genesis we hear Joseph proclaim, “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant if for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today”(Genesis 50:20). St. Paul tells us that we are to “cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light”—we are to conduct ourselves as people of light. Too often people try to escape or reject their cross; they flee to the darkness, escape in alcohol or sex, or immerse themselves in anger, all because things have not gone their way. Without the grace of God, this is our fate as well. Yet when we are handed a cross, if we abandon ourselves and trust in God as Christ did, what seems like defeat is in fact a victory! The evil that is done to us, God can mold into good. Then we can sing Hosanna to God in the highest, because the light of God will live in us and we will see everything in his light.

The Power of the Cross  by Michael Dubruiel is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

"michael Dubruiel"

Monday of Holy Week

Taking Up Our Cross. . . In Reverence


Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. HEBREWS 12:28–29


 Jesus said, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” JOHN 12: 7–8 

My three-year-old son has a tendency to be unruly at Mass. He seems to enjoy the power he can exercise over us in a crowded church. On one of his recent outbursts I took him to the back of the enormous cathedral, where, moments later, I felt for the first time that the Holy Spirit might have prompted his behavior. Had he not been acting up and had I not brought him to the back of the church, I would not have encountered two powerful images.

First I noticed the bishop, clad in red vestments, his hands extended in the orans position. It was the image of Christ on the cross. Now, I have been attending Mass all of my life and I know that the priest represents Christ, but I had never seen this as clearly as I saw it at that moment. There was something about the vestments and the outstretched arms that said to me, “This is Christ!”

A little farther back, I noticed something else: a young woman prostrate in the aisle of the church, her forehead touching the floor in adoration. To be honest, my first reaction was one of protest. I’ve been educated in Church circles, and know all about “correct” posture and behavior during Mass. I am also well acquainted with the “Judas game” some well-educated Catholics play at Mass, in which individual acts of worship are criticized for form rather than praised for intent. Instead of worshipping Jesus like Mary of Bethany, who reverently poured out expensive nard upon the Lord’s feet and dried them with her hair; they resemble Judas, who chastised Mary for not selling the ointment and giving the proceeds to the poor.

As I continued to watch the young woman’s prayerful prostration in the cathedral that day, it struck me that what the young woman was doing—whatever her motivation—was beautiful. In a certain sense, it was even prophetic, for it drew me back to what I was doing. In my heart I thanked her for her witness. Both the bishop and the woman in prayer made it possible for me to participate as fully as possible in the Mass that day, holding my son and offering myself with Christ to the Father in my own poor way.

Reverence and Worship

In Earthen Vessels, Benedictine Father Gabriel Bunge explains that the early church fathers recommended prostration—kneeling with the forehead to the ground—to overcome dryness in prayer. When the body expresses the humility and submission of true worship, the mind is better able to be in tune with God. I witnessed this again last year, while visiting a community of priests, brothers, and nuns called the Community of St. John. This community is attempting to revive this ancient practice. Attending Mass at their monastery in rural Illinois, members of the community all prostrate themselves during the consecration of the Eucharist and again after receiving communion. It was without a doubt one of the most moving liturgies I have ever attended: Simple but reverent, in the presence of other people who were caught up in the consuming fire of God.

We live in a strange time. Differences are elevated on one hand and tolerance of these differences is seen as virtuous. Yet this toleration does not often extend to those who wish to worship God, especially in the liturgy. I thought of this again while I was dining as a guest of another monastic community. During the meal, several monks knelt out for some community infractions. There was nothing in their non-unified act that made the dinner less communal. If anything, it made it more real—symbolic of the various roles we all play in community at one time. If we cannot let the smallest infraction or deviation pass—the casual attire of the younger crowd, the Cheerios and sippy cups of the toddlers, or those who come in late or leave early—we cannot worship God very well. Reverence for Jesus should be our instinctive response to his presence, whether in the Eucharist or in another human being. Those who claim to follow Christ, yet lose sight of both his message and his person, fall prey to worshipping an ideology rather than a Divine Person. If we are consumed with self, the consuming fire of God cannot touch us.


 The Real Prayer of St. Francis 

St. Francis of Assisi taught his followers to reverence Christ and his cross wherever they might find themselves. The prayer attributed to St. Francis that begins, “Lord, make me a channel of your peace,” was in fact not composed by St. Francis; it was misapplied to him in a prayer book. The true prayer of St. Francis was one he taught his friars to pray whenever they would pass a Church or the sign of the cross made by two branches in a tree. They were to prostrate themselves toward the church or the cross and pray, “We adore you Christ and we praise you present here and in all the Churches throughout the world, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.” The cross reminds us of the true Christ, the one in the Gospels who was constantly misjudged by the religious figures of his day. If we are not careful, he will be misjudged by us as well. We need to worship him alone.

The Power of the Cross   by Michael Dubruiel is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

"michael Dubruiel"

Palm Sunday 2019

The Cross of Christ Restores. . . Obedience


And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says, “I know him,” but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. 1 JOHN 2:3–6 


Truly, truly, I say to you, if any one keeps my word, he will never see death. JOHN 8:51 

Some years ago I attended a religion class at a Catholic college that included several “spiritual talks.” On one particular night the talk was on obedience. I must have heard this particular talk more than once; I remember it too well to have sat through it only once. It was as though everyone had received the same set of lecture notes on how to deliver this new teaching on obedience. First the presenter would go up to the board and write “obedience.” Then he would break the word apart: ob meaning “toward” and oedire meaning “to listen to.” The presenter, who would always seem to have found in this exercise some moment of personal liberation, would then smile and say, “So you see, to  obey is not some slavish exercise, but rather an exercise in listening to someone.” If one were to take a survey of all those educated in Catholic schools over the past forty years, I’ll bet there would be any number of experiences similar to mine. Suddenly a vow of obedience to a religious superior meant only the obligation to listen to him or her before deciding whether to carry out a particular instruction. Lay people adopted similar attitudes toward the teaching of Christ and his Church.

Through such disobedience, the sin of Adam and Eve is committed all over again. I suppose it is no coincidence that I have had to attend more than a few seminars on improving one’s listening skills. Here again, I know I’m not alone. A whole generation of us learned to parrot back phrases to show how well we listened, with unfortunate results. When you repeat the gist of the conversation back to the speaker, the vast majority reacts as though you are being condescending. Those in a slightly more charitable frame of mind assume that the subject of discussion is so boring that the only way you can stay awake is to repeat everything that is being said.


“Not See Death”?

When Jesus says, “If any one keeps my word,” he is talking about obedience. When Jesus says about the Father, “I do know him and I keep his word” (John 8:55), we understand him to mean that he is doing what the Father sent him to do. Similarly, John equates obeying the commandments with keeping his word (see 1 John 2:5). It is pretty clear that the more traditional understanding of “listening” implies doing exactly what God tells us.  It is this kind of obedience that is Jesus’ condition to not “seeing” death. Disobedience was at the heart of the original sin. Have you ever watched a toddler assert his independence by resisting with every fiber of his little being the grown-up who wants him to do something he really, really doesn’t want to do?

Some have suggested that we are born princes but turn to frogs. It seems far more likely that we are born princes who would rather be frogs than members of a royal family. So, our fallen nature works overtime to redefine what it does not want to do in the first place.

“Keep His Word” 

Jesus teaches us that we have to keep his word. Of course, this is the cross for many of us. We’d rather go our own way than follow the way of Jesus, if it didn’t mean having to face the horror of death without hope. When Jesus says that those who keep his word will never “see death,” what does he mean? I studied this passage for several hours. I found that this passage was translated differently in the Vulgate to include the word “forever,” so that the intended meaning would be that the person would still die but not forever. Many commentators simply ignore it. Death is referred to in only one other place in the New Testament, in the Gospel of Luke, where Simeon had been told that he would not “see death” until he had seen the “Lord’s Christ,” or God’s Messiah. Holding the infant Jesus in his arms, Simeon prayed, “Lord, now let thy servant depart in peace, according to they word; for mine eyes have seen salvation, which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:29–32).

In the Scriptures, death was portrayed as an angel—and not necessarily a good angel. Remember, death entered the world because of sin, and resulted in separation from God. The angel of death passed over the Israelites to take the Egyptian firstborn when Pharaoh rejected God. So, what was Jesus saying? The most satisfying commentaries interpret the words of Jesus to mean that those who are obedient to the will of God, as revealed through Jesus’ teaching, will never see this angel of death; rather, when their earthly life ends, they will be greeted by the Lord and brought into eternal life. Obedience leads to acceptance into the kingdom; disobedience leads to expulsion from paradise. The secret to obedience is given to us in John’s Gospel, when Jesus teaches that he is the vine and we are the branches. Our life depends upon remaining part of him—which we do by being obedient to his commands and partaking in his Body and Blood offered in the Eucharist. John in his letter says that we can tell if we are “abiding” in Christ by our actions: Are they Christ-like? The power to be like Christ, of course, comes from dying to ourselves and allowing Christ to live within us. This requires more than simply listening to or parroting the words of Christ; this requires a complete abandonment to him. Every day the official prayer of the Church begins the same way, by praying Psalm 95: “Come, let us worship the Lord,” echoes the refrain, inviting us to see our Savior, our Creator, the God to whom we belong. With the invitation comes a warning: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

The Power of the Cross    by Michael Dubruiel is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

"michael Dubruiel"

Daily Lent Devotional

The Cross of Christ Restores. . . Our Freedom


 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. ROMANS 6:22–23


“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”. . . “Truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house for ever; the son continues for ever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” JOHN 8:31,34–36 

We live in a time when “truth” is often thought of, even among Christians, as something subjective and up for grabs. This has greatly weakened the ability of the Church to bring the gospel of Christ to the world. Any appeal to the Church as the guardian of truth is met with a litany of accusations against those who have preached one thing and lived another. The fact that members of the Church remain enslaved by sin, despite the liberating claims of the gospel, can be explained by our inability to “continue in the word” of Jesus. Jesus told his disciples that if they persisted in their faith, they would know the truth and it would set them free. Freedom would be theirs only  if they picked up their crosses and stepped out in obedience, following Christ even to death.

More than a few people are immersed in lives ruled by addiction—the most evident slavery to sin. Many wish to disassociate sin and addiction, arguing that those who suffer from addictions are not culpable of their acts. However, the effects of sin may be seen both in the life of the addicted person and in the people around him or her. In addition, behavior scientists are demonstrating that those with substance addictions to drugs and alcohol often engage in other activities that can be just as destructive. Some studies show a release of certain chemicals in the brain that mimic the high of drugs and alcohol and lead people to engage in other addictive behaviors to reach this “high.” All of this is proclaimed in the teaching of the New Testament, of course, and even the therapy devised to rescue someone from such behavior is biblically based. The Scriptures teach that sin is both destructive and enslaving. The destructive element is not apparent to the human eye—in the opening pages of Genesis, the forbidden fruit was “a delight to the eyes.” Unfortunately, by the time the person recognizes his addiction, he is already caught in its deadly grip. Sin is by nature enslaving, and we cannot free ourselves from it. We can be freed from future bondage only through a “higher power.” Jesus offers us this free gift, but we must continue in his Word in order to experience true freedom.

 Just Do It

Father Val Peter, executive director of Boys and Girls Town in Nebraska, wrote a book called Rekindling the Fires: An Introduction to Behavioral Spirituality. This spirituality is based not on feeling but on truth, a sort of “just do it” approach that encourages others to act on the truth of the gospel in faith, continuing over a period of time the “forced” activity becomes more natural. In many ways Father Val’s book is a modern version of living the virtues in order to become a virtuous person. Every parent grieves when they see a child make the same mistakes they once did; what most parents do not realize is that we are still bound by those “blinders.” The details change with age, but if we are not serving God, we are still slaves to some other master that in the end will bring us down to the depths of hell To the person obsessed with anything that is not God, being freed from that “master” seems impossible. Even taking the first steps toward Christ and away from the “master imposter” is painful, indeed a crucifixion. It is impossible to imagine any other way of living. Yet if we allow the words of Jesus to soak into our minds, bringing us to true repentance, we will wonder how we ever could have been so misled. As the late Orthodox theologian Father Alexander Schmemann once observed, there is a joy in following Jesus that transcends the suffering that is entailed by taking up one’s cross: “In the world you will have tribulation,” Jesus warns us (Jn 16:33). Anyone who would in the smallest degree follow the path of Christ, love him and give himself to him, has this tribulation, recognizes this suffering. The cross is suffering. But through love and self-sacrifice this same tribulation is transformed into joy. It is experienced as being crucified with Christ, as accepting his cross and hence taking part in his victory. “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). The cross is joy, “and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn 16:22).

In medieval art, the cross of Christ is portrayed as the tree of life, both as a vine (referring to John 15) and as the source of the Eucharist. Angels are depicted as offering the bread and wine, the fruit of the cross, to those who stand at the foot of it. This image points to the alternative to enslavement that Christ offers us: to be fed by him at the foot of the cross, receiving from him what the others falsely promise. The false gospels lure us with promises of joy and fulfillment—yet in the end they ensnare us, delivering only misery and despair. Sometimes one has to follow these false masters down a long road to discover that truth. By contrast, the path on which Christ leads us appears arduous and dreary, one to be avoided. In reality, it is the path that leads to true joy, for it delivers everything that our hearts desire most. “Enter by the narrow gate,” our Lord urges us. “For the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13–14). Two roads, two gates. Which are you traveling?

The Power of the Cross by Michael Dubruiel  is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.

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